Are Bucs behind NFC South?

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
8:00
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I did a radio interview Monday with former Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney. That got me thinking back to 2003 when Hurney built a Super Bowl team.

Led by Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins on an awesome defense, the Panthers ran the ball with Stephen Davis on offense and quarterback Jake Delhomme didn't make many mistakes. That formula took the Panthers down to the wire against the New England Patriots in a game that was a lot closer than most people remember.

Anyway, I look at that Carolina team and then I look at the plan coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht have in place for this year's Buccaneers. It's the same thing, right?

Yes, in many ways it's the exact same strategy. A defense led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David is going to keep the Bucs close in most of their games. In some of those games, a running game featuring Doug Martin with a little bit of passing from Josh McCown will do the trick.

But is that enough to get the Bucs anywhere close to the Super Bowl? I'm not so sure. There's no question that formula worked quite nicely for Hurney and coach John Fox back in the day, and it could do wonders for a Tampa Bay team that was 4-12 last season.

Could the Bucs turn things around and make a Super Bowl run? Amid all the optimism that came with Smith's hiring -- and I think that was a great move -- I'm more than a little skeptical.

I think the Bucs will be better than they were last year. But I'm not sure they'll be good enough to make much of an impact in the postseason. As I said before, I see a lot of similarities between this year's team and the Carolina team (and Smith's Chicago team that made a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman). I also see a lot of similarities between this year's team and the Tampa Bay teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s. But that might not be all that big a compliment.

The game has changed a lot. The NFL is more driven by quarterbacks than at any point in the past. Do a reality check here.

Look at New Orleans with Drew Brees. Look at Atlanta with Matt Ryan. And look at Carolina with Cam Newton. Those are all franchise quarterbacks.

McCown doesn't fit that mold. He is a nice game manager, at best. With this offense, the Bucs still might be behind the rest of the NFC South.

Pat Yasinskas | email

ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter

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