Tampa Bay took a chance four years ago, letting go of a proven commodity in Head Coach Jon Gruden and going with guy who had never even been a coordinator, Raheem Morris. And after a rough first season the Buccaneers caught lightning in a bottle, as QB Josh Freeman showed flashes of his considerable talents, leading Tampa to a 10-6 mark in 2010.
Suddenly, though, that seems like a long time ago. More accurately, it's one long 4-12 season and another coaching change ago.
Now the Bucs go forward with another new head coach, former Rutgers head man Greg Schiano. And while Schiano might be a “hot” hire, according to my memory college coaches don't have a great track record in the NFL.
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2011 Tampa Bay Season in Review
Tampa Bay actually won four of its first six games last year, knocking off a couple of eventual playoff qualifiers in Atlanta and New Orleans.
But that's as far as the Buccaneers got last year. With the defense falling apart and Freeman suffering through some growing pains, Tampa proceeded to lose its last 10 games in a row, several in non-competitive fashion.
One thing we could say in their defense is that they played a pretty tough schedule. The Bucs ended up playing eight games against teams that eventually made the playoffs, plus they had to give up a home game to play the Bears in London, played at a Tennessee team that finished 9-7 and lost at home to Dallas.
Through all that it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Tampa wound up being one of the worst teams in the league to bet on last year, going just 4-12 ATS.
The Bucs ranked 21st in total offense last year, averaging 319 yards per game, and a dismal 30th in rushing at just 91 YPG. That rushing total was a far cry from the 125 YPG Tampa averaged in 2010, but some of that had to do with playing catch-up for a good part of most games.
Freeman completed 63 percent of his passes last year, but his 6.5 yards per attempt average ranked right near the bottom among starters around the league. And in trying to come from behind almost all season long, the former Kansas State star threw 22 interceptions, versus 16 touchdown passes.
Up front the Bucs lost one starter over the offseason, but they upgraded by signing former Saints G Carl Nicks. Tampa Bay gave up only 32 sacks last year, which was pretty good considering how many times they threw the ball, and the 4.2 yards per catch was respectable. So the O line as a unit is one of the strengths of this team.
In the backfield LeGarrette Blount ran for only 780 yards last year, but, then again, only carried the ball 184 times. To bolster the backfield the Bucs grabbed dual-threat RB Doug Martin from Boise State with the 31st pick in the draft.
Tampa went young at WR last year, and while there's some talent with Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn the overall production just wasn't there, at least not yet. So over the offseason they signed former Chargers WR Vincent Jackson and picked up TE Dallas Clark.
Expect the Bucs offense to improve this year.
Defensively, Tampa was a bit of a disaster last year. They ranked 30th overall, allowing 394 YPG, and they were dead last vs. the run, getting gouged for 156 YPG on the ground. Four times they allowed more than 200 rushing yards in a game.
And the pass defense wasn't any better as the Bucs ranked last in the league in sacks with just 32; they allowed opposing QBs to complete 63 percent of their passes.
One thing that really hurt Tampa Bay last year was the biceps injury suffered by DT Gerald McCoy. The Bucs didn't win a game last year after he went down and out for the season in Week 6.
Over the offseason the Bucs signed CB Eric Wright, and then they used the seventh pick in the draft on Alabama S Mark Barron and the 58th pick on Nebraska LB Lavonte David. All three are likely to step right in and start.
But the Bucs got some bad new this spring when DE Da'Quan Bowers, who led the team in tackles for losses last year with 8.5, tore an Achilles tendon. It's uncertain as to whether he'll play at all this season.
2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule Analysis
Going by last year's win/loss records, Tampa Bay will play the sixth-easiest schedule in the league this season. But Phil Steele ranks the Bucs slate a little stiffer, at 18th-toughest, and we agree with his assessment. Tampa Bay starts off with Carolina, which should be an improved team in Cam Newton's second season, then plays at the Giants and at Dallas. The Bucs then host Robert Griffin III and his Redskins, before taking their bye week.
Coming out of their break Tampa hosts the Chiefs, who should also be better this year, and the defending NFC South champion Saints. The Bucs then hit the road for games at Minnesota and Oakland, before returning home for a game with the Chargers. Tampa then visits Carolina, hosts Atlanta, visits Denver, hosts the Eagles, and visits New Orleans. That's a rough stretch.
Tampa then ends the season with a home game with the Rams and a road game at the Falcons.
Realistically, we figure the Bucs have no more than about six winnable games.
2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Futures Odds
Bovada is listing Tampa Bay at 10/1 to win the NFC South this season, 35/1 to win the NFC and 75/1 to win the Super Bowl. The Bucs have also been tagged with a regular-season wins “over/under” of six (O -135/U +105).
2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Predictions
Tampa Bay heads into this season with a new head coach, new coordinators on both sides of the ball, an “iffy” offense and a defense in need of a boost. Not a good combination. They do have some of the pieces in place, but for moment, not enough to contend.
The Bucs have bounced around the last few years, from nine wins to three to 10 to four last year. This might make one think they've got another rebound season in them. But it's hard to see how they'll win seven games. So we'll go with the under on Tampa's wins total for this season.
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