NFC South: Tampa Bay Bucs, the Division Darkhorse
This offseason the Bucs have added a dynamic deep threat at wide receiver (Vincent Jackson), and they stole one of the top offensive players from one of the league’s best offenses, who was a division rival no less (Carl Nicks). They changed coaches and hired the dreaded College Coach to run their team, which is usually enough to blow up all message boards and the NFL Network alike. But this is the Tampa Bay Bucs, and the big news in the NFC South this off-season is owned by the New Orleans Saints, the Atlanta Falcons and Cam Newton’s Panthers, so no one is quite willing to talk about them at length.
Here is the thing though, I like nearly every single move the Bucs have made. After the Bucs collapsed late into the season last year it was clear they were in need of a new head coach. I don’t think it is necessarily a death sentence to get a college coach, so I can overlook that choice. In free agency they were aggressive and smart. They signed Vincent Jackson and Carl Nicks to big-money deals, but these are established players who are at the top of their positions across the league, and are exactly the type of players they needed to target in free agency. They also added cornerback Eric Wright, who should push Ronde Barber into a back-up role which was imperative.
These Bucs have made all the right moves to improve their team, but are they close enough to compete? It wouldn’t surprise me to see a big turnaround from the Bucs because of all these moves and because they have a young QB who has shown he has the ability to play in the league. But in the same breath, that QB is the reason I can’t pick the Bucs to be division winners. I like Josh Freeman and I think he can be really good, but there is one big, giant problem – even if Freeman is able to rebound from a terrible 2011 and he plays well all season long, it is still very likely that he is the 4th best QB in his division. Can anyone argue that? Think about it for a second. The Bucs as a team would have to improve so much that not only are they the best team in the division, but they are the best team in the division by so much that they can overcome the fact they have the division’s worst QB. That is a tough pill to swallow and that is why I can’t predict the Bucs to take down the division until I see this new squad put it together on the field. At this point, and in this division, I can’t pick them to be a playoff club, though the great thing about the NFL is that anyone can surprise.
To see my first look at the other teams in the NFC South, links to each team: