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Sleeper is a relative term for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After all, they were widely considered to have a fantastic offseason, particularly in free agency.
The NFC is a gauntlet, however, and Tampa Bay's own division is shaping up to be just as fierce as the deadly NFC West. The Buccaneers haven't exactly been a picture of success in recent years either, which is why they head into the 2014 season under new management.
Can that new management turn the team into an instant contender?
Why They Will Compete
There is a ton of talent in Tampa Bay on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, there is no better collection of big men to catch the ball than the one on display in Tampa Bay. Standing at 6'5" or taller are starting wide receivers Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans as well as rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, assuming he can beat out veterans Brandon Myers and Luke Stocker for a staring job.
Running back Doug Martin returns from injury as well, giving the Buccaneers some nice balance on that side of the ball if he returns to his rookie form.
Defensively, the Buccaneers have talent all over the field.
They signed productive defensive end Michael Johnson to bolster the pass rush, the unit's biggest weakness from a year ago. He joins a quality defensive line anchored by All-Pro Gerald McCoy.
They may have parted ways with elite cornerback Darrelle Revis, but the Buccaneers rebounded nicely by signing Alterraun Verner. That may not be an apples-to-apples comparison given Revis' superiority and the disparity in styles, but Verner is a quality cornerback that came at a fraction of the premium Revis price.
There don't seem to be many holes on this roster after a productive offseason, and the Buccaneers could be instant contenders under new head coach Lovie Smith, who knows a thing or two about success.
Hurdles to Overcome
All that talent might be for naught if the quarterback situation becomes problematic.
The Buccaneers have a 35-year-old journeyman penciled in as their starter in Josh McCown, who mainly got the job after a handful of outstanding games last season in Chicago. The rest of his career has been a smattering of appearances that have netted him a career 59.4 completion percentage.
Mike Glennon stepped in as a rookie and performed admirably last season, and he well could take over for McCown if the veteran struggles early. Glennon wasn't exactly lights out in his inaugural season, however, completing just 59.4 percent of his passes—incidentally matching McCown's career average—while averaging a mere 6.3 yards per carry.
The offensive line could prove problematic for Tampa Bay, particularly in the middle. Carl Nicks recently retired out of the blue, throwing the interior of that line into turmoil.
Tampa Bay's biggest hurdle comes in scheduling—the Buccaneers must get out of the NFC South to make the postseason.
The New Orleans Saints are big-time contenders, as usual, and the Carolina Panthers were a playoff team from a year ago. The Atlanta Falcons were awful last season, but they have seemingly rebounded this offseason and could reclaim the NFC South crown.
In other words, the Buccaneers are behind the eight ball with six difficult games to worry about within their own division.