The moment Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans have waited for all summer will finallly be upon us Sunday, when the Bucs host Matthew Stafford and the revitalized Detroit Lions at Raymond James Stadium.
When Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris told everyone his team was on a "race to ten" last season, the majority of analysts scoffed. This was a young, underwhelming, Buccaneers team that would be lucky to sniff .500. Sports Illustrated NFL czar Peter King even went as far as to predict the Buccaneers would win just two games in their 2010 campaign. Oops!
While shocking the masses and shaking up the NFC south to a 10-6 record, in what many outside of the bay area termed a 'rebuilding year', was definitely a success, it could of been one better. If not for a lousy pass interference penalty against tight end Kellen Winslow, the Buccaneers could have beaten Detroit and secured their first playoff berth under Morris. Instead, Lions kicker Dave Rayner drilled two late field goals, one to tie at the end of regulation, and one more in overtime to give the Lions a 23-20 victory, that would end up keeping the Pewter Pirates out of the postseason despite sharing the same record as the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
They wont have to wait long for a chance at revenge.
The Lions come back to Raymond James Stadium this Sunday for the seasons inaugural matchup, where the Buccaneers will no doubt be looking to enact some justice for the postseason snubbing. Having had themselves a breakout preseason, capped off with a dismantling of the New England Patriots, Detroit is kicking off 2011 with a renewed optimism and high expectations. The Buccaneers are also looking to build on their surprise campaign and the matchup is being billed in NFL circles as a marquee preview of two up and coming franchises, both attempting to return from the brink of futility.
Detroit will have franchise QB Matthew Stafford back from injury, a luxury that they did not have last season, making star wideout Calvin Johnson an even more dangerous threat than he already is. That's saying something, considering Johnson, the man they call Megatron, dominated the Buccaneers secondary to the tune of 10 catches and 152 yards in the previous meeting, albeit without corner Aqib Talib who was missing time due to injury. Talib, who has avoided a suspension from the league in relation to weapons charges brought against him in the off-season, will have his hands full covering one of the leagues most dynamic receivers.
Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman and his offense failed to show any rhythm or timing during the preseason and may have a tough time finding themselves against a young potent defense that has only improved since last years matchup. The truncated nature of training camp appears to have hampered Freeman's development and the Buccaneers may have to find a spark quickly if they hope to hang with an emerging Lions squad. Let us not forget, that Freeman missed almost the entire preseason last year with a thumb injury and it did not slow him down as the Bucs jumped out to a 2-0 start on the backs of come-from-behind victories engineered by Number 5.