NFC South: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a season when every team in the south sucked, it’s fair to wonder if everyone shouldn’t be a dark horse. Still, there are teams you expect to bounce back and some who might struggle again. Most people would place the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the latter category.
However, maybe we should have a little more faith in them.
This is a defense with a ridiculous amount of talent, headed by Lovie Smith, who helped the Chicago Bears defense become a consistent top performer. Gerald McCoy is healthy again after seeing his season end due to an injured knee, and now that he is back he should see his numbers go back up to the nine sack, 50 tackles area it was in during the 2013 season.
Lavonte David remains one of the best linebackers in the NFL and Alterraun Verner was a solid addition to the secondary last season and will only continue to improve this year.
Offensively, Doug Martin looks like he might be returning to form as well in the backfield. The last two seasons saw injury derail his efforts, though even healthy Martin looked lackluster compared to his 1.400 yard rookie season. Thus far in preseason, he looked rejuvenated and closer to his 2012 self.
The Buccaneers also drafted the guy they hope will be the quarterback of the future, Florida State product Jameis Winston. Winston has looked fairly good in the preseason, with some fantastic moments one play, followed by rookie blunders the next. Still, he’s looked competent and his upside should have fans excited, especially considering he is throwing to Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.
What could throw a wrench in the works?
Well the offensive line was one of the worst in the NFL last season and so far in preseason action it’s only looked marginally better. Second round rookie Donovan Smith has struggled a bit at left tackle, though he’s not alone. Guard Logan Mankins, left guard Garrett Gilkey and right tackle Patrick Omameh have all been shaky as well. Center Evan Dietrich-Smith has played well though, as has backup veteran Gosder Cherilus.
Still, there is nothing tougher on a rookie quarterback than having a shaky offensive line.
If the line comes together though, the Buccaneers have the talent to make a run.
Next: NFC West: Arizona Cardinals