The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will arguably prove the boldest call of my 2013 NFL team preview series, given that they’ve sat dormant so long as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons have contended for Super Bowls in recent years. The Bucs do own a trendy dark-horse status going into this season thanks to high-profile offseason moves and other nice pieces in place, but I’ll venture a guess that a very small minority of analysts dare take them over the typical NFC South juggernauts.
Tampa went into June at 6-to-1 odds to win the division along with NFC South foe Carolina Panthers, and both have gained steam in that regard since. This is truly a toss-up division to me and the Bucs are the only squad here without gaping holes in half their defense. The secondary is fresh off finishing last against the pass and rectify that with Darrelle Revis, Dashon Goldson, second-rounder Johnthan Banks and the development of top-ten pick Mark Barron. Throw in the upside of Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers to potentially awaken Tampa’s pass rush as well.
Now if Josh Freeman can just play like he did through much of 2010 and during the middle-stretch last season, we may crown a new champ in America’s Southeast. Getting Freeman to play with consistent mechanics and accuracy is easier said than done, but I think an area that we can confidently bank on is this Bucs’ run game. Doug Martin will hopefully charge behind a full season of guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph after both fell injured early in 2012. Greg Schiano has a penchant for producing punishing run offenses, which could take the pressure off Freeman.
With Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, the weapons are in place for Freeman to finally deliver on his first-round status, and for the Bucs to give their fans a playoff berth for the first time since Jon Gruden was the face of the franchise.
Predicted Regular Season Record: 11-5 (1st in NFC South)
Predicted Finish: Loss in divisional round vs. San Francisco 49ers