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Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2012 NFL Preview

When I look for sleepers in the NFL, here are my three keys:

1) How is the schedule?

Very favorable. Of their first 10 games, only two opponents (Giants, Saints) reached the playoffs last year. If you go simply by last year’s record, the Bucs face the 24th easiest schedule in the NFL. Now let’s not go overboard – they do face Cam Newton, Eli Manning and Tony Romo in the first three weeks. That being said, if the Bucs are able to open 2-2, the next seven games could net five wins. Four games at home and road trips to awful Minnesota, mediocre Oakland and Carolina. Yes, I will be taking the “over” on wins for Tampa Bay (I’ve seen six). I’m not putting much stock in the team quitting last year on stats-hater Raheem Morris (curb stomped in the final 10 games by an average of 18.5 ppg).

2) Did the team improve in the offseason?

Few teams in the NFL had as much success in the draft and free agency as the Bucs. They snapped up an elite receiver in Vincent Jackson (5 years, $55 million), a top-tier offensive lineman in Carl Nicks from rival New Orleans (5 years, $47.5 million), and an upgrade at cornerback in Eric Wright (5 years, $37.5 million). In the first two rounds of the draft, the Bucs landed three starters in safety Mark Barron, running back Doug Martin and linebacker LaVonte David.

So that’s six new starters and a new head coach (Greg Schiano after they couldn’t land Chip Kelly).

Terry McAulay is putting right hand on red3) Do they have any shot in the division?

New Orleans has been decimated by the loss of its coach and a few players due to Bountygate. Everyone loves the Panthers, but what if the league had a year to adjust to Cam, and is ready for his sophomore season? I’ve never been a believer in Atlanta, and you know I don’t love Matt Ryan or Mike Smith. The Bucs are obviously the longest shot to win the division, but here’s something to remember – over the last nine years in the NFL, a team has gone from last place to 1st place.

Ok, now that I’ve rambled in a far too positive manner about a 4-win team that gave up the most points in the NFL last season (494). Legit questions: Is Josh Freeman going to throw 22 picks again? What if Doug Martin isn’t capable of 15-20 carries? Will preseason optimism be strangled by a 0-3 start? Those young linebackers … seriously?

Some more positive spin for the Bucs:

* Let’s say Gerald McCoy is finally injury free. The former 1st round pick will be pivotal to stopping the run (Tampa was last in that category: 156 ypg).
* Jim Harbaugh busted the college-to-NFL coaching myth, why can’t Schiano?
* Aqib Talib and Eric Wright stay out of handcuffs, and buoyed by Barron, Tampa’s secondary goes from horrendous to respectable.
* Mike Williams, who looks like a real keeper from Syracuse, is an awesome No. 2 to Vincent Jackson.

Sun. Sept. 9 CAROLINA 4:15 PM Win
Sun. Sept. 16 at N.Y. Giants 1:00 PM Loss
Sun. Sept. 23 at Dallas 1:00 PM Loss
Sun. Sept. 30 WASHINGTON 4:15 PM Win
Sun. Oct. 7 Bye Week
Sun. Oct. 14 KANSAS CITY 1:00 PM Win
Sun. Oct. 21 NEW ORLEANS 1:00 PM Win
Thurs. Oct. 25 at Minnesota 8:30 PM Win
Sun. Nov. 4 at Oakland 4:05 PM Loss
Sun. Nov. 11 SAN DIEGO 1:00 PM Loss
Sun. Nov. 18 at Carolina 1:00 PM Loss
Sun. Nov. 25 ATLANTA 1:00 PM Win
Sun. Dec. 2 at Denver 4:05 PM Win
Sun. Dec. 9 PHILADELPHIA 1:00 PM Loss
Sun. Dec. 16 at New Orleans 1:00 PM Loss
Sun. Dec. 23 ST. LOUIS 1:00 PM Win
Sun. Dec. 30 at Atlanta 1:00 PM Loss

I’ve got Tampa going 8-8 and narrowly missing the playoffs. Why do I have Tampa winning at Denver? Frankly, I’m not sure Peyton Manning will make it to December.

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