If the Buccaneers are able to build on their impressive performance against the Chicago Bears, the NFC south crown can be theirs.
When the Buccaneers molly-whopped the Bears to kick off their season on Sunday, they did more than just win a game. They made a loud statement to the rest of the division that they’re going to be in the mix all season long. After two weeks of scouting out the competition, the NFC south appears to be ripe for the picking and wide open for the surging Buccaneers.
The NFC south has become known for its unpredictable nature. Last year it was the dominant Falcons, the year prior the 15-1 Panthers, and for many years before that the Saints reigned supreme with Atlanta sprinkling in competitive years. Every season one of those three rises to the top, with Tampa Bay locked in the cellar, but will there ever be a more opportune time than now for that to change? The Bucs have their most talented roster in well over a decade, and on paper match up extremely well with all three of their rivals.
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For the Panthers, do they have the offensive horses to score points against a stout, athletic Buccaneer defense? Can Cam Newton protect the ball against a defense that has thrived on creating turnovers recently? The Saints certainly have offensive firepower to make the Buccaneer defense sweat, but what about their defense? Through two weeks they have been shredded to the same degree that they were all of last year, and they have little hope of slowing down the Pewter and Red offensive juggernaut.
The Atlanta Falcons will be Tampa’s biggest impediment to winning the division, and are still one of the premier teams in the NFL. However, in week one the Falcons struggled to defeat the same Bears team that the Bucs just throttled, and in week two they lost their most important defensive player, Vic Beasley, to a hamstring tear. Tampa Bay split the season series with Atlanta last season, and the Bucs have more than enough talent to at least do the same again this season.
Oddly, the Buccaneers won’t face off with a divisional opponent until week eight at home against the Panthers, but in week fourteen they begin a gauntlet of games against their southern rivals that will make or break their playoff chances. Monday night against the Falcons, Christmas eve against the Panthers, and New Years’ eve against the Saints make up the final three games of the Bucs’ season, so the Bucs will be battle-hardened if they do indeed make the playoffs.
As usual, the division will not be a cake walk, no matter how well the Buccaneers are able to play. The Saints, Panthers and Falcons each have weaknesses that can be exposed by the Bucs, but all remain competitive teams with a mean punch despite those flaws. Sleeping on Matt Ryan, Drew Brees or Cam Newton is a deadly mistake.