Tennessee Titans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3, 41 o/u)
It’s not every day that the last two Heisman Trophy winners – and the latest no. 1 and 2 overall draft picks – take the field to face each other in their professional debuts. But that’s just what’s on tap for this weekend as quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are set to square off on Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Tennessee Titans at Raymond James Stadium (4:25 PM Eastern).
The Bucs and Titans finished tied for the worst record in the league last year (2-14), giving them the top picks in the draft. Neither squad has had a “franchise” quarterback in eons and opted to take the consensus no. 1 and 2 pivots available.
Neither rookie looked good in their first preseason game. But Mariota was able to make strides over three exhibition games, while Winston continued to struggle behind a dreadful offensive line.
Adding to the concerns for Bucs fans, Winston’s second (and last) year at Florida State was a far cry from his Heisman winning freshman campaign. He did manage 25 touchdown passes, but also had 18 picks and was demolished by Mariota and the Ducks in the Rose Bowl (the only loss of his college career).
While the Tampa O-line leaves a lot to be desired, “Famous Jameis” has solid targets out wide, including veteran WR Vincent Jackson, who recorded 1,002 receiving yards in 2014. That number is all the more impressive when you consider that Josh McCown and Mike Glennon were the ones slinging him balls.
It’s unclear whether second-year stud Mike Evans will join Jackson in the starting lineup (and, if he does, at what capacity). Evans, who caught 68 balls for 1,051 yards last season, is dealing with a hamstring strain. He was able to practice on Friday, though, and there’s a good chance he will be available for Sunday.
“As a general rule, you would like for guys to practice all three days,’’ said head coach Lovie Smith to the Tampa Tribune. “But if we have a good football player that doesn’t practice all week [who] gets up Sunday morning and says, ‘Hey, I’m feeling good,’ and we have a history with him, he’s going to play.’’
On the other side, Marcus Mariota enjoyed a great junior year with the Ducks in 2014, winning the Heisman Trophy and leading Oregon to the National Championship game. He threw 42 touchdown passes to just two interceptions and was lethal with his feet, as well.
Mariota’s ability to operate under center was the main concern for most scouts. At Oregon, he worked almost exclusively from the shotgun. But the Hawaiian showed he’s not just a shotgun QB over the course of the preseason, and he should only improve in that area with more experience.
The Titans’ receiving corps isn’t quite as strong as Tampa’s, but the team does have some nice targets, including Kendall Wright and TE Delanie Walker (who, somewhat surprisingly, had a career year last season, his ninth in the league). Mariota will also have the benefit of rookie wide out Dorial Green-Beckham. “DGB” was shrouded in controversy his final season in college and fell in the draft as a result. But the 6’6″ receiver possesses undeniable, first-round talent.
There’s not much value in looking at the betting trends since both squads are markedly different this year. But Mariota has proven more adept at taking care of the ball – both in college and in preseason – which could be the difference. Take the Titans and the points in what should be an exciting game between (hopefully) two future franchise quarterbacks.
Pick: Titans +3.
(Photo credit: Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)