Last season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like a team ready to make a push for their first playoff appearance since 2007. After 10 games, they were in a great position with a 6-4 record and riding a four-game-winning streak.
Unfortunately, the Bucs lost their next five before winning a meaningless game against the Atlanta Falcons to finish the season.
The most glaring weakness leading to their collapse was the pass defense, which was ranked dead-last in the NFL. Tampa addressed this issue with extreme aggression, signing the best corner in the game in Darrelle Revis, 2012 All-Pro Safety Dashon Goldson and by drafting cornerback Johnthan Banks in the second round.
When it comes to stopping the run, the Bucs return all the major pieces of the league’s top-performing run defense from 2012. With a solid front seven and a revamped secondary, Tampa should have one of the league’s top defenses. In a division with the Falcons and New Orleans Saints, they’re going to need it.
On offense, QB Josh Freeman took some steps forward last season with the help of free-agent WR Vincent Jackson and the great receiving skills of rookie RB Doug Martin. Jackson and Martin are as explosive as any skill players in the league, and bring the fear of a big play every time they’re on the field.
If Tampa’s mediocre offensive line can step up, and Freeman can utilize his talented weapons to keep the offense moving forward, the Bucs could contend in 2013.
With plenty of room to grow and a solid offseason, Tampa has plenty of potential for the upcoming season — though there are a few too many uncertainties to hope all of them will move in a positive direction.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Tampa in the playoffs, but a tough schedule could halt their progress. There will be no gimmes in the NFC South this year, plus the Bucs will go on the road to face the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots before they have to host the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers .
With that in mind, I’ll put them at 9-7 and in a fight for a Wild Card spot up to the season’s end.