Wednesday 21 February 2018 / 12:30 AM


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a bipolar football team a year ago. They took the Panthers and Falcons both to task, while also faltering amongst the Rams and Cardinals. But down the stretch, the Bucs started to look like an actual powerhouse. They rattled off six of the last eight and got themselves above .500 and contending for a playoff spot.

This offseason, the Bucs made their move to begin competing, doubling down on their young group. On offense, Mike Evans broke out to be Jameis Winston’s number two, beginning to show signs of being a top-10 receiver in the NFL. Not to mention Winston’s growth as a passer, bringing down his errant throws and bad tendencies to rely on the strength of his arm.

Doug Martin came more into his own as a runner, albeit behind a struggling offensive line that allowed more pressure than the Bucs would like.

To improve the young core, the Bucs brought in some serious weapons on offense, adding OJ Howard as a tight end and bringing in DeSean Jackson. And just this week, the team announced the signing of three-time Pro-Bowler TJ Ward in the secondary.

The Bucs now look like a promising playoff hopeful, as Vegas has moved their projected win total to 10 and a projected playoff team. That’s big pressure for some young players, and got added to by the presence of Hard Knocks, the HBO show following one NFL team throughout training camp.

The Bucs, over the course of just a year, became the darling pick of the NFC. Everyone within the media began penciling them in as the challengers to the Falcons in the NFC South and a dark horse NFC Champion.

Now, the Bucs are looking to compete. But some struggles for the offense has put some of their struggles in the preseason into the limelight.

So is this the Bucs year or just a flash in the pan?

I’ll admit, I’ve been skeptical. And there’s reason to be. The Bucs have no doubt improved, but their division may be the most competitive in all of football. The Falcons are defending NFC Champions, and the Panthers loaded up after just a year removed from the Super Bowl. Not to mention Drew Brees and Saints, who messed around and added Adrian Peterson to an offense that was already very potent.

But the Bucs have definitely improved. The offense is staggeringly gifted, with long and complimentary pieces all around Jameis Winston. There’s not much room for excuses or lack of production for this offense, especially in year two of Winston-Evans-Martin, and how they’ve improved from a season ago.

But there is an onus on the defense. The group had growing pains a year ago, and that’s looking to get better behind Gerald McCoy and the defensive line. He was pretty much alone for much of the season a year ago, but a nice pass rush saved the day down the stretch.

Now, the Bucs have spent the money on the offense and even forked over some upgrades to the defense, leaving little room for doubt for that side of the ball either. McCoy, judging by comments on Hard Knocks, seems to think this unit is the best he’s ever played with.

Of course, this media darling is feeling themselves with the bright lights shining down. But with the last two NFC champs within their division, and enough talent that there’s no room for excuse, the Bucs have placed pressure squarely on themselves.

In some cases, like Seattle and Green Bay, this hype pays off. But as their division partners can attest, other cases don’t quite turn out that way.

The Bucs open against Miami this Sunday.

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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