The general consensus surrounding the Buccaneers appears to be that they will be a better all-around team than the 2011 squad that finished 4-12, but not quite ready to compete with the elite teams of the NFL just yet.
Count me among the majority.
The pieces (appear) to be in place, and the coaching staff finally seems to have a clue, but even with that going for them, I have a hard time analyzing their schedule and thinking they'll be a playoff team. Simply put, it just isn't going to happen this year.
Diehards may disagree and give their grandiose visions of a long playoff run, but in my heart of hearts, when the dust settles and the season has concluded, I see the Bucs finishing 6-10, with an outside shot at 7-9.
Again, it would certainly be an improvement over 2011, but probably not the 10-6 or 11-5 records that some optimistic callers have made to local radio stations over the past few days.
Nevertheless, with their season about to get underway in a matter of days, I've decided to dole out preseason team awards to a few of the worthy players of your Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Team MVP: Receiver Vincent Jackson
The newcomer from San Diego will get plenty of looks from quarterback Josh Freeman, which should bode well for his numbers. In his last three full seasons ('08, '09, '11), Jackson averaged 62 catches, 1,124 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Look for that trend to continue in 2012.
Team Offensive Player of the Year: Guard Carl Nicks
With the recent injury to fellow guard Davin Joseph, Nicks' role in the offense became that much more important to the overall success of the unit. With the Bucs looking to run the ball with frequency and authority, his dominance up front will be apparent. Look for running backs Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount to run through gaping holes on the left side of the line all season.
Team Defensive Player of the Year: Tackle Gerald McCoy
I know, I know. How could I possibly pick McCoy when he hasn't even been able to stay healthy, right? It's simple: this year he will not only stay healthy, but he'll play with a gigantic chip on his shoulder and remind folks why he was selected third overall in 2010.
Finally playing within a system that truly utilizes his talents, McCoy steps up huge this year and delivers the results the Bucs—and their fans—have been waiting for.
Team Rookie of the Year: Linebacker Lavonte David
The tackling machine from Nebraska has already drawn comparisons to Buccaneers legend Derrick Brooks, due in large part to his sideline-to-sideline ability and the striking similarity they share in their smaller statures. David will begin the season as the starting weakside linebacker (also like Brooks), so Bucs fans should get used to seeing No. 54 make plays all over the field this season.
Team Comeback Player of the Year: Quarterback Josh Freeman
Freeman has the tools around him and the offensive philosophy needed to bounce back from an otherwise disastrous 2011 season in which he threw just 16 touchdowns to go along with 22 interceptions. While his performance this season won't be enough to lead the Bucs to a winning record, his numbers will be much more reminiscent of his 2010 campaign.