So we, admittedly, underestimated the commitment required for us both to preview all 32 NFL teams together in a little more than a month. It's tedious, thankless work. So from now on we're splitting the rest of the teams among the two of us to get done twice as quick (and with half the work). It is with that that we're proud to bring to you the 30th of our 32 team previews for the upcoming NFL season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
TOM'S TAKE: The Bucs are a somewhat scary mix of youth and veteran leadership who can go one of two ways -- either their age at crucial positions will haunt them, as it begins to slow performances, or the ring-thirsty vets teach the team's younger players the ropes on their way to a division crown. It's tough to gauge.
It starts with Chris Simms, who should continue to emerge now that he's finally won the complete confidence of Jon Gruden, although the depth behind him is practically non-existent. Simms will be even better than he was last year. His favorite target, last year, is Joey Galloway -- one of the important players who's age will play an unknown factor. Galloway has never really had a season like he did last year, and on the wrong side of 30 it's tough imagining him repeating those numbers. Michael Clayton unexpectedly dropped off the face of the Earth last year after reporting to the team out of shape and unprepared at the beginning of last season. The team desperately needs him to step up and contribute as a playmaker, because they shouldn't have to rely on Galloway or the surprising David Boston, who's trying to make good on his 10th change, to consistently make plays.
The offensive line is in a transitionary place -- the team went young in the draft on the line but it will take the players a year of development before they're reading for heavy playing time, except in the case of guard David Joseph who Gruden has taken a real liking to.
The defense is where the team's age might really start to show. A lot of the key players on the Bucs Super Bowl team are still in place -- Anthony McFarland, Simeon Rice, Derrick Brooks, Brian Kelly, Ronde Barber -- which could help from a chemistry standpoint. The defense has played together at a high level for many years, so they'll be familiar with each other on the field. But again, how long before age begins to take a toll on their bodies and negatively impedes their play?
I think this is the last year for the old Bucs squad to make a run. Gruden is doing a good job transitioning from the old guard to the new smoothly, but for a lot of the vets who have been around from Dungy's days this could be their final opportunity. The team has talent and playmakers at almost every position and should be the second best team in a talented NFC South. They'll be over .500, and should win a wild card spot if they don't actually overtake Carolina for the division. I do not think, however, they have Super Bowl ability.