COMMENTARY | Coach Bill Parcells famously once said, "You are what your record says you are."
Well, the Tuna got it wrong, because the third-place 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers played like a team headed for the postseason.
Injuries, poor play in two-minute situations, a lack of consistency, and a purely awful passing defense limited Tampa to a 7-9 record. However, these problems are correctable. They require time, talent, coaching, and leadership. I contend the Buccaneers have those characteristics -- and more.
Here are seven explanations why I believe Tampa will end its playoff drought in 2013:
Free-Agent Acquisitions - The biggest liability for Tampa Bay last season was the secondary. Not only were the Bucs amongst the worst passing defenses of all time, but they also lacked outspoken veteran leadership. Cornerback Ronde Barber was a quiet leader who led by example for 15 years. He's now retired. Realizing the secondary was in need of serious overhaul, the team acquired Pro-Bowlers Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson.
Revis gives Tampa Bay the shutdown corner it has never had, a necessity for a division that boasts several Pro-Bowl wide receivers -- Atlanta's Roddy White and Julio Jones, Carolina's Steve Smith and New Orleans' Marques Colston. Goldson is the physical safety that will protect the backend of the defense, along with Alabama product Mark Barron. Revis and Goldson are vocal leaders on the field and in the locker room, and will mentor Tampa's young core. Bucs GM Mark Dominik has made it clear he's willing to wheel and deal to make Tampa Bay a contender. But can Tampa's greatest weakness transform into a strength?
Josh Freeman - If Freeman doesn't succeed in a contract year, the Bucs aren't making the postseason. It's a harsh reality, but history has shown that a quarterback's performance plays a big part in the team's success.
Surprisingly, he enters his fifth season still just 25 years old. To put that in perspective, Freeman has four years more experience and is still younger than San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick -- who entered the league last season! Freeman has developed continuity with the coaching staff and is surrounded by a dynamic offense, anchored by running back Doug Martin and wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. I spotlighted my full feelings about Freeman here. Tampa is preparing a backup plan, or else it wouldn't have drafted Mike Glennon in the third round. However, I'm willing to give Freeman one more chance to show me his full potential.
Strength of Offensive Line - When healthy, the Bucs have the best offensive line in the league. Between the starting five, they've made 320 career starts. They start three Pro-Bowlers -- Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Carl Nicks. Penn, an undrafted player out of Utah State, has 92 career starts at left tackle and hasn't missed a game in more than five years. Jeremy Zuttah started every game last year and has made at least 16 starts at center, left tackle and left guard. Demar Dotson beat out veteran Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle last September and never relinquished it. A former basketball player, Dotson uses his size -- 6 feet 9 inches -- and great footwork to position himself in front of oncoming pass rushers. All-Pro guards Joseph and Nicks return from injuries and their presence give Tampa Bay a formidable front line. I expect them to dominate the point of attack.
Tampa Bay Can Stop the Run - Few realize Tampa Bay's run defense was by far the best in football. They Bucs allowed a mere 82.5 yards per game, eight fewer than the next closest team. Coach Greg Schiano has preached the importance of stopping the run, leaving opposing offenses with long second and third downs. The Bucs enter 2013 with a healthy defensive line and a remodeled secondary. Logic says, if a defense can stop the run on a consistent basis, that team is going to win more games than it loses.
The Bucs Suffered Through Bad Luck - Don't let Tampa Bay's 7-9 record fool you. Of the nine losses, only two were by more than eight points. The Bucs competed in nearly every game, and led in the fourth quarter in four of the nine losses. The defense frequently had trouble stopping teams on third down, blowing three leads with under two minutes left in the game. Outside of an ugly 41-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints, they lost eight games by a combined 48 points.
Sitting at 6-4 and in striking distance of the playoffs entering Week 11, the team suffered two devastating losses that sent its season into a tailspin -- a one-point Week 12 defeat at the hands of the one-loss (at the time) Atlanta Falcons, and a two-point, last-second loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 14 -- a game in which Tampa held a 21-10 lead with 7:21 to play. The additions of Revis and Goldson figure to improve Tampa's secondary, and limit the number of leads squandered.
They've Built Through The Draft - Tampa Bay has made a point of building the team through draft picks, then filling in areas of need with free agents. Since the 2010 draft, the Bucs have started at least three players from each draft class.
Additionally, the Bucs have found production late in the draft. Fourth-round receiver Mike Williams has been a mainstay in the offense alongside Vincent Jackson, and seventh-round selection Erik Lorig converted from the defensive line after his rookie year to serve as the team's fullback the past two seasons. Last year, Tampa started five rookies, including four on the defensive side of the ball -- Doug Martin, Mark Barron, Leonard Johnson, Ahmad Black and Lavonte David, who also led the team in tackles. The Bucs also drafted Johnthan Banks in the second round of this year's draft. Banks was the Thorpe Award winner, given to the nation's top collegiate defensive back. His big physique -- 6-2 -- matches up well with tall, physical receivers the Bucs will face in the NFC South. Tampa Bay boasts a talented core of young players, and they're only going to get better with time.
The NFL is Unpredictable - Last offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles were the popular Super Bowl pick. The Indianapolis Colts -- even after drafting Andrew Luck out of Stanford- - were projected to finish dead last in their division. Apparently, the Colts can win without Peyton Manning. Luck proved everyone wrong and took Indianapolis to the postseason, while the Eagles disappointed just about everyone, except Cowboys, Giants and Redskins fans. The NFL can't be predicted one year to another. Tampa Bay's division is incredibly inconsistent. Since the division's creation in 2002, no team has finished first in the division in consecutive years.
This season, the Bucs deserve to make the playoffs. And they'll do it on the back of good drafting, smart spending, physical play and a little of that overdue luck.
James LoPresti lives in Tampa and has more than eight years experience working in the news industry. He has been published in the Tampa Tribune, and currently writes fantasy football analysis for The Draft Report. Follow him of Twitter @JLoPresti3114.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Josh Freeman
- Dashon Goldson
- Darrelle Revis