The Superbowl Sleeper series is a look at five teams that finished below .500 in 2011 — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and the Buffalo Bills– and what it would take for each team to get to the Superbowl in 2012.
What happened in 2011?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers collapsed after a promising 2010 season to 4-12. Quarterback Josh Freeman regressed, throwing 22 interceptions. The defense was a disaster, finishing last in sacks and 30th overall. The poor season lead to a change in leadership, with former Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano taking the reigns.
The front office was aggressive in the off-season, opening their wallet to sign high profile free-agents WR Vincent Jackson and G Carl Nicks, and using shrew maneuvering in the 2012 NFL Draft to obtain S Mark Barron and RB Doug Martin. Barron and Martin should contribute immediately despite being rookies and Jackson and Nicks represent significant upgrades at their respective positions. Despite his bad 2011 campaign, Josh Freeman is an immensely talented quarterback.
To this point the Buccaneers young defensive line has been a disapointment. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers were supposed to be the linchpins of an athletic attacking defense but Tampa defense has been the exact opposite. The are soft up front, ranking 28th and 32nd against the run the last two seasons.
Blueprint to get to the Superbowl
The Buccaneers will have to lean on their big, physical offensive line and dual headed running attack to provide balance. Defensively the undersized front seven and the defensive line especially, must mature and play up to their ability.
Tampa is playing in possibly the toughest division in the NFL playing six games against the Saints, Falcons and Panthers. They should be able to compete offensively, but their defense has too many holes up front to be a viable contender.