Patriots vs. Bucs: Previewing the 2011 Preseason Matchup and Positional Battles
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Are Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth Already Becoming a Distraction?
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According to Dan Pompei of the National Football Post, we may see a drastic change in New England:
"Chad Ochocinco and Albert Haynesworth might not be long for New England. One day before this story came out by my guy Mike Reiss, one NFL executive familiar with the Patriots ways told me he believes one or both of the big name acquisitions will be cut before the season starts. The front office man thinks coach Bill Belichick will use the controversial players to help control and send a message to his locker room."
Well, this didn't come out until earlier this week, so chances are it didn't affect the Pats' in their Week 1 stomping of Jacksonville.
However, it shouldn't be a distraction this week either.
Because, this is the New England Patriots, with Tom Brady at QB, who's comparable to the Captain America of professional athletes.
They've done away with stud players before, and don't think twice once it's done.
Are the Young Bucs' Ready to Take the Next Step?
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Okay, so other than DB Ronde Barber, who throws off the curve, is a very young team.
They definitely overachieved from in 2010, after a 3-13 season from 2009.
So, the expectations are set, and all they have to do now is answer the call.
And, playing very well from top to bottom against the New England Patriots will surely give them a confidence boost.
If they however, get smashed much like their fellow in-state franchise Jacksonville, it could set them back a few steps.
Because knowing that you're nowhere near the top, after all the work they've done, would be extremely detrimental.
But, as long as all units can run with, or even past the Pats', then the NFC South better watch out.
Adrian Clayborn the Next Rising Tampa Bay Defensive Lineman?
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If there's one thing that we can really attribute to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise, it's defensive linemen.
Before the Bucs' even took the field in 1976 (their inaugural year), they drafted Lee Roy Selmon with the No. 1 overall pick.
Long story short-He's in the Hall of Fame.
Then there's the ever-so-jubilant Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice (not originally drafted by Tampa, but had his best years with them), and Santana Dotson.
Now, there's rookie Adrian Clayborn with the opportunity to keep that tradition rolling in Tampa.
He definitely has the potential, and it showed during his first live-game NFL action against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Who by the way, have arguably the best ground game in pro football.
Is Danny Woodhead a Strong Fantasy Football Back?
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It's definitely an interesting question, because Danny Woodhead came out of nowhere in 2010 for the Patriots.
He's was with the New York Jets from 2008-2010, but never saw nearly as much playing time.
Well, in New England he has been given a second chance, and utilized that with every snap last season.
This season, he could be a solid fantasy player as he is very good at rushing as he is receiving.
Now, obviously we're not going to get much of a read based on preseason games, however, this Tampa Bay defense could give us a very important glimpse.
The Bucs' D is young, strong, and very talented.
Their definitely going to be a bigger challenge that the Jags', so don't be surprised if Woodhead sees a few more snaps.
In addition, it'll give fantasy players somewhat of an idea of how Danny will perform.
So, although the answer remains to be completely seen, he could be a sleeper in 2011.
Battle of the QBs
We all know that Tom Brady and Josh Freeman are going to be the starters for their respective franchises.
But, what is their fantasy outlook?
Well, Brady is, well, Brady. He's expected to have his typical monster year, and will most likely be a top five pick (top ten at worst).
Freeman is on the rise (much like the entire Bucs' franchise, and definitely makes his WRs better.
He's not a top ten pick, but could sneak into the top 20 or 25 for overall rankings.
As for their backups, Ryan Mallett and Bryan Hoyer are battling for the right to be No. 2 behind Tom Brady.
Both will make the roster, but plan on both being very competitive throughout the preseason, and Thursday evening at Raymond James Stadium should be no different.
In Tampa, Josh Johnson remains as Freeman's backup, and their shouldn't be any challenge to him.
For one, he's actually started in the NFL before, and has been a solid No. 2 behind Josh Freeman.
Aging Veterans: Ronde Barber vs Deion Branch vs Chad Ochocinco
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All three are old, with Ronde being the eldest.
Deion Branch is 32, Chad Ochocinco is 33, and Ronde Barber is 36.
It's definitely safe to say that all are on the back end of their career, with Barber leading the way.
However, they all have most certainly increased the average length of an NFL career, at their respective positions, so watching them play on the same field will be a treat.
There's also a combined three Super Bowls between them, as well as a ton of other playoff experience.
When they meet up on Thursday, it'll be interesting to see how much Ronde plays, and who he covers.
As for the Patriots, whether Ochocinco actually plays, and if so, how much?
In addition, will he make a scene if he doesn't start or earn more playing time than Deion Branch?
Both teams could be very, very good this season, and the matchup at Raymond James Stadium should be a prequel of what to expect this regular season.
Battle in the Trenches: Pats' O-Line vs Bucs' D-Line
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Three seasoned veterans remain on the Patriots' offensive line in Matt Light, Logan Mankins, and Dan Koppen.
Switch to the Buccaneers' defensive line, and we see rookies Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers, as well as Tim Crowder and second year DT Gerald McCoy.
For however long these players battle in the trenches on Thursday evening, be sure to watch this matchup if you have the opportunity to catch this game.
Obviously, both shouldn't play more than one full quarter, but during that time, there's going to be a lot of proving that needs to be done.
For that Pats', it's that they can once again run the ball effectively, and for the first time in 2011, versus a solid defensive front.
On the other side of the ball, this young D-line must show that they won't back down from seasoned vets, thus making some solid plays on their own.
From a fantasy football perspective, having a solid defense can be the difference in winning and losing.
Tampa Bay, could be that difference, as they need to improve on that 28th ranked rush D from 2010.
Belichick's Coverage: How Will New England Pass Defense Perform?
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Last season the New England Patriots finished ranked No. 30 in pass defense, by allowing 258.5 yards per game.
Counter-intuitive to that, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked No. 17 in passing offense, in gaining 210.1 yards per game.
Definitely a significant difference, but something has to give.
In addition, we can learn a lot from this game, as to who wants to step up and improve from 2010.
The Pats' coverage has more to prove, but the Bucs' and Josh Freeman have been given a standard.
Look for Tampa Bay WRs Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams to attack the Pats' secondary, as well as TE Kellen Winslow Jr. to force their LBs to be more honest.
Out of all the matchups in this game, this may be the most important, because Belichick will be under the scope all season if they can't stop anyone.
Whereas the Bucs' will extremely disappoint if the receiving core has a lackluster season.
And, it all goes briefly on display in Tampa, Thursday evening at Raymond James Stadium.
Chess Match: Bill Belichick vs Raheem Morris
Here we have an established mastermind against a young Buck (no pun intended), which could very much so be a Super Bowl matchup.
The interesting thing here, is that both Bill Belichick and Raheem Morris are also serve as their teams' defensive coordinators.
Also, how often do we get to see two defensive head coaches clash?
Yes there's Rex Ryan and Lovie Smith, but not too many after that.
And it will be a chess match, as Tampa has a young, confident, chip-on-their-shoulder-esque attitude, whereas the Pats' are viewing everything as "us against the world."
Let it be known now, don't be surprised if both finish in the top ten (maybe top five) in total defense by season's end.
If you love defense, and want to see a preseason matchup that has Super Bowl potential, this is the game to watch.
Be sure to check out John on Bleacher Report.
And, you can follow him on Twitter @ Sportswriter27.