The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made numerous upgrades to their roster and have a new franchise signal caller, but their division competition will still be too much for this rising team.
2013 Season Recap
The Buccaneers had an extremely rough start to their 2013 season as they started with an 0-8 record, and they finally gave up on quarterback Josh Freeman and handed the reins to rookie Mike Glennon, who showed promise as the Buccaneers won a few games to end the season with a little bit of dignity.
Their final record was 4-12, and they endured devastating injuries such as running back Doug Martin missing nearly the entire season with a shoulder injury. They also lost second-string running back Mike James and were forced to turn to Bobby Rainey, who looked solid.
2014 Offseason Recap
For their disappointing performance and failure to make the playoffs again, head coach Greg Schiano was fired. The Buccaneers hired Lovie Smith to take his place, and he is expected to make the Buccaneers a powerful defensive team after consistently making the Chicago Bears a top defensive team. This year may be no different since there is plenty of talent for Smith to coach up. Former Cal head coach Jeff Tedford was also hired as the new offensive coordinator.
The Buccaneers dipped heavily into free agency, and they have a new signal caller in Josh McCown, who had a breakout season as a spot starter for the Bears. The trenches are the most improved areas though. Tackle Anthony Collins and center Evan Dietrich-Smith were signed to bolster the offensive line depth, and defensive end Michael Johnson and defensive tackle Clinton McDonald will most certainly benefit from Smith’s tutelage.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner will boost the pass defense after the departure of Darrelle Revis, and tight end Brandon Myers will give the coaching staff opportunities to employ two-tight end sets with second-round rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins battling for targets.
The Buccaneers also selected wide receiver Mike Evans in the first round, so Vincent Jackson will have someone to take double teams off him if Evans pans out.
Position of strength
The strongest position for the Buccaneers right now is running back with Doug Martin returning healthy, and Mike James and Bobby Rainey are returning as well. Rookie Charles Sims will be out for 12-14 weeks due to ankle surgery, but the position is still as deep as ever. Plus, Tedford plans to distribute carries evenly, so they should be able to receive plenty of rest as they pace themselves.
James and Rainey each gained starting experience when Martin was out, so the running game should not be a problem at all for the Buccaneers. Very few teams will ever have the luxury of having three starting-caliber running backs.
Position of weakness
The weakest position for the Buccaneers is tough to decide since every position has some talent, but quarterback is still a question mark and the main reason they are not being considered a playoff contender by most fans. McCown will need to prove that last season was not a fluke and that he can flourish without Marc Trestman. Glennon will also need to take the next step forward if he is pressed into starting duty.
Best case scenario
If McCown can repeat his production from last year or Glennon can become the present rather than the future, the Buccaneers will become a playoff contender right off the bat. It will help even more if Evans becomes the receiver the Buccaneers are hoping for right away and contends for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
It will help even more if the defense becomes a top-10 unit, which is entirely possible. Linebacker Lavonte David is a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, and the defensive line should be better too. The addition of Verner will also help the pass defense, and safety Dashon Goldson will look to return to form. The Buccaneers are perfectly capable of contending for a wild-card berth in the NFC.
Worst case scenario
The Buccaneers will need to count on one of their quarterbacks erasing questions, and the free agents will need to live up to their billing. It is entirely possible that McCown will regress without having Trestman as his coach and Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery as his receivers.
The defense will also face a tall task in playing the Saints and Falcons twice. Even the Panthers will still be hard to stop if quarterback Cam Newton can maintain his level of play.
The Buccaneers have plenty of talent on their roster at every position, but they are still at least a year away from contending for the playoffs. They simply won’t be able to hang with a team led by Drew Brees, and the Falcons are on the rise with an offense primed to return to elite status.
Their schedule consists of matches against the NFC North and AFC North, which are both tough divisions. It is already challenging enough that they have to face the Saints, Falcons and Panthers twice a year.
As tempting as it may be to call the Buccaneers a sleeper team, it’s just not in the cards for them right now.
Prediction: 4th place in NFC South, no playoffs