The NFL season is approaching and Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams, counting down our power rankings with one team a day until No. 1 is unveiled on Aug. 4, when the preseason kicks off with the Hall of Fame Game in Canton. Go to our Facebook page after you read the preview for all airing of grievances; we’ll have a daily discussion there to go with each preview.
Greg Schiano's first season, as a whole, has to be considered a success.
The Buccaneers were unquestionably better than they were in 2011. At one point they were 6-4 with a good shot at the playoffs. But then came the last few weeks of the season.
The finish was so bad, it makes it tough to evaluate the 2013 Buccaneers. Tampa Bay lost five in a row, before winning the finale against an Atlanta team that had home-field advantage wrapped up and nothing to play for. Quarterback Josh Freeman in particular fell apart down the stretch, and the team followed.
This team has a lot of talent and added an elite player in Darrelle Revis. But that late-season collapse is hard to ignore.
Is the roster better, worse or about the same?: Better, and not just for the obvious reason. Also consider that talented guards Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks finished last season on injured reserve. Joseph missed the entire season and Nicks played just seven games. Getting them back is huge. But we all know that the offseason was made by ...
Best offseason acquisition: ... the best cornerback in football, when healthy anyway.
Biggest hole on the roster: The Buccaneers had just 27 sacks last year. Only Oakland and Jacksonville had fewer sacks. Adrian Clayborn's return from an ACL injury might help, and maybe Da'Quan Bowers finally becomes an impact edge rusher. But right now, it's hard to figure out where the pass rush will come from.
Position in flux: The cornerback spot opposite Revis is important, because nobody in their right mind will throw at Revis if he proves to be healthy. Eric Wright was a free-agent disaster last year. A four-game suspension allowed the Buccaneers to void the guaranteed money in his contract, and he took a massive pay cut to $1.5 million for this year. If Wright is back to his old form, he'll start. But the team has to be interested in seeing what Johnthan Banks, a second-round pick and 2012 Thorpe Award winner at Mississippi State, can do.
Player you might not have heard of yet, but will soon: If things go well, you won't hear Mike Glennon's name all year. But the quarterback from N.C. State wasn't drafted in the fourth round just for kicks. The coaching staff seems skeptical of Freeman, and if he starts the 2013 season like he finished the 2012 season, it's not out of the question that Glennon will be a central figure in the Buccaneers' plans sooner rather than later.
Stat fact: Tampa Bay is 8-8 in the first halves of the last two seasons. The Buccaneers are 3-13 in the second halves. The 2011 team absolutely quit on coach Raheem Morris in an embarrassing way and lost their last 10 games. The Buccaneers didn't seem to quit after starting 6-4 in 2012, but a late-season collapse for a second straight year has to be a concern.
This team’s best-case scenario for the 2013 season: There's a lot to like about this team. Freeman has played really well at times. Doug Martin is a very good running back, and should be better with Joseph and Nicks back. Vincent Jackson was a great addition last season and Mike Williams is a dangerous No. 2 receiver. The defense has impact players like tackle Gerald McCoy, linebacker Lavonte David and young safety Mark Barron, not to mention Revis and Goldson. If it all comes together, there's no reason this team can't compete for an NFC South title.
And here’s the nightmare scenario: If the pass rush doesn't come around, the improvements in the secondary might not be enough. Freeman has played really well at times, but he has looked dreadful at times too. If he doesn't play well, that's a problem. And if Doug Martin gets hurt the offense will suffer, because the Buccaneers might have the worst running back depth in the league. There is a wide range of outcomes for this Buccaneers team.
[Related: Bucs kicker Connor Barth out for season]
The player who could swing this team’s season one way or another: Freeman is one of the bigger wild cards in the entire NFL going into the season. Through nine games last year, Freeman played really well. He had 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. He struggled a bit in his 10th game against Carolina, with an anemic 5.4 yards per attempt and two interceptions, and then the bottom fell out during a five-game losing streak. During that stretch he threw five touchdowns and nine interceptions. It was such a strange and sudden turnaround, it wouldn't be a surprise if he was concealing an injury. At least that would explain it. Now Freeman is in a contract year and has an intriguing rookie behind him. If Freeman plays like he did at the beginning of last season (or like he did in 2010), the Buccaneers could win the division. If he plays like he did during that late losing streak (or like he did in 2011), Tampa Bay could finish in last place. That's a lot of pressure for him.
The Shutdown Countdown previews you might have missed
32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
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