Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 10 Reasons the Bucs Can Win the NFC South
The NFC South has become arguably one of the best divisions in the NFL, and I'm here to tell you why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, not the Atlanta Falcons or the New Orleans Saints, will win the division.
The Buccaneers were one of the more surprising teams of the 2010 season, finishing 10-6 after notching only three wins in all of the 2009 season.
Tampa Bay found its on-field success by building a young team through NFL drafts and waiver claims, not through free agency.
Buccaneer's General Manager Mark Dominik believes signing big name players through free agency is for teams that don't know how to draft, and to this point, Domink's philosophy has worked.
Will this be the season Tampa Bay wins their first divisional title since 2007?
It won't be easy, but they can.
Tampa Bay will field what should be their most balanced offensive attack in recent memory.
With quarterback Josh Freeman leading the passing attack and LaGarrette Blount manning the rushing game, the Buccaneers finally have balance.
LaGarrette Blount managed a 1,000 yard season despite not playing in three games and not getting more than 11 carries a game until week seven. Blount will get his carries this season and as long as he stays healthy—the sky is the limit for No.27.
Josh Freeman was nothing short of spectacular during his second season in the NFL, throwing for over 3,400 yards and 26 touchdowns. Most impressive for Freeman is that he only threw six interceptions and became a true leader for Tampa Bay despite being relatively new to the NFL.
Freeman and Blount will both be key pieces in leading the Buccaneers to an NFC South title, and they both appear poised for big seasons.
The Buccaneers toughest road test of the year comes week 11 when the team will travel to Green Bay to take on the defending Super Bowl Champion Packers.
The Buccaneers will also face the Titans, Jaguars, Vikings and Niners on the road, though they should be favored in each of those contests.
The Buccaneers have the luxury of playing the Texans, Colts and Cowboys all at home, so Tampa Bay fans need to come out to these three games and give their Bucs a real home-field advantage.
Tampa Bay will face the Chicago Bears in London, which will be a key game for the Buccaneers.
Their 2011 schedule is undoubtedly tougher than it was in 2010, but it is still favorable if the Bucs protect their home field.
Improved Defensive Line
Tampa Bay ranked 17th in the NFL in yards given up per game (332.4) in 2010, despite having the seventh-best pass defense in the NFL.
Where the Buccaneers defense struggled was against the rush. They gave up over 130 yards per game, good for 28th in the league.
The Buccaneers will be better against the rush in 2011, with some new faces and a few players who are finally beginning to make a splash in the NFL.
Former Houston Texans defensive tackle Frank "Mount Kilimanjaro" Okam has been great for Tampa Bay during the preseason, and he should clog some running lanes at 6'5'' and 350 pounds.
Second-year defensive tackle Gerald McCoy has also improved at stopping the run, and rookie Adrian Clayborn will help prevent running backs from getting to the outside.
Michael Bennett, who will line up on the end across from Adrian Clayborn, has been a preseason stud and has kept rookie DaQuan Bowers behind him on the dept chart.
This Tampa Bay defensive line is young, but they will be a much improved group in 2011.
Wide receiver Mike Williams emerged as a future NFL star in his rookie season, catching 11 touchdown passes and nearly hitting the 1,000 yard mark.
Quarterback Josh Freeman will continue his on-field chemistry with Williams, and will also have a healthy Arrelious Benn to throw to, as well.
Benn had an up-and-down rookie year in 2010, but I fully expect him to be a focal point of the Tampa Bay offense this season and become a great compliment to Mike Williams.
Throw in tight ends Kellen Winslow Jr. and rookie Luke Stocker, and Josh Freeman's options are plentiful.
Let's take a look at the Falcons.
Will Michael Turner be able to stay healthy for a full 16 games?
Turner has been a one-man wrecking ball for the Falcons, but the wear and tear of 888 carries over the past three seasons might finally be catching up to him.
Turner was slowed towards the end of the 2010 season, averaging just 3.3, 2.8 and 3.9 yards over his last three regular season games, and was held to just 39 yards on 10 carries against the Green Bay Packers during the playoffs.
If Turner does begin to slow down in 2011, quarterback Matt Ryan, who has always had the luxury of handing off to a stud back like Turner, will have to win more games with his arm.
Ryan has been a very steady and consistent quarterback for the Falcons, but he's never been depended on to win games with just his arm. He threw for over 300 yards just one time in 2010.
The Saints will obviously be a great team in 2011, but they do have some questions heading into the season.
Receiver Marques Colston has been consistently injured and I don't see that changing throughout the season, which means the Saints will need someone else to step up in the passing game.
As for the running backs, the Saints have a lot of talent at the position but no one back really stands out as being able to carry the load alongside Drew Brees. Pierre Thomas is injury prone, Mark Ingram is an unproven rookie and Darren Sproles is a change-of-pace back.
This is where the Buccaneers have an advantage over their division foes simply because they are more balanced as of now.
Who better to lead the youngest team in the NFL than the youngest coach in the NFL.
Raheem Morris is the fist head coach since the 1970 merger to finish with a winning record while starting at least 10 rookies. Morris is young and emotional, a coach form whom players like to play.
Just ask tight end Kellen Winslow:
"Rah is a special dude. There is nobody else like him in the league. The only other coach I can think of off the bat is (Jets coach) Rex Ryan. They just don't care what other people think. It's all about the guys on their team. We believe in that dude. We'll die for that dude. That's how much we love him."
It will still be up to the Buccaneer players to go out and win games, but it helps knowing that leading them from the sidelines will be a coach for whom the players want to win.
The Tampa Bay offensive line looked less-than-impressive during the preseason, but the front office has invested a lot of money in the boys up front and once the regular season rolls around they should be a good bunch.
Donald Penn, Ted Larsen, Jeff Faine, Davin Josheph and Jeremy Trubelood have a combined 29 years of NFL experience, and they are by far the most veteran group on Tampa Bay's roster.
Three of those five lineman have made a Pro Bowl so the skill is there to win the battle upfront. They should be able to give Josh Freeman time in the pocket and create running lanes for LaGarrette Blount.
One of the single most important players to the overall success of the Buccaneer defense is Aqib Talib.
If Roger Goodell had suspended Talib for any significant amount of time, Tampa Bay would have been in trouble.
Any Buccaneer fan who watched the preseason game against Miami in which Brandon Marshall and Chad Henne looked more like Steve Young and Jerry Rice would attest to that.
When Talib is in the lineup for Tampa Bay they are a significantly better team, and he will be in the lineup from week one.
2011 NFL Draft
The Buccaneers without question had one of the top overall drafts in the entire NFL, addressing many team needs from a franchise that went 10-6 the previous year.
Adrian Clayborn, DaQuan Bowers, Mason Foster and Luke Stocker will all play key roles for the Buccaneers moving forward in 2011.
Adrian Clayborn will be a starter from week one for the Buccaneers, and Clayborn will improve upon a defense that only recorded 26 sacks in all of 2010.
DaQuan Bowers will provide depth opposite Clayborn on the defensive line, though he will be listed as second on the depth chart behind Michael Bennett.
Mason Foster will fill the void left by Barrett Rudd at middle linebacker, and although Rudd was a solid linebacker, Foster brings much more athleticism to the position.
Luke Stocker is one of only two tight ends on the Tampa Bay roster to go along with starter Kellen Winslow. Stocker will see a lot of action when Tampa Bay goes to their two tight end set.
All in all, the 2011 Draft improved the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dramatically.