The Bucs are 4-5 and very likely headed for 4-6 with a road game against the 49ers on Sunday that they’re entering as double-digit underdogs. So, you might’ve read the headline here and wondered why playoffs are even a discussion instead of 2024 mock drafts.
Well, the NFC South is bad. And even at 4-6 through 10 games, the Bucs are going to have a chance to three-peat as division champions and get to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive year. With winnable games against the Colts, Saints, Falcons, Panthers (two) and Packers down the stretch, Tampa Bay has its first goal — making the playoffs — still in play.
And if the Bucs do make the playoffs as NFC South champions, they’ll be in as the No. 4 seed and a host of a Super Wild Card Weekend matchup. Looking way ahead this week, it became clear. That matchup, should Tampa Bay get there, needs to be against the Seattle Seahawks.
It’s what we all want to see.
Seattle is currently tied with San Francisco atop the NFC West, so the division is very much still in play for Pete Carroll and his team. But if the playoffs started right now, it would be the No. 4 seed NFC South champion against the No. 5 seed (and first Wild Card) Seahawks. And that would be a matchup full of intriguing storylines.
Dave Canales Against His Former Team & Mentors
Before Dave Canales was hired as the Bucs’ offensive coordinator this past offseason, he spent 2010-2022 with the Seahawks in various roles. He coached wide receivers from 2010-2017, then served as the quarterbacks coach from 2018-2019. In 2020 and 2021, he was Seattle’s passing game coordinator and then last year, he shifted back to quarterbacks coach.
So based on all of that alone, a playoff matchup between the Bucs and Seahawks would understandably be a huge deal for Canales. But what would make it even more unique is the relationships he built in Seattle and the fact that he’d be dueling with some of the coaches that helped get him to where he is today as an NFL offensive coordinator.
One of those coaches is someone who Canales’ offensive system is partly inspired by, and that’s Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. The two worked together in 2021 and 2022 before Canales ended up in Tampa Bay. During his introductory press conference in Tampa back in February, Canales rattled off the many, many coaches he’s worked with over the years and had glowing things to say about Waldron.
“And then Shane Waldron came in and he came from a system of young offensive head coaches who really didn’t have to answer to anybody, so that’s where you had the think tank, the ‘R and D’ (research and development) – they could do or try anything,” Canales said. “And then instead of leaning on the ‘This is just the way that it’s always been done,’ he said ‘That was no longer acceptable – what’s the smartest way to do this? What’s the fastest way to do this? How do we set this up with this type of tempo?’
“That’s where a lot of the study across the league, across college really started to come in and really make sense as an offense there. While we’ve been in Seattle for the last two years, that’s where Shane and the staff, we were able to really employ a lot of different offensive personnels to the same principles – to the same system that’s being used across the league. It’s why a lot of us – counting myself in that now – as coordinators and head coaches have been coveted across the league, to be able to bring that system in there.”
The idea of a Waldron-inspired offense against a Waldron offense in the playoffs is interesting enough, but the fact that the two men behind those offenses previously worked closely together makes it even more intriguing.
Another one of those previous mentors Canales would be meeting again in a potential playoff matchup is, of course, longtime Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll.
Canales worked on Carroll’s staff from the very beginning of the Super Bowl-winning head coach’s tenure in 2010. So it wasn’t surprising that Carroll had high praise for his former assistant when asked about him at the NFL Scouting Combine this year.
“He is one of the young guns,” Carroll said. “He’s one of the guys we see coming through the league that has that connection to creativity, freedom of thought, openness that allow for so many good young guys to make it. We see it whether they’re play callers or whether they’re head coaches, it’s happening, it’s a really cool element to see guys express their ability. Dave is one of the guys that fits right in with that. He’s been so deeply involved with us that he is us.
“We talk the same language, we see things the same, we evaluate the same, we have the backlog of stories that we’ve shared and what we’ve learned and how we’ve grown. For me, I’ve always gone to him and communicated with him because he has great vision and great insights and he works really really well with people. So he’s been an integral part of our process along the way. To me, he’s going to be highly successful. I don’t see anything but that. I love the connection, I’ll root for him. I might be a little on that side.”
If this Bucs-Seahawks playoff matchup does come to fruition, you can get that there will be plenty of pregame hugs and conversations between Canales and his former colleagues and mentors.
A Matchup Of Quarterbacks Who Managed To Revive Their Careers
Coming into 2023, Bucs quarterback Baker Mayfield was trying to replicate what Seahawks signal-caller Geno Smith did in 2022. After bouncing around for much of his career and spending a lot of time as a backup, Smith revived his career last year with a Pro Bowl season that netted him a big contract extension.
After Mayfield was shipped out of Cleveland before last season, he bounced from Carolina to Los Angeles to Tampa Bay over the next several months. And with Tampa Bay, he’s had the opportunity to work with Dave Canales, the man who oversaw Smith’s resurgent 2022 season.
Right now, Mayfield looks like a guy who has at least begun to revitalize his career. He has thrown for 14 touchdowns to five interceptions while passing for 2,143 yards. There’s still plenty of football left, so whether he parlays his 2023 season into a contract like Smith got last offseason remains to be seen. But if this playoff matchup does happen, that’s likely to mean good things for the rest of Mayfield’s regular season.
It almost feels safe to say that, should the Bucs make the playoffs — and assuming they make it more because of Mayfield rather than in spite of him — the former No. 1 overall pick will have a chance to cash in heading into next year. Smith got a three-year, $75 million deal from the Seahawks after a Pro Bowl season and a playoff appearance. Could Mayfield be in line for something like that come time for the 2024 offseason?
Mayfield is much younger this season than Smith was last year, but the two would enter a potential playoff meeting with similar stories of putting together impressive prove-it seasons after it appeared that their respective careers had reached dead ends. And the fact that they will have done it in similar systems under the direction of Canales makes it an even better story.
Bucs’ Elite WR Duo vs. Seahawks’ Elite WR Duo
When Dave Canales was hired by Tampa Bay, he brought Brad Idzik with him from Seattle to be his receivers coach. And that naturally brought up the parallel between the Bucs’ elite receiving duo and that of the Seahawks. Mike Evans and Chris Godwin make up one of the better receiver tandems in the league, as do DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett.
The quarterback matchup of Baker Mayfield vs. Geno Smith is buzz-worthy enough, but the added layer of these two receiving duos matching up could make this an extremely fun offensive battle.
Evans is having the best season of any of these four receivers as of Week 11, as the 10th-year veteran has 43 catches for 737 yards (17.1 avg.) and six touchdowns. Meanwhile, Godwin has 44 catches for 522 yards (11.9 avg.) and one touchdown.
On the Seattle side, Metcalf has 35 catches for 552 yards (15.8 avg.) and two touchdowns while the veteran Lockett has 46 catches for 494 yards (10.7 avg.) and four touchdowns.
When you combine the production from both duos, it’s Evans and Godwin who have the edge. Tampa Bay’s top two receivers have 87 catches for 1,259 yards (14.5 avg.) and seven touchdowns to the 81 catches for 1,046 yards (12.9 avg.) and six touchdowns from Seattle’s two.
But production aside, seeing these four high-end receivers take the field in a playoff game would be something special.