The season got off to a dramatic start yesterday with the Bucs 17-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Still, if you look around the league, the opinion of the team hasn't changed.
Before the season started, most predictions pegged your Tampa Bay Buccaneers anywhere from two to six wins. Coming off a disastrous 2009, the Bucs believe they had a great draft this offseason and are convinced that their young players can be competitive.
Like the Bucs, another young football team, the 2008 Atlanta Falcons, entered into a similar situation a couple of years ago. And that team surprised the experts by defying logic and making the playoffs.
For Atlanta, 2007 ended with Michael Vick's conviction for participating in a dog fighting ring, their head coach quitting on them late in the year, and finishing the season losing seven of their last eight games on a dismal 4-12 campaign.
The following offseason, the Falcons fast-forwarded their rebuilding project by adding San Diego backup running back Michael Turner and rookie quarterback Matt Ryan while four other rookies—tackle Sam Baker, wide receiver Harry Douglas, linebacker Curtis Lofton, and corner Chevis Jackson—earned starting roles for the team.
Atlanta also cut ties with veteran corner DeAngelo Hall and running back Warrick Dunn while some began to wonder if young wide out Roddy White was a bust after two average seasons.
The 2007 Falcons struggled on offense and defense, ranking 23rd and 29th respectively. In the previous five years of NFC South's existence, the team that finished last in the division made the playoffs the next year. Most believed the Falcons would break that streak.
Previews of the '08 Falcons weren't kind:
NFL.com's Vic Carrucci: Rookie Matt Ryan is in for a long season of growing pains. Michael Turner's running will help, but first year coach Mike Smith has his hands full as an enormous rebuilding process begins. Prediction: 3-13
NFL.com's Pat Kirwan: This is a rebuilding project that will take time. The quarterback is a rookie and the team didn't inject enough talent into it's 29th ranked defense. The Falcons will repeat their 2007 record. Prediction: 3-13
ESPN's John Clayton: Owner Arthur Blank redid the Georgia Dome to make it more fan friendly, and he redid the coaching staff to make it more player friendly. Falcons players will play for Mike Smith after hating the Bobby Petrino experience, but Atlanta doesn't have enough good players to get out of the cellar. Prediction: 4th in the NFC South.
NFL.com's Gil Brandt: After a disastrous 2007 season, the team made some very good additions via draft and free agency. But It's hard to begin such a major team overhaul without some growing pains. Prediction: 3-13
Sports Illustrated predicted a 2-14 season for the Falcons.
Instead of living up to the underwhelming expectations, the Falcons stunned experts turning in an 11-5 season, making the playoffs.
Rookie quarterback Ryan threw for 3,326 yards and 16 touchdowns. Turner, who backed up the legendary LaDanian Tomlinson his entire career, exploded as a primary back by rushing for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. Roddy White finally lived up to expectations, hauling in 88 catches, 1,382 yards, and, seven touchdowns.
The Falcons' defense, led by sackmaster John Abraham and rookie Curtis Lofton rose to 24th (11th in scoring) with a bend-but-don't-break style that kept Atlanta in most games. Atlanta would sustain their rise the next season, posting a 9-7 record and for the first time in franchise history, posted back-to-back winning seasons.
Can the Buccaneers emulate that kind of dramatic turnaround? Well, for the record, the streak in the NFC South continued another year, as the Saints rose from the cellar in 2008 to a division title last season.
The Bucs are a little better off at QB entering 2010 then the Falcons were in '08. Josh Freeman at least has seen NFL defenses and had an entire offseason to work on his game. While Ryan is more accurate, Freeman has a stronger arm and could have more big play potential.
Like the Falcons, the Bucs believe they've added an impact offensive weapon in Mike Williams, while veteran Cadillac Williams appears to be fully recovered from a knee injury and hopes to provide the Bucs some pop in the running game.
The Bucs still have a valuable weapon in Kellen Winslow, Jr., and they may have found lightning in a bottle with running back young Kareem Huggins.
The Bucs revamped their defense with the NFL Draft, adding two big tackles to stuff the running game and provide penetration in their new Tampa 2.1 defense.
If preseason and Week 1 are any indication, the Bucs are better on defense; but like those '08 Falcons, Tampa Bay may be more of a "bend-but-don't break" defense that forces a lot of turnovers and holds opposition to field goals.
In 2008, Falcons coach Mike Smith was entering his first year as an NFL Head Coach, while Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris has already been through one season as the man. Like the Falcons, the Bucs have entered 2010 with a lot of questions, whether they have answers will play out over the next few months.
While the predictions haven't been kind to their favorite team, Buccaneer fans hope that the NFC South anomaly will extend for at least one more season.
Stay thirsty for Bucs football, my friends.
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