TAMPA — Ahhhh, you smell that? I do, and sure love the smell of football in the morning.
It’s back and better than ever and from the looks of it, so are the Bucs. They gave us a ride last year and it’s looking to be like that again. Tampa opens up the 2001-12 season at home on Sunday in a matchup that is already being deemed by some as the NFL’s new big time rivalry.
It’s not there yet but give it time and talent and it will be.
But the Bucs aren’t concerned with banner rivalries, their occupied on a banner of the championship kind. You know, the one that the Lions prevented the Bucs from trying for last season. The Bucs faced Detroit last year and didn’t come outof the matchup with a lot to brag about.
There was no LaGarrette Blount highlights. There was no Josh Freeman 4th quarter comeback. There was no victory.
But for those who cite that game as evidence the Lions will start their tour of shocking the world in Tampa are very wrong. There was none of the above mentioned in last year’s game but there was also no Gerald McCoy, no Aqib Talib, no Davin Joseph. The Lions also only won by a field goal’s difference (that they needed in bonus football time mind you) that had a lot to do with one particular player combined with a lot of Buccaneer mistakes.
Calvin Johnson exploded on the Bucs for 152 yards on 10 catches. Want to know why? He wasn’t facing Aqib Talib, one of the NFC’s top corners.
I could go on all day about comparing last year’s matchup to Sunday but that’s lazy, it’s a fallacy, it’s really of grandeur.
Take a quote from Lions head coach Jim Schwartz last year about his team winning their first road game since the turn of the century (or more specifically 2007).
“What’s happened two years ago, what happened last year, three years ago, whatever it was, isn’t important to this football team right now,” Schwartz added. “Winning is important to this football team right now. Winning on the road is a step that we needed to take.”
Now apply that to Sunday’s matchup and view from the Bucs perspective. Who cares what happened last year? The Bucs are a different team, the Lions are a different team and both will show different faces when they rematch.
Injuries hurt the Bucs in the previous matchup but when talking about the here and now, the same thing may prove to be the Lions undoing. Rookie DT Nick Fairley missed practice for the Lions and his absence will definitely be felt. But that’s not to say their D-Line will now crumble; remember they have a guy that goes by Ndamakong Suh who more than makes up for the unproven rookie’s absence. What might aid the Bucs is if Kyle Vanden Bosch misses the game or isn’t fully healthy. These two brick walls, when both at full speed, are dangerous for runners and quarterbacks. Davin Joesph will start earning his money right away on Sunday.
Offensively it will be interesting to see how the chemistry is in year 2 of Josh Freeman‘s full control of the reigns. Last season we saw brilliant things from Freeman and rookie wideout Mike Williams who out played the guy taken two rounds ahead of him Arrelious Benn. Williams had a breakout season that put his name on the map of up and coming young wide receivers. How well he repeats those numbers is yet to be seen but that’s where it gets fun for the Bucs.
Tampa isn’t seen as a team loaded with weapons because nobody outside of Tampa really knows anyone other than Freeman, Williams and Blount. The forgotten man in this equation is Kellen Winslow who benefited from Freeman’s improved play, but not to the extreme extent Bucs fans were hoping. Where it was Winslow getting the rave predictions last season, we saw Mike Williams steal his thunder; now the roles can be reversed. Williams is getting touted as the Bucs No. 1 reciever this year but Winslow will quickly fill the shoes if defenders have learned to play the 2nd year stud out of Syracuse.
Another man who isn’t forgotten but still isn’t getting all the due attention is LaGarrette Blount. He is being highly touted in some fantasy football circles, but outside of that his name is still hushed by the like of Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson and Arian Foster (whom I personally deem as a one season wonder). Hopefully, unlike Foster, Blount continues his success from last year where he rushed for over 1,000 yards.
When all of these weapons are available for the Bucs, they instantly become a devastating force should they click. If Freeman gets lose he kills you with Williams. If Williams is covered you get blasted by Winslow. If no throwing options are available, LaGarrette Blount will truck, leap and dive past you for all he can get. If all else fails prepare to get checkmated by Josh Freeman himself, barrelling at you ready to knock you out.
Do you honestly want Josh Freeman coming at you with a purpose? I don’t and neither should the Lions. If their D-Line isn’t on the top of it’s game SUH-per Man can only do so much to get you. The lack of talent at the cornerback position will not help the Lions contain the Bucs receivers which go deeper than just W Brothers. Arrelious Benn has a lot to prove as does Sammie Stroughter, Micheal Spurlock and Dezome Briscoe. When the Bucs are firing on all cylinders, watch out.
The Bucs defense was a growing process last year. Long since removed from the dominating days of Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Hardy Nickerson are the Bucs who are trying to return to that level with more balance.
The Bucs double dipped on the D-Line in the draft and, to me, got two studs to finish off their line. Adrain Clayborn is a monster and I’m looking for him to have a good season. A guy who will have an even better season is rookie cast-away Da’Quan Bowers, whom everybody casted away and knocked off their draft boards due to his injury concerns.
Well score one Tampa on that one. He’s a second round pick with top 5 talent that is eager to get out and let all the teams that passed on him (some twice) what they missed out on. On top of those two, Gerald McCoy has a chip in his shoulder, even if he won’t discuss it. His season was cut short last year and he never got to face the Lions. The chip on the shoulder comes in the form of the guy who plays his spot but wears a Lions jersey.
The comparisons to McCoy and Ndamakong Suh still run strong in football circles and McCoy is sick of hearing it. In a recent Sports Illustrated issue McCoy got serious and said he and Suh are two different players on two different teams. It’s hard to believe McCoy won’t be out to show he’s got what Suh’s got and shut up the critics.
In the secondary, Aqib Talib will lineup against Calvin Johnson, a matchup we were robbed of last season. This should prove to give the one they call Megatron a very different game in Tampa than that of last season’s. Tampa should be careful however, as the Motor City Kitties are as potentially loaded as the Bucs. Matthew Stafford hasn’t been healthy long enough for a full assesment of his skills but when he has been, he’s been more than just pretty good. The same goes for the easily concussed Jahvid Best who has speed and vision that he will use against you in the open.
But the guy the Bucs should watch out for is one of my top Fantasy Sleepers of the year: Nate Burleson. He’s the fifth receiver for the Lions, but he’s one of the better slot guys when given a shot. The Lions can kill you with a homerun to Johnson, but they can just as easily chip away at you five yards at a time with guys like Burleson and Titus Young. Tampa should be weary of all of Detroit’s potential weapons before they are fulled assessed first.
Both teams are entering this season on almost equal ground. Both have a lot to prove and have the talent to do so. Tampa has more at stake because they have the most to lose. They were a 10-win team last year and people are expecting more than that this year. The Lions limped through last season with the old saying “Maybe next year” as motivation. But this might finally be next year for them and it could all start in Tampa. However if it doesn’t, the only people who will be mad is all six of their fans. If Freeman and Co. stay on last year’s track look for the Bucs to win a second straight season opener.
Prediction: Bucs 31, Lions 21