I've read every sports writer's opinion on our beloved Buccaneers this offseason, and I constantly see them rank the Buccaneers extremely low for the most part, around 23 is where I usually see them ranked. This would make a bit more sense if the analysts were picking out actual issues.
Most of the issues the Buccaneers are faulted for (lack of pass rush, second cornerback, inconsistent quarterback play) aren't any bigger for the Bucs than some of the teams ranked many spots above. The Falcons and Saints in particular are two teams I believe has a lot of issues glossed over because of the perceived strength of their offense.
Lack of Pass Rush:
While we are a little thin on the line for my taste, our starters should be fully capable of producing some big time pressure this season. GMC looks like a man on a mission a year after making his first Probowl. I feel like he still has a chip on his shoulder with people doubting if he can do it again. I think Spence holds up well at NT. Everyone that is lamenting us losing Roy Miller need a reality check. He was a guy that had been playing here for four years, that's it. I think we get more production from the NT spot this season than last.
At DE Bowers is the biggest question mark to me, but even then, he was going to be the number one pick in the draft! The only reason he hasn't had more production thus far is because the Bucs have been waiting for this moment. The Buccaneers took it very careful with him his rookie season to let his knee gain strength; the achilles was a surprise, but then they worked him back slowly again. This is the season he is healthy with no restrictions, we'll see that talent. As far as our other end, people forget about AC's brutalizing rookie season. You can practically see him break Matty Ice in half that season. AC had 7 sacks with no help around him. He is a humble kid that works hard with a non-stop motor. I'm expecting big things from our line.
The thing that really gets me is even with players of that caliber on our line, we get flak. Yet, look at the Falcon's defensive line and the Saints defensive line, and they don't even have an upside to look forward to. Both teams suffer from an extreme lack of pass rush, but without the potential that a young talented player has a big season. ATL have all their hope on the declining abilities of Osi Umenyiora and don't get me started on the Saints...
Now this argument is just ridiculous; "With Darrelle Revis the other (possibly rookie) cornerback is going to get picked on." So what these "experts" are trying to say is that having only one questionable corner is worse than two? What about Trufant, who I believe is a inferior player to Banks, over in Atlanta? He will most likely start opposite of Asante Samuel, but no one talks about him getting picked on. Is it because Samuel is inferior to Revis? Will teams some how not throw it at Trufant as much because Samuel isn't as good as Revis?
If there is a weak link in the secondary, a good quarterback will find it, and to my knowledge, the Falcons will have two rookies that graded out worse than Banks playing in their nickle formation. Once again, this issue is even worse with the Saints. New Orleans has weak links all over their secondary without much of an upside.
While this is the most realistic concern, I feel it is not as bad as people are making it out to be. The Freeman war has been well discussed on here so there isn't too much to add to that, so I'll leave it at this. Other teams have major concerns at QB and would die to have Freeman. The grass isn't always greener on the other side. While we are complaining and wishing for a game manager like Matt Schaub, Texans fans are dying for a quarterback that can make plays and make the big throw like Freeman.
In his second season in Sullivan's season, I'm looking for Freeman to make some huge leaps this season. If the season would have ended after 13 games 25-8 looks really nice. So I won't let two admittedly horrible games when we were all but out of the playoffs skew my perception.
This is the one spot I feel the Falcons and Saints have an advantage to us. Both Ryan and Brees are superior quarterbacks to Freeman and their is no shame in that, they are two of the top 10 qbs in the league IMO. However, both of those quarterbacks also play for teams that have some serious protection issues. The Falcons have had to shuffle their line around and the Saints look to be abysmal up front.
I fully believe that the Buccaneers are the most complete team in the NFC South this year. If our key guys can stay healthy, I don't see why we won't be in the playoffs this season. Prediction: 11-5 hosting a first round playoff game.