On December 21 at Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith shook hands with General Martin E. Dempsey of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after watching an emotional reunion between a local soldier and his family. When Smith’s team went out onto the field, they lost to the Green Bay Packers 20-3. No one who bet on football that day was surprised by the loss. After all, the Bucs were ranked 30th out of 32 NFL teams, and they barely cracked 100 offensive yards.
Eight days later, on December 28, Smith and his team faced New Orleans. Odds favored the mediocre Saints for the easy win and an almost guaranteed payout. To everyone’s surprise, the Bucs actually led by 13 points going into the fourth quarter. Then, they blew their lead and the Saints won 23-20. Everyone who bet against Tampa — which was everyone — won.
Cashing in a sportsbook bonus on the Tampa Bay-New Orleans game was child’s play. You might not have gotten much for your bet, since Tampa was going to lose anyway, but you were almost guaranteed to make get anything on this list of sportsbook bonus types. You see, the odds heavily favored New Orleans that day and not just because Tampa Bay isn’t a very good team. Oddsmakers knew that Tampa wasn’t just likely to lose; they needed to lose. That loss made them dead last, and it ensured that 2015’s No. 1 NFL draft pick would end up in Cigar City.
To see Tampa blow a fourth-quarter lead isn’t surprising. However, as Andy Fenelon pointed out at NFL.com, there are some suspicious signs that Lovie threw the game. First of all, Tampa pulled most of its starting players in the second half. It was the last game of the season, so it seems reasonable on one hand to let the benchwarmers play. On the other hand, they were winning, and not by enough to pull the starters.
Lovie benched linebacker Lavonte David and wide receivers Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson. Evans claimed that the coaches pulled him because he was “gassed,” but it’s unlikely that any NFL coach would pull someone just because he said he was too tired to play. Also, after a decent first half, quarterback Josh McCown just stopped throwing the ball. He was 12-20 for passes in the first half, but he only made three attempts in the third and fourth quarters combined.
It would be hard to blame Lovie or his players for throwing the game. If you’re Evans, a No. 1 draft pick could mean getting a quarterback that will actually get the ball into your hands. If you’re a Bucs fan, you might even think that the coach had a duty to lose that day. Either way, they lost and got the top pick, but a big question remains unanswered: Will this pick actually make Tampa Bay better, or will it doom a great college player to a below-average organization?
An even bigger question is whether the Bucs front office thinks that Smith has what it takes to coach these players. They’re already looking for a new offensive coordinator, and whomever they hire will play a big role in choosing the Bucs pick. Most likely, the Bucs will go with a quarterback, either Oregon’s Marcus Mariota or Florida State troublemaker, Jameis Winston. The latter is probably the superior athlete when he’s on, but Mariota is more consistent, and he’s more stable off the field.
Lovie managed to survive Black Friday, but rumors began circulating that Chip Kelly might be willing to leave the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly is Mariota’s former coach, and the young QB knows how to run Kelly’s offense. Many Tampa Bay fans salivated at the thought of firing Lovie and bringing in both Kelly and Mariota. However, the Eagles gave Kelly more personnel power in exchange for his agreement to stay, and the firing rumors died down.
The Bucs hope that their new OC and their No. 1 draft pick will shake things up. With their draft pick, the Bucs will bring a talented quarterback to South Florida, and one of two things will happen. They’ll be on their way to becoming a better team, in which case we’ll start betting for the Bucs and not against them. Or, if he can’t coach his draft pick, we’ll bet 2016’s Black Monday won’t be kind to Lovie Smith.
Lovie Smith image by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Flickr Creative Commons
Josh McCown image by Keith Allison from Flickr Creative Commons
Marcus Mariota image by Neon Tommy from Foter.com