NFL 2014 Preview: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Lovie Smith. (Chris O'Meara/AP)

Sportsnet is breaking down everything you need to know about each of the 32 teams—including why you should or shouldn’t be rooting for them this season—in the month leading up to NFL kickoff on Sept. 4. Today, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Last year’s record: 4-12

Coach: Lovie Smith

2014 is about… Not having Greg Schiano anywhere near the team anymore. And guess what? They’ve already succeeded. They could go winless this season (which they’ve done before) and the situation would still be far, far less toxic than what they endured last year under the now-ousted coach. His handling of Josh Freeman alone has to go down as one of the worst examples of coaching in the history of the game. The Lovie Smith era will go far more smoothly—and, hey, may even lead to more wins.

Core players: Gerald McCoy (DT), Lavonte David (LB), Vincent Jackson (WR), Doug Martin (RB)

But they lost… Darrelle Revis (CB), and his nickname Revis Island. While other names have pushed Revis out of the best-cornerback-alive discussion, he’s still potentially a top-10 guy whom quarterbacks avoided last year like the plague. They also lost four-fifths (yeah, that’s right…) of their offensive line in Carl Nicks, Donald Penn, Davin Joseph and Jeremy Zuttah. It’s like they staged a walkout and Demar Dotson (RT), who’s still around, was in the bathroom or something. Needless to say, the cohesion (and, uh, formation) of the new line will be something to watch in pre-season.

Yeah, but they got… Josh McCown (QB) will likely take over from Mike Glennon as the No. 1 QB in Tampa. The journeyman didn’t take a single snap in 2012, but he came up big for the Bears last season with Jay Cutler on the shelf. Granted, that was in Marc Trestman’s QB-friendly system (the football equivalent of Mike D’Antoni’s Seven Seconds or Less offence…), but still, a 109 quarterback rating is nothing to sneeze at. Michael Johnson (DE) was one of the most coveted pass rushers in free agency as he’s just a year removed from an 11.5-sack season, and the Bucs will look for him to play off Gerald McCoy in the same way he played off Geno Atkins before Atkins went down with an injury last season.

Growing from within: Martin (RB) tore his labrum last year and missed 10 games, but he’s just 25 and only a season removed from a Pro Bowl berth. He got off to a slow scoring start last year amidst major turmoil throughout the organization, but through week five he was on pace for more than 1,300 yards. New offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford (a former offensive assistant for the Calgary Stampeders going on 25 years ago now) ran the ball a ton in his time at Cal. If the offensive line comes together, Martin could be in for a big year.

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Why this team? Because you like to buy low—last year was a disaster in which the Bucs undershot their expected win-loss record (which was 5.3-10.7), so a bounceback based simply on returning talent and a solidified coaching staff is a definite possibility. Or because they’ve got a third-string quarterback named Mike Kafka, which means that any game he appears in could feasibly be referred to as Kafkaesque.

Why not? Because though they won the Super Bowl in 2002 they’re not likely to pay back your devotion on the regular—the team’s all-time win percentage of .392 is worst in NFL history. Or because that stuff before about turning over four-fifths of the offensive line without any follow-up note about how they’ve filled two or three of those fifths with bona fide stars.

Perfect for fans of… Creamsicles. Even though they can’t wear them due to a little-known rule forbidding teams to change helmets during the season, the team’s throwback jersey is one of the two or three best in the business.

How much hope? 4/10. There are lots of positive things to look at here, but there’s also a lot of turnover. The division has a lot of question marks after New Orleans, and it’s not out of the question that they come together quickly and ride a hot streak into wild-card contention, but in year one for Smith it’s just not likely to happen.

Will you be mocked for front-running? Oh, no. Don’t be silly.

A Meme To Remember: Let’s go back to the one fun moment from the Schiano era, that time he spurred on a baseball-etiquette type debate about whether teams can rush the victory formation by having his guys knock Eli Manning on his butt and then getting cussed out by Tom Coughlin.

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