WHO: Patriots @ Buccaneers WHEN: Thursday, 7:30pm. TV: Blacked-out. WHERE: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa
History, and league pundits, tells us that the NFL Preseason means next to nothing: that championships aren't won in August, contracts aren't inflated by preseason stats, and winning an exhibition game means virtually diddly.
Tell that to the players.
Coming off a 25-0 dismantling of the AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are riding a waive of positive momentum, their confidence at an all time high. A dominating preseason, following a 10-6 season, can do far more for the psyche of a team than many give it credit.
Put another way, who do you think feels better about their team today: The Buccaneers, or the Chiefs?
While the standings are meaningless, the opportunity to evaluate your team against some of the top talent in the league is always rewarding, and the Buccaneers will have another big test this Thursday night as they host one of the premier franchises in the last decade, the New England Patriots, at Raymond James Stadium.
Sure, beating the Patriots in a mid-august exhibition game, in which many starters wont see the second quarter, won't effect the playoff seeding. But it may turn some heads, and it may open some eyes, and we can learn some things about this team.
Like, can quarterback Josh Freeman continue his development and maturation against one of the leagues most cerebral defensive minds, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who, earlier this week, called the Buccaneers young team "impressive".
[They are] fast, aggressive, they have a lot of talented players, play at a high tempo.
How will Freeman's receiving corps handle the task of unravelling the Hoodie's coverages? With a stable full of able receivers still competing for jobs on the opening day roster, look for this position battle to continue until the final days of preseason. Is Dezmon Briscoe, who had a big day against Kansas City, the real deal? Are Michael Spurlock and Preston Parker good enough recievers to stick around with this club in light of controversial kick off changes? Can Reejus Benn stay healthy enough to hold off Briscoe?
Second year wideout Mike Williams knows the preseason is important, and spoke to the media this week about the opportunity of playing against a top flight club, like New England.
"Oh, anytime you play against a great defensive coach as Belichick … a coach like that, you want to see where you [are] at and where you stand, [See] how good you really are. That is what kind of coach he is, so going out there and playing against him and succeeding against him only makes you feel like you did better so we cannot wait till Thursday to see what happens."
Word out of Patriots camp is that perennial league MVP candidate Tom Brady, who did not play in the Patriots pre-season opener against Jacksonville, should get some playing time against the Buccaneers. It will also be the first chance for Brady to work with newly acquired, colorful receiver, Chad Ochocinco, a lofty test for Buccaneers cornerbacks.
The Buccaneer defensive backfield is another position where competition still exists, with free-agent signee Ashton Youboty pushing incumbents Elbert Mack, Myron Lewis, and Anthony Gaitor for a roster spot while Aqib Talib remains sidelined with a hamstring injury. Brady and his aerial game should provide ample opportunity for these young guys to show head coach Raheem Morris what they are made of .
Up front, look for the continued improvement of rookies Adrian Clayborn and De'Quan Bowers, as well as a return to action for second year tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price, who both missed the Kansas City contest with nagging injuries. The Buccaneers have the youngest defensive line in the league and its development is crucial to the success of this defense.
Unfortunately for local Tampa Bay fans hoping to watch these battles live, the only way to do so will be to buy a ticket, as the game has been blacked out on local television due to the leagues blackout policy. The team was not able to sell out the contest 72 hours prior to game time so the game cannot be broadcast.
Local CBS station WTSP channel 10 will rebroadcast the game immediately following its conclusion, and the NFL Network will re-air the game at 11pm.