Last year the Kansas City Chiefs, hot off a putrid 2–14 2012 season, pulled off the ultimate turnaround, finishing an unexpected 11–5 and making the playoffs. They did it by bringing in veteran quarterback Alex Smith to stabilize an offense that had been over-relying on a star running back Jamaal Charles, keeping together a young and talented defense, and tabbing a veteran coach in Andy Reid that could piece it all together.
Every season there’s at least one of these surprise turnarounds, which is a testament to the tremendous parity the NFL possesses. If you’re looking for this year’s likely iteration of the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, I urge you to look no further than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Prior to 2012, many had pegged the Bucs to be, at the very least, a fringe playoff team that had the potential to go further depending on the development of the wildly inconsistent Josh Freeman. On defense, they had a front seven that was stacked with former first round selections, one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL in Lavonte David, and they had just added Darrelle Revis to solidify their secondary.
In the wake of last season's atrocity, Tampa Bay quietly may have had the best offseason of any team.
Offensively they had a dynamic receiver duo in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, a good young running back in Doug Martin, who had a combined 1,926 yards from scrimmage in his rookie year, and what looked to resemble a decent offensive line.
All that promise came crashing down though, thanks to the Josh Freeman saga, Doug Martin falling to injury, and the now-former head coach Greg Schiano putting forth a coaching job that bordered on malpractice. The Bucs finished 4–12 and had seemingly taken a step backwards.
In the wake of that atrocity, however, Tampa Bay quietly may have had the best offseason of any team. They further added to their promising defensive front by bringing in 2012 11.5-sack man, Michael Johnson, and they replaced the way too expensive Darrelle Revis with the promising Alterraun Verner in the secondary. Revis is the better corner, but the swap for Verner is, if anything, a more effective allocation of resources.
The offense got a nice little boost as well. Between last year’s primary starter, Mike Glennon, a rookie who looked quite competent at times (13 G, 2,600 yds, 19 TD, 9 INT), and the recently-acquired veteran Josh McCown (8 G, 1,800 yds, 13 TDs, 1 INT), there’s a pretty good chance Tampa is going to get at least average play from the quarterback position.
This is a safe prediction not only due to the competition, but also because the man under center is going to have towers all over the field to throw to. The ever-reliable, 6'5" Jackson hasn’t gone anywhere. Williams has been effectively replaced by 6'5" promising rookie Mike Evans, who many argue made Johnny Manziel look better than he actually was at Texas A&M.
Further complementing them, the Bucs took 6'6" receiving tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins to fill a massive gap at that position. Add in what will be a healthy Martin and a new-look offensive line that got beefed-up with center Evan Dietrich-Smith and tackle Anthony Collins, and you have yourself a very balanced unit on-paper.
Of course, they need a head coach that can put all those pieces together, and seems like they have one. New head coach Lovie Smith has a proven track record in the NFL, especially at building the defensive side of the ball—the area where the Bucs have the most talent. He’s a winning coach (81–63 in Chicago) that has been to a Super Bowl and will undoubtedly develop Lavonte David to lead the Tampa defense much like he did with Brian Urlacher.
Look at their division too: The Atlanta Falcons are a mess on defense, the New Orleans Saints haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire the last two years, and who is Cam Newton going to throw to in Carolina?
Tampa Bay is a talented group that only improved in the offseason. They now have a proven winner manning the helm that will develop the young defensive talent around him. Watch out for the Bucs; they could be interesting.