Although the National Football League is widely considered the sports league with the most parity, that perception is far from reality. Seemingly there are a few teams that jump up or down to surprise every season, but there are several staples that have proven to be good or bad in recent years.
Here are some things we know for an absolute fact.
The New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens will all be highly competitive.
The Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns will not be.
The reason why the above statements are correct is simple– the NFL is simply all about the quarterback. If you have one, you have a chance. If you don’t, you simply have no chance. It doesn’t matter how deep the rest of your roster is, if you have a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco you will win games. If you put guys like Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, current day Carson Palmer, Brandon Weeden and Matt Flynn on good teams you still won’t win very often.
Since we have a pretty good idea who should be playing meaningful games in January and an excellent theory on who will be doing their work on Jadaveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater in January, we are going to explore a few teams that could simply go either way and you shouldn’t wager on. The first team is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
On paper the Bucs look pretty stacked. Their high priced additions of Darrelle Revis and Dashon Goldson greatly improve the NFL’s worst secondary from a season ago. Add in the return of Pro Bowl guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph and this team should have great offensive balance.
Add in one of the best running backs in football in Doug Martin, a Pro Bowl wide receiver in Vincent Jackson, a big play running mate in Mike Williams and perhaps the best defensive tackle this side of Geno Atkins in Gerald McCoy and the mighty Buccaneers have star power.
So where’s the indecision?
The Buccaneers play in what could be the NFL’s toughest division, the NFC South. It’s conceivable that the last-place team could be .500. On top of that, the ultimate quarterback enigma this side of St. Louis may be Josh Freeman. Freeman has physical tools that would make any scout drool like a 12-year old boy perusing his first Playboy (or XXX Twitter account to bring us back toward the modern day). Unfortunately, Josh hasn’t put together a solid string of productive games, much less seasons despite having all the surrounding cast that any quarterback would dream about.
There are also questions about former Pro Bowl guard Carl Nicks’ ability to come back from a toe injury that landed him on the injured reserve list. Toe injuries don’t sound all that bad but the pain can be truly excruciating and it likely isn’t going to heal much when roughly 345 pounds of weight is testing it with every step. Add in Davin Joseph coming back from a torn patellar tendon and there is some uncertainty with the line.
Finally, an improved defense on paper needs to improve significantly on the field. The Bucs allowed more passing yards than any team in the history of the NFL and not all of that was the fault of the much maligned secondary. The Bucs pass rush (or lack thereof) finished tied for 29th last season in sacks, a category that they’ve been routinely at the bottom of the league in since the retirements of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice. All Tampa Bay did to improve the pass rush was…..lose their best pass rusher in Michael Bennett to Seattle?
With a healthy Darrelle Revis patrolling one side of the field the Bucs will have more time to get to opposing quarterbacks. Unfortunately, a “healthy Darrelle Revis” is something that is a bit of an unknown and cloning technology hasn’t yet found its way to the National Football League, so Tampa will likely have to depend on the likes of rookie Jonathan Banks and Leonard Johnson to cover the Julio Jones’, Roddy White’s, Steve Smith’s and Marques Colston’s of the NFC South even if Revis is indeed healthy and playing close to his previous level.
Finally the Buccaneers are paper thin at most positions. A few key injuries could turn a potential 10-win team into picking in the Top 10 of the draft. The same can be true of many teams, but those usually involve quarterback injuries, which is understood. The loss of players such as Gerald McCoy, Darrelle Revis or Vincent Jackson could send the mighty Buccaneers vessel the way of the Titanic.