The football season officially starts in just over two months, so it’s about time to start taking an in-depth look at the teams the Buccaneers will face next year, and see how well the team from Tampa Bay matches up.
This week we take a look at the first four weeks of the season, and we find four teams who are no strangers to turmoil, either now or over the past year. Is this a blessing for the Bucs, or does it mean they are going up against four teams with chips on their shoulders? Let’s start with week one.
Week One: At the New York Jets
Turmoil, thy name is butt fumble. The Jets are a mess of a franchise at the moment, seemingly lacking in talent all over the football field and desperately trying to move on from the core of players who were keys to their past successes. Darrelle Revis will be present, but in pewter and red, while much to the dismay of the Jets, Mark Sanchez will likely still be wearing green.
The Jets will actually have some talent on their offensive line, but without a truly productive back to run the ball and with no passing game to take pressure off of the running game, it’s not likely to mean much. There are decent players on the defense, as well, but it’s not the same formidable lineup that dominated the AFC just a few short years ago.
The Buccaneers will have to ensure that they don’t allow the Jets’ running game to take off (only Jet pun, I promise). Mark Sanchez will provide a nice warm-up for the improved Bucs’ secondary, and the offense will have a very good litmus test to start the season against a defense that is talented and well-coached.
Week Two: versus the New Orleans Saints
Turmoil, thy name is Bountygate. With the Saints just now recovering fully from the penalties assessed as a part of Bountygate, they are going to be a different team in 2013. Drew Brees can now officially be considered in his “mid-30′s” but he’s still a formidable NFL quarterback, and will be more comfortable with his head coach Sean Payton back on the sidelines.
The Saints’ offense is a known commodity. The defense is a huge question mark heading into next season. Rob Ryan has come to town to put his signature spin on the defense, and therefore it’s unclear just how they’ll be performing come week two. It is clear that the Saints did not have the resources nor did they have the motivation to revamp their defense in the same way the Buccaneers did, so this will be a much more favorable matchup for the Bucs’ offense.
Against the Saints’ offense, it will be up to the non-Revis corners to lock down the many weapons Drew Brees has at his disposal, and it will be a test for Mark Barron should he be called upon to cover Jimmy Graham. The Bucs’ D versus Saints’ O matchup will be the first brick in the foundation of the Bucs’ season. If they Buccaneers can prove they truly have a no-fly zone on defense, the season sets up well. But if they allow 40 points and Drew Brees has a field day, it could be another long year in Tampa.
Week Three: at the New England Patriots
Turmoil, thy name is tight end troubles. The Patriots’ offense has taken a severe blow this offseason, and it may actually call into question the viability of one of the league’s most consistent units. Wes Welker has departed for the Denver Broncos, and Aaron Hernandez has been released, and with injury questions about the two best receiving options currently on the roster (Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski), Michael Jenkins, Aaron Dobbs, and Jake Ballard quickly become the primary targets for Tom Brady. And while Brady has certainly done a lot with a little many times in his career, this might just be asking too much of the veteran signal caller.
That said, the Patriots will still be able to move the ball, and they feature a running game that will surprise people expecting the same high-flying pass offense that has been in display for years. But Stevan Ridley has been known to fumble, and Danny Woodhead is no longer in town, so there are question marks in the backfield as well.
On defense, the Patriots are definitely looking up. Chandler Jones has a chance to be a very good player at defensive end, and the rest of the usual cast of characters is still there. But it’s the additions of veterans Tommy Kelly and Adrian Wilson that could make an impact on the Pats next year. The Bucs will have to prevent big plays on offense and negotiate the strong front seven on defense to pull an upset against the Patriots.
Week Four: versus the Arizona Cardinals
Turmoil, thy name is quarterback talent deficiency. The Cardinals had awful play at QB last year, and it was one of the main reasons for their disappointing finish in a very tough division. But there is talent on defense, and with Carson Palmer now heading up the offense, the Cardinals might be a bit more of a force to reckon with in 2013.
There’s not a ton of talent at running back, and outside of Larry Fitzgerald there’s nothing to write home about at receiver, but Fitzgerald is an elite receiver, or at least he was the last time we saw him with any sort of decent quarterback play. The defense is a different story.
Patrick Peterson is one of the best corners in the league, and there’s plenty of talent elsewhere on D. So for the Buccaneers to emerge victorious, they’ll have to score enough points to out-do Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. That means avoiding mistakes against an opportunistic defense, and using Revis and company to lock down Fitz.