After an offseason filled with anticipation, fueled in part by the numerous star-studded acquisitions in their secondary, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers begin the 2013 campaign on the road at MetLife Stadium taking on the New York Jets.
Following their up-and-down 2012 season in which they went 7-9, the Bucs will be relying on their suddenly improved secondary to compliment their high octane offense led by second-year running back Doug Martin in hopes of ending their five-year playoff drought.
Mindful of their multiple blown leads last season, Tampa Bay is hedging their bets that the additions of cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Johnthan Banks, as well as safety Dashon Goldson, will be enough to solidify the defensive backfield and improve what was the worst pass defense in the NFL in 2012.
Meanwhile on offense, quarterback Josh Freeman and company will look to build upon what was the best offensive season in franchise history after scoring a team-record 389 points in 2012.
Freeman, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent next spring, needs to minimize his mental lapses and turnovers committed if he intends on cashing in on a multi-year mega deal with the Bucs.
A playoff appearance sure wouldn't hurt either.
The Bucs Win If...
They can pressure Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith and force him into rushing his decision-making. Smith, a second-round selection in April's draft, has the big arm and mobility to succeed in the NFL, but his lack of experience gives the Tampa Bay defense an edge—as long as they don't allow him to sit comfortably in the pocket.
The Jets Win If...
They can force Freeman into costly turnovers, thus shortening the field for their rookie quarterback. Of Freeman's 17 interceptions last season, nine were committed over the final three games. Which explains why Bucs fans were left with a bad taste in their mouth that has festered for the last nine months.
Wild Card of the Game: Darrelle Revis
By acquiring the injured All-Pro for two draft picks and then signing him to the richest deal ever for a defensive back, the Bucs signaled their intentions loud and clear—they were tired of losing and were "all-in" this season.
Revis recently said he would shed some light on the Jets' defensive playbook, which, in theory, would make it easier for Freeman and the offense to pick up and exploit tendencies and schemes the Jets are likely to deploy.
Oh, and I'm sure he and the rest of his defensive mates are licking their chops at the thought of facing a rookie signal-caller in his first career start.
Despite a lackluster preseason that saw both the offense and defense struggle, the Bucs should fare just fine against what is likely to be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2013. Between Freeman, Martin and Vincent Jackson on offense and Revis, Goldson, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David on defense, the Bucs will win this game—it's really just a question of by how much.
Final Score: Bucs 27, Jets 13
J.J. can be reached via email at BRJJRodriguez@gmail.com