NFL 2013 Season Preview – Day Ten: Tampa Bay Buccaneers & Cincinnati Bengals

As the 2013 NFL Season creeps closer, the Place to Be Nation staff has you covered with complete team by team coverage and predictions. Visit the full archive here.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2012 was an up-and-down season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After starting out 1-3, they proceeded to win five of their next six, then followed that up by dropping five in a row. Rookie running back Doug Martin was impressive, but Josh Freeman officially added the “embattled” to his “starting quarterback” label as he struggled for the second straight year. The secondary struggled even more, as the defense gave up the most passing yards in the league. The team addressed that in the offseason by trading for the Jets’ Darrelle Revis. Revis has been a star capable of single-handedly upgrading a defense, but is coming off an ACL tear and hasn’t seen game action in eleven months. His return from injury will be a significant subplot to this season, but Freeman will draw the most attention. This is the last year of his rookie deal, and his play this season will decide his future with both the team and in the league.

Key Additions & Losses

Additions: RB Brian Leonard, WR Kevin Ogletree, CB Darrelle Revis, S Dashon Goldson, CB Johnthan Banks (R), DT Akeem Spence (R)

Losses: RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Dallas Clark, DE Michael Bennett, DT Roy Miller, S Ronde Barber

The offense will look a lot like last year, with most starters returning. The offensive line gets a boost with the return of All-Pro guard Carl Nicks from injured reserve. The loss of Dallas Clark hurts the team’s depth, as it leaves them without an accomplished pass catcher at tight end. That could mean free agent pickup Kevin Ogletree will see a lot of playing time as the third wideout.

The defense, on the other hand, will have several new faces. The departure of veterans Michael Bennett and Roy Miller leaves the Bucs thin on the defensive line. Fourth round pick Akeem Spence will be given plenty of opportunities to show what he’s capable of, but if new starter Da’Qaun Bowers can’t replace Bennett’s production, Tampa Bay will struggle to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. That’s not good news for a defense that finished among the league’s worst last year, particularly against the pass.

But the Buccaneers are hoping that won’t be an issue, as they invested heavily in the secondary this offseason. Dashon Goldson was signed away from the 49ers to replace retired free safety Ronde Barber, and the team spent a second round pick on Johnthan Banks to improve the cornerback position. The biggest change by far, however, was trading for the Jets’ Darrelle Revis. If he is able to come back from an ACL tear and reclaim his spot as the best corner on the planet, Revis could turn last year’s biggest weakness into a strength.

Key Games

New England (Week 3); Atlanta (Week 7); CAROLINA (Week 8, Thursday); New Orleans (Week 17)

Tampa Bay will get a tough early season test when they travel to New England in Week 3. Getting some early momentum with a win there may be vital, as they have an early bye before hitting a rough stretch in week 7, playing in Atlanta and then at home for Carolina just four days later. If they survive that and stay in the race, the matchup at New Orleans in week 17 could be for a playoff spot.

Player to Watch

Josh Freeman

No surprise here. After an excellent sophomore season, Freeman struggled in 2011, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns. He managed to flip that around in 2012, and surpassed 4,000 yards to boot. But his completion percentage dropped to 54.5, and it’s just about impossible to be a successful quarterback with a percentage like that. At this point, the Bucs need to figure out whether Freeman can return to the form he showed in 2010, or if it was just a career year by a mediocre starter. His performance this year will determine not only the team’s success, but also the size of the contract he’ll receive this offseason.

Better or Worse

2012 Finish: 7-9, Fourth in NFC South

2013 Predicted Finish: 8-8, Third in NFC South

Tampa Bay is betting on an improved secondary to carry the team to the playoffs for the first time since 2007-8. With Atlanta likely to regress to some extent, and New Orleans and Carolina coming off underwhelming seasons, the division is potentially up for grabs. Tampa plays the easiest schedule (based on last year) of the four, and added Darrelle Revis in the offseason, so there is cause for fans to be optimistic. However, while I’m a big fan of Revis, I’m a bigger believer in the importance of the defensive line, and Tampa’s looks problematic. There is a lot of youth and potential there, but not much depth, and I don’t see them playing well enough to make this a top defense. Unless Josh Freeman can recapture his 2010 magic, this feels like another also-ran season for Tampa.

Final Thoughts

The Buccaneers were thoroughly average in 2012. The team scored about as many points as they allowed, with a slightly above-average offense and bottom-10 defense. Their hope is that their 5-1 midseason run more accurately represents the team’s talent level than the 1-5 stretch that closed the season. With that in mind, Tampa Bay concentrated their offseason on their most glaring weakness, the secondary. The question now is whether those efforts will be enough to return the team to the playoffs. If the defense can stay healthy and play to its potential, if Doug Martin continues to star, and if Josh Freeman can reverse his worrisome career trajectory, the answer may be yes. But that’s more “ifs” than I’m comfortable with.

– Andrew Flanagan

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Cincinnati Bengals

After a brief playoff appearance in 2012, the Bengals have reloaded their roster for the 2013 season. Most would generalize Cincinnati as a team full of youth and talent that seem to be on the rise. Although locked into a tough division, many have chosen the Bengals as the AFC North champions. Expectations are high for QB Andy Dalton to take the next step in his young NFL career, and I do believe he’s up to the challenge. The Bengals already have one of the most dynamic WRs in the NFL in AJ Green, and a stout defense led by respected coordinator, Mike Zimmer. In my opinion, the arrow is pointing up for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013.

Key Additions & Losses

Additions: QB Josh Johnson, C Mike Pollak, OLB James Harrison, TE Tyler Eifert, RB Giovani Bernard, DE Margus Hunt

Losses: FB Brian Leonard, DT Pat Sims, OLB Thomas Howard, OLB Manny Lawson, CB Nate Clements, CB Jason Allen, S Chris Crocker, K Josh Brown 

The intriguing name the Bengals picked up in free agency was James Harrison. Formerly a long-time nemesis of his current team, Harrison tormented the Bengals on a consistent basis that helped Pittsburgh take control of the AFC North, which seemed to be season after season. Although Harrison is clearly past his prime, he’ll bring even more physicality and toughness to an already talented Cincinnati defense. Pertaining to key losses for the Bengals, there’s not much to be worried about if you’re a front office employee for the organization. Players like Chris Crocker and Manny Lawson are nice to have on your squad, but they’re certainly replaceable.

I was really impressed with Cincinnati’s draft, as Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard and Margus Hunt should bring immediate impacts to the team. The Bengals have really improved their skill position players, and they’ll be a tough matchup for any opposing defense. Hunt is raw, but he should develop into a nice player and his potential is high.

Key Games

Pittsburgh (Week 2), New England (Week 5), Baltimore (Week 10 and 17)

After a tough road contest against the Chicago Bears in Week 1, the Bengals face an early divisional matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, which could set the tone for the entire season. It sure seems like the New England Patriots have become the measuring stick in the NFL, and Cincinnati will face Tom Brady and the Patriots in Week 5 for possible AFC supremacy. The final two key games are against division rival Baltimore, especially the Week 17 matchup in which could decide the division champions of the AFC North.

Player to Watch

Vontaze Burflict

Considered as a top prospect in the 2012 NFL draft, Burflict’s stock plummeted due to poor workout numbers and measurables. One season later after not even being drafted, Vontaze is considered a key piece of the Cincinnati defense. It’ll be interesting to watch his hopefully progression and his pairing with James Harrison will be exciting to experience.

Better of Worse

2012 Finish: 10-6, Wildcard Berth, Lost in Wildcard Round

2013 Predicted Finish: 11-5, AFC North Champions

Head Coach Marvin Lewis was once on the hot seat, but he’s done a remarkable job rebuilding the Bengals’ franchise and making them competitive in a tough division. I do believe Andy Dalton will take the next step, and A.J. Green will establish himself as one of the elite players in the NFL. Cincinnati’s defense is definitely good enough to give the Bengals a chance to win every football game, and the front office improved their skill position players with Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert through the draft.

Final Thoughts 

I’m not going to sit here and predict the Cincinnati Bengals as Super Bowl Champions for the 2013 season, but I fully expect them to be in the playoffs as division champions. It seems as if the NFC has taken over as the dominant conference, so the Bengals certainly have the personnel and coaches to make a serious playoff run in the AFC. If Andy Dalton is consistent, A.J. Green keeps making plays, and the defense plays sound football, the Bengals could be playing…in February.

– Kyle Forchetti

Author: Place to Be Nation Staff

Place to Be Nation Staff pieces feature any number of our contributors who are multifaceted when it comes to Pop Culture expertise.