The NFC South is an interesting division to say the least. Its top two squads, the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, have both taken steps back while the Buccaneers are hitting the reset button with Lovie Smith. The Falcons should be able to get back to their competitive ways after they tanked last season. With so much shuffling going on in the division, it’s really anyone’s race.
The Buccaneers, in addition to a number of player acquisitions that add to their talent pool, have a number of factors that are playing in their favor.
Tampa Bay’s biggest advantage is with their new head coach. Lovie Smith was the man that made the Chicago Bears a relevant team in the NFC North again, and he led them to a Super Bowl appearance despite lacking a quarterback that should have been starting in the NFL. In fact, Smith never had a well-developed team with the Bears, always having huge holes in their roster.
Tampa Bay is chasing the Panthers and Saints in their own division. Last year, that would have been an insurmountable mountain to climb, but heading into 2014, and sticking with the metaphor I just started, the mountain is a little shorter, and the Buccaneers actually have climbing gear. In other words, the division is a lot more competitive this time around.
As much of a key as Smith, in tandem with general manager Jason Licht, has been, quarterback Josh McCown may be the key to any success the Buccaneers will see in 2014. He was solid in relief for Jay Cutler last season, but he wasn’t playing at an out of this world level either. Although it’s likely the Bucs will begin planning for the long-term future by picking up a quarterback in the draft, McCown is their man for the foreseeable future.
If what we saw in Chicago from McCown was just a flash in the pan, the Bucs may be sunk before they ever get started. Fortunately, McCown gave the Buccaneers a large sample size of his talent by playing in eight games for the Bears last season. If he’s able to maintain that level of play, the Buccaneers have very real shot at winning their division and making their way into the postseason.
The Bucs have made all the right moves so far this offseason. From bringing in a new GM and head coach to signing talent off the street, Tampa Bay is doing exactly what needs to be done to get back to winning football. Instead of taking chances on unproven people, they’ve brought in guys that have already been there, done that.