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The best defense in the NFC South may belong to the Bucs

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Can that get them a division title?

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minicamp Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers don’t have a great defense and did little to improve it this offseason, but they arguably have the best defense in the NFC South.

Football Outsiders ranked them 12th in the NFL last year, just two spots behind the Carolina Panthers and well ahead of the abysmal Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints defenses. And late in the year, when the Bucs defense really got going, it was definitely better than the Panthers D, too.

Over at ESPN, the NFC South beat writers didn’t quite agree that the Bucs were clearly the best defense, but Vaughn McClure does think that’s what they will be this season.

But ex-Falcons coach Mike Smith, now the defensive coordinator in Tampa, made great strides with the Buccaneers last season and has them in position to be the division’s top defense. Progress should continue, especially behind guys such as Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David, Kwon Alexander, and second-year players Noah Spence and Vernon Hargreaves. The Buccaneers did something right in boasting the league’s best third-down defense a year ago. Now they have to keep opponents out of the end zone and improve a red zone defense that finished 25th last season.

Plenty to improve on, but apparently it’s not that hard to have the best defense in the NFC South. That’s a fairly strange statement as the Carolina Panthers rode the second-best defense in the NFL to a Super Bowl berth just two years ago. I guess that just goes to show that things change quickly, especially on defense.

Incidentally, that’s what the Bucs are counting on too. They may have the best defense in the NFL, arguably, they’re not exactly going to be satisfied with a #12 spot in Football Outsiders’ efficiency rankings. The Bucs want to be much better than that.

So Mike Smith is hoping that improvement from young players (Noah Spence, Kwon Alexander and Vernon Hargreaves) will give the defense the boost it needs. That, and hopefully some better safety play—though it still remains to be seen who will actually win the starting battle there.