Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Divisional Dark Horse of the NFC South
In 2011, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers reminded fans of the early days of the franchise as they played poorly and lost the last ten games of the season finishing with a record of 4-12.
The following offseason Tampa Bay made big moves hiring a new head coach, signing key free agents and by having a great draft class which resulted in Tampa Bay finishing 2012 in a three way tie for second place in the division with a 7-9 record.
This offseason Tampa Bay has again made big moves in free agency and had a great draft class so expectations remain high for the Buccaneers.
This article examines what Tampa Bay must do to have a chance of taking home the NFC South crown in 2013.
Winning in the South
In order for the Buccaneers to win the NFC South the team must win games in their division. Over the past five seasons each team in the division except for Tampa Bay have won at least 12 games. Additionally, the Buccaneers have not won more 11 or more games since 2005 and have not won a division title since 2007.
The Atlanta Falcons have been a difficult division opponent because the Falcons have won the division twice in the past three seasons, and have shown they don’t like losing games posting a 56-24 regular season record over the past five seasons and two 13-3 records over in the last three seasons. Additionally in their last nine meetings Atlanta has beaten Tampa Bay seven times.
The New Orleans Saints are another difficult division opponent have won the NFC South title twice in the past four seasons, have posted a regular season record of 44-20 in those four seasons while having two 13-3 seasons, three playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title. Tampa Bay has not played well against New Orleans lately, having lost eight of the last 14 match-ups and haven’t won against the Saints since October of 2011.
The Carolina Panthers have not finished above .500 or won a division title since the 2008 season but are rebuilding themselves as a contender and have given Tampa Bay some headaches since joining the league in 1995. Since joining the league, Carolina has beaten Tampa Bay 14 times in 25 games and since the two teams joined the NFC South Division Carolina leads the series 13-9, including a sweep of the Buccaneers in 2011.
While expectations of Tampa Bay sweeping the games in their division is highly unrealistic, they must win more games than they lose in their division, to prove they have become a true contender.
In addition to winning divisional games, the Buccaneers must find ways to win games late in the season. Over the past ten seasons Tampa Bay has compiled a combined record of 32-48 in the last eight games of each of those seasons. In the past two seasons Tampa Bay's record stands at 3-13.
If Tampa Bay can't win later in the season there is no hope for the team making it to the playoffs or to the Super Bowl.
Overall, Tampa Bay’s quarterback Josh Freeman had a great looking season with the franchise's first 4,000-yard passing season, and 27 touchdown tosses, but a look at Freeman’s other statistics show that Freeman’s on-field performance led to the Buccaneers middle of the pack finish in 2012.
One statistic of Freeman’s that didn’t help out the Buccaneers in 2012 was turnovers. In 2012, Freeman threw 17 interceptions, with 13 of those being thrown in games that the Buccaneers eventually loss, and with nine of those coming in the last three weeks of the season.
Two other factors hindering the Buccaneers in 2012 was Freeman’s pass completion percentage and his average yards per pass attempt. In 2012, Freeman’s pass completion percentage was 54.84, which was ranked 32nd among passers which had attempted at least 200 passes, and his average yards per pass attempt was 7.28 which was worst in the NFC South. Freeman needs to get the ball to his receivers especially since over the past two seasons New Orleans has finished 30th and Atlanta has finished 20th and 23rd in total passing yards allowed.
Having lots of passing yards are great but if they don’t translate to touchdowns or wins then those yards are worthless, just ask Matthew Stafford.
Tampa Bay spent only two draft picks this year on offensive players with one of those being on quarterback Mike Glennon. Glennon is a talented player and if Freeman cannot step up to the plate, Glennon may get a shot as a starter before the season is over.