The 2019 NFL preseason continues with a game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday, marking their first game this summer. Both teams failed to make the playoffs last year and are hoping for an improvement in the upcoming campaign.
Tampa Bay ended the previous campaign at the bottom of NFC South with a 5-11 record while Pittsburgh finished behind the Baltimore Ravens in AFC North with a 9-6-1 record. The Steelers are leading 5-1 in head to head duels, and they beat the Bucs 30-27 on the road last time they met in September 2018.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers are hoping to bounce back in 2019
Once again, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ended the season at the bottom of NFC South, but their divisional rivals Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers weren’t much better, recording two wins more. That gives new coach Bruce Arians’ side a hope they can close the gap between them and division champions New Orleans Saints, who had a 13-3 record in 2018. Tampa Bay was 12th in the NFL with 24.8 points per game while ranking 31st in scoring defense by allowing 29.0 points per contest in 2018.
Jameis Winston is starting quarterback in Tampa, but he experienced the worst season in the NFL in his career last year. After serving his three-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, Winston appeared in 11 games (nine starts) and completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 2,992 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. He is also hoping for a bounce-back campaign, and coach Arians was impressed with Winston’s work at practice.
The Buccaneers signed Blaine Gabbert in March and a former Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco 49ers quarterback will likely serve as Winston’s backup, and might even start this game. Gabbert appeared in eight games for the Tennessee Titans last year and completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 626 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions.
The running game in 2018 struggled as the Bucs averaged 95.31 rushing yards per game in 2018 (28th in NFL). Peyton Barber will continue as the No. 1 running option after he recorded 234 carries, 891 yards, and five touchdowns while he added 20 receptions for 92 yards and one touchdown. Tampa Bay selected Ronald Jones II in the second round of 2019 NFL Draft and rookie will probably get a chance to show us what he can do against Pittsburgh.
Mike Evans will be Winston’s top target in the air after having a great season last year, receiving 86 passes for 1,524 yards and seven touchdowns. The wideout is entering his sixth season in the NFL, and he recorded 1,000+ yards in each so far, becoming the player to reach 6,000 career receiving yards with 25 years and 131 days. Chris Godwin is No. 2 receiver in the squad, and he is looking to get the 1,000-yard mark in 2019 after collecting 842 yards and seven touchdowns in 2018 on 59 receptions.
Veteran outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul suffered a neck fracture in a car accident, and he could be sidelined for the entire 2019 campaign. The two-time Pro Bowler had an excellent last season, recording 46 tackles and 12.5 sacks (best sack record since 2014). However, the Bucs selected Devin White with the No. 5 pick overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, and one of the best college linebackers will try to step in while Pierre-Paul is injured.
Arians does feel that depth along the line of scrimmage is a must.
“I think we could use some more,” said Arians. “There are some young guys, like Jeremiah Ledbetter, some of those guys are getting better. That’s one of the things we will look for in the preseason – both lines of scrimmage depth.”
Pittsburgh Steelers looking to get back to the top of AFC North
Pittsburgh Steelers opened last year with a 7-2-1 record but missed the playoffs after off the field drama and bad results, finishing with a 9-6-1 record, one win behind the AFC North champions Baltimore Ravens. Competition in this division is fierce this time around as the Cleveland Browns are way stronger than in 2018. Mike Tomlin will have a lot of work to do to take his team back to the playoffs. Pittsburgh was 8th in the NFL with 26.6 points per game while ranking 16th in scoring defense by allowing 22.5 points per contest in 2018.
Veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is Tomlin’s top option under the center after the 37-year-old broke personal records in several categories in 2018. Big Ben completed career-high 452 passes and had 67.0 percent of completions on career-high 675 attempts. Roethlisberger collected career-high 5,129 yards (best in NFL) and threw career-high 34 touchdowns. However, there is no Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh anymore, and although JuJu Smith-Schuster is an extremely talented wideout, it’s evident that Roethlisberger will not have the same numbers in 2019.
Smith-Schuster will lead the wide receivers after coming off a monstrous campaign. He recorded 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns on 111 receptions, deservedly earning his first invitation to a Pro Bowl game. Antonio Brown left to Oakland Raiders and also left a big void which likely can’t be filled in the upcoming season. Donte Moncrief joined from the Jacksonville Jaguars where he had 668 yards and three touchdowns on 48 catches.
On the ground, James Conner will continue to be the top running back after a great 2018 campaign and his first-ever Pro Bowl selection. Pittsburgh’s issue with Le’ Veon Bell turned out to be a wonderful thing for Conner, who recorded 973 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns on 215 carries while he also added 497 receiving yards and one touchdown on 55 receptions.
Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier will miss the second straight year as he is still recovering from a spinal stabilization surgery. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt experienced some hamstring tightness and will miss the game with Tampa Buy, but should be ready to go for Week 1 of the regular season.
- 7-0 ATS in their last seven games against the NFC South opponent
- 4-1 ATS in their last five games played in August
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
- 3-7 ATS in their last ten games on grass
- 0-5 ATS as an away underdog