2006 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview
By Robert Ferringo of Doc's Sports Picks
Since I've unveiled my 2006 NFL Predictions, I've taken some heat from Tampa Bay fans for the "lack of respect" that I'm showing the Buccaneers. It's understandable. Heck, from February through June even I thought that Tampa Bay was one of the four best teams in the NFC.
Tampa Bay won 11 games and a division title last year. They feature a strong running game and one of the league's toughest defenses. So for me to say that they won't finish over .500 may seem like I'm taking the John Kerry approach to handicapping. But there is a method to my madness. Here are five reasons I'm no longer high on the Bucs:
- They're old. Derrick Brooks, Simeon Rice, Shelton Quarels, Ronde Barber, Brian Kelly, Greg Spires, Mike Alstott, John Wade, Michael Pittman and Joey Galloway have all been in the league nine years or longer. Those are all starters and key guys. Tampa Bay plays a rugged style and with that many older players the likelihood of crippling injuries to one or more of them increases exponentially. It's odds. And in my business it's all about odds.
- The Quarterback. Yes, Chris Simms had solid moments last year. Yes, I've heard he's looked great this preseason. No, I'm not sold on him. The guy was 6-5 as a starter last year and the Bucs scored two touchdowns or less in six of his 11 games. Simms also has never won a big game in his career, so the jury is still out. He is also guiding a very inexperienced offensive unit.
- The Schedule. Tampa plays in the second-toughest division in football (NFC South) and they have to face the toughest division in football (NFC East). Three cold-weather games in December (at Pitt, Chicago and Cleveland) don't help. In fact, four of their last six are on the road. Again, odds and past performance dictate a decline.
- Three NFC teams are going back to the playoffs. Three aren't. That's how its gone for 15 years. Maybe a fourth will make it, but that's the max. I don't think the Bucs are better than Carolina, Chicago, Seattle or Washington. I just don't. And one of those four probably won't even make the postseason.
- It's the NFL and surprises abound. Tampa Bay went 5-11 in 2004 and rebounded to go 11-5 in 2005. That's the way the league is nowadays, and it's nearly a guarantee that some team that won 4, 5 or 6 games in 2005 will bounce back and be a "surprise" team.
Here's Doc's 2006 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview
- 2005 Record: 11-6 (6-3 home, 5-3 road)
- 2005 Rankings: 23rd offense (25th pass, 14th run); 1st defense (6th pass, 6th rush)
- 2005 Against the Spread: 8-9 (4-5 home, 4-4 road); 6-11 vs. total (5-4 h, 1-7 r)
- 2006 Odds: 57/1 to win Super Bowl; 15/1 to win NFC; 3/1 to win NFC South; 8.0 wins O/U
- 2006 Strength of Schedule: 2nd (.550 opp. win %)
- Key stat: The Bucs scoring differential was just +1.7 (14th in the league), low for an 11-win team. Also, they were 6-4 in games decided by a touchdown or less and 4-2 in games determined by three points or less.
Key acquisitions: Jamie Winborn, LB (from Jax); Torrin Tucker, OT (from Dallas); Davin Joseph, OG (draft).
Key departures: Brian Griese, QB; Jameel Cook, FB; Dexter Jackson, CB; Todd Steussie, OT.
Offense: As long as Cadillac Williams and Michael Clayton come back healthy - and stay healthy - the offense should score some points. Pittman, Alstott and Galloway are in the twilight, but with a young and athletic offensive line and youth at the skill positions the Bucs have a strong nucleus for John Gruden to mold. Actually, depending on how the line battles shake out the Bucs offense could average just 25.5 years of age. I know I said they were old - especially on defense - but it seems Gruden is swinging the pendulum a little too far in the opposite way with his attack.
Defense: As long as they're healthy there are no holes on this squad. Chris Hovan's revitalization has been crucial. He's an animal against the run and his relentlessness will help Booger McFarland bounce back from a disappointing 2005. Quarels and Brooks each made the Pro Bowl at linebacker, but they are entering their 10th and 12th seasons, respectively, and are on the downside.
X-factor: Clayton. After a sensational rookie year, Clayton regressed in 2005. However, he was playing through injuries for most of the year. They need him to return to his big-play rookie form to help the maturation of Simms.
Outlook: Could Tampa Bay make an NFC Championship game appearance? Absolutely. But I don't think they will. I like the way the team is constructed, and if they dig deep I could see them again challenging Carolina within the division. However, I think that they have a slew of guys on defense who are either aging or injury prone. Offensively, I think they are too unproven and inexperienced. I know it seems like I want it both ways, but I just have doubts about this team.