Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6 Bold Predictions for the Rest of the Season
This Sunday's matchup against division rival New Orleans could be the deciding factor on whether they will make the playoffs.
These young Bucs must stand up against the Saints and prove that they are here to stay and not simply one-hit wonders.
The Buccaneers have had an up-and-down ride this season, from beating the Saints and the Falcons in dominating fashion to being stomped on by the San Francisco 49ers in a 45-point beatdown. The youngest team in football must put a stop to this madness and regain its winning composure that has defined their "no holds barred" mentality.
Here are some bold predictions on what to expect for the remainder of the Buccaneers' season.
The Rising Bucs Will Defeat the Saints This Sunday
Ignore past trends. Stats are for losers. The Saints are the Saints.
Bucs head coach Raheem Morris is a "mentality before reality" kind of guy. He typically ignores critics and truly only cares about the points up on the scoreboard when the final whistle blows.
On the same hand, the Bucs have found recent success when playing in the Superdome, capturing victories the past two seasons. But again, Raheem Morris doesn't buy the hype.
"It's hard to discern any advantage just because we've won there before. Their personnel is so dynamic. When that place gets loud and the fans get excited, the energy level goes through the roof.
"They always find ways to stay in games. Regardless of how many times we've won there in the past or how many times they've lost, I don't think it necessarily translates."
However, the Bucs are getting healthy. The return of running back LeGarrette Blount is scary for a Saints defense that ranks 24th in stopping the run and which also gave up 159 rushing yards to Steven Jackson in a humiliating loss to the winless St. Louis Rams this past week.
Using a strong running game with Blount and a few turnovers by the defense, expect quarterback Josh Freeman to get healthy and play lights-out football.
Drew Brees will throw for more than 250 yards but won't be able to put points up on the board due to turnovers and a porous run defense.
The Bucs and Saints will play nasty from beginning to end, but the Bucs will quickly pull away in a 28-17 victory.
Let the new NFC South leaders reign.
Josh Freeman Will Regain Elite QB Status
Marc Serota/Getty Images
Last season, Josh Freeman threw six interceptions. Through seven games this season...10.
Coaches have analyzed film with a fine-toothed comb and have pinpointed a few causes to this year's poor showing on the field.
Confidence and Blount.
"Last year he simply did a better job of going through his progressions throughout the whole process. Right now he’s probably playing his number in fantasy football because he's trying to throw touchdowns," Raheem Morris stated.
"Sometimes it’s OK to throw to check downs; sometimes it’s OK to go through your progressions. Right now, he has a little too much confidence in what he’s doing with his arm and forcing some things in there."
With Earnest Graham being lost for the season, opposing defenses will face a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount. With a powerful and successful Blount, Freeman's game is varied and dangerous: Play-action pass, QB scrambles, and an open secondary.
Keys to Freeman and his young Bucs' winning formula.
Expect Josh Freeman to step up his game big time. He feels the pressure of his past success and can see the unlimited potential that stands before him.
He won't take any more steps back and will only continue to grow and develop.
His coaches stand behind him and when LeGarrette Blount towers in the backfield with him, an offensive beast is certain to devour any opposing defense that comes its way.
The Bucs Defensive Line Will Become a Force
Adrian Clayborn. Brian Price. Gerald McCoy. Da'Quan Bowers.
The young men chosen to save the Buccaneers' defense. The young men who hold down the defensive line, bearing the weight of many high expectations.
And they truly are living up to their names.
Through the first seven games of the season, the defense has totaled 12 sacks. That is six more than the previous year during that time span. Let's simply compare: 31 tackles for a loss versus 21 and seven forced fumbles (six recovered) versus four, with only two being recovered.
The numbers aren't daunting yet prove the worth of drafting, developing and letting loose such beasts.
The nasty bullrush style of Adrian Clayborn, matched with the speed and finesse of Da'Quan Bowers, is steadily establishing a force to be reckoned with out on the edge.
Fighting double teams and clogging up the middle have become the duties of defensive tackles McCoy and Price. They have yet to disappoint.
Will these young Bucs ever reach the Hall of Fame play of their Super Bowl predecessors?
No one can say for certain, but one thing is clear...the defensive line is on the right path for success.
Yungry. Nasty. Tough. Smart.
LeGarrette Blount Will Rush for a Second Straight 1,000-Yard Season
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
With starting all-around back Earnest Graham out for the season, LeGarrette Blount needs to gain solid ground week in and week out. Since 2010, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are 8-2 when Blount rushes for more than 70 yards.
Simply put, they need Blount to win.
For the Buccaneers offense to click, Blount needs to run hard and carry often. His duties will significantly increase due to his added role as a third-down back. This may not be a bad thing for the Bucs offense.
Before Graham's injury, Blount's presence in the backfield would usually indicate a run while Graham would come in to block on passing plays.
With Blount being the only effective option left, offensive coordinator Greg Olsen can throw new schemes and add creative wrinkles to his play calling, opening up the playbook with a consistent dosage of power plays and play action.
Of the nine remaining games, only four teams have run defenses that rank in the top 15. LeGarrette Blount is a bruising back, with plenty of acrobatics, and will find himself wearing these teams down.
Look for Blount to rush for over 1,000 yards for his second straight season with at least 10 rushing touchdowns.
The only thing left to do is pound the rock.
Wideout Mike Williams Can't Escape Sophomore Slump
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
It's sad to say, but wide receiver Mike Williams just isn't getting it done this year.
His tremendous performance as a rookie turned the spotlight directly on himself, attracting double teams and tight coverages to eliminate his big-play potential.
Last year, he caught 65 passes for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns. This season, 31 receptions and only one touchdown. He also ranks fourth in the league with five dropped passes.
"I have to play better. I've got to know they are looking for me. They want me to make big plays. I have to get open. I have to say forget the double teams, forget the frustration and catch the ball and do what I do. That is on me."
Mike Williams is a great player for this Buccaneers team and truly needs to step up and find ways to get open and make plays.
Or maybe it's simply QB Josh Freeman who is missing out on opportunities to score points and put the ball in Williams' hands. But the second-year wide receiver knows it is all on him at this point.
"From my aspect, I am playing terrible," Mike Williams said. "I should be doing a lot more to help my team win. I should be getting in the end zone. That is something I did last year, and that was getting in the end zone."
Hopefully, Williams can turn his game around, but expect fewer touchdowns and more frustration.
But once he reaches the end zone again...it won't be so terrible.
These Yungry Bucs Will Win the NFC South
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
"Going out and winning our division, that's what we said we wanted to do right from the beginning, that's been our mentality," voiced Raheem Morris. "You guys know about my theory of mentality before reality."
Last year's message was the "Race to 10." They got it. But no sweet taste of post-season opportunity followed. They just managed to miss the playoffs and had to watch New Orleans and Atlanta fail to do much of anything with their playoff chances.
The Buccaneers come into their third season under the yungriest coach in football, one who proclaims his message and ensures that his players understand the mantra of success.
The gate to pass through...the NFC South.
These players have experienced success, but they have also watched it slip from their fingertips at the last second. Maybe that's why they'll fight as hard as possible to achieve this year's goal.
These young Buccaneers won't let it happen again. Raheem Morris won't allow it.
The Buccaneers, if the right team shows up every Sunday, should be able to seal the deal this season and capture the righteous title of NFC South champion.
The Bucs will go on to win multiple games but will lose close games against the Green Bay Packers and the Carolina Panthers, finishing the season at 11-5 and a proud division record of 5-1.