Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones gives his Two Cents look at the upcoming Bucs season.
Most important player
Typically, a team's most important player is the quarterback, and certainly, Josh Freeman is critical to the Bucs' success. Some are pointing to new cornerback Darrelle Revis, and considering they gave up a first-round pick for him, Revis better have a big-time impact. But running back Doug Martin is the engine that drives the Bucs. Last season, he accounted for 1,926 yards of offense, including 1,454 rushing, and 12 touchdowns. If Martin is ineffective, the Bucs will have trouble moving the ball because Freeman can't do it himself. Freeman's ability to throw is dependent on Martin's ability to run.
Is it too much to suggest today's opener against the Jets? Okay, so it's not make or break, but a loss would be really bad. The Jets are about one tick above an expansion team, and they don't have a quarterback. If the Bucs lose this game, what does that say about them? And if they start 0-1, then you might as well put down 0-3 with games looming against the Saints and Patriots.
Player who needs to step up
Safety Mark Barron had a terrific start to his 2012 rookie season but faded down the stretch. Coach Greg Schiano even admitted Barron hit a rookie wall, although Schiano also correctly pointed out Barron rallied at the end of the season. Still, Barron was the seventh overall pick in last year's draft. Players drafted that high can't just be good players. They have to be great players, and Barron needs to take a big step this season or else everyone will keep bringing up how the Bucs passed on Panthers star linebacker Luke Kuechly. And that will get older than hearing about the Rays passing on Buster Posey to take Tim Beckham.
Coach who needs to step up
After Greg Schiano was hired as coach in 2012, he tried to hire Cardinals assistant John McNulty as offensive coordinator. But the Cardinals would not let him go. So before this season, McNulty, who worked under Schiano at Rutgers, was brought in as quarterbacks coach. If the preseason is any indication, the quarterbacks have lots to learn. If McNulty is someday going to be this team's offensive coordinator, the Bucs need to have more success at quarterback. After all, if he can't help the quarterbacks, how is he going to run the entire offense?
Player who will unexpectedly have a big season
As long as defensive end Da'Quan Bowers continues to blow his chance to be an every-down player, someone else will need to step in. That someone? Daniel Te'o-Nesheim. The fourth-year pro from Hawaii by way of the University of Washington had four sacks last year. He'll double that in 2013.
Players who will take a step back in 2013
I hate to say it, but Josh Freeman will not throw for 4,000 yards like last season. And if he doesn't, that means receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams won't be as productive either.
Player you should fear most
Saints quarterback Drew Brees carved up the Bucs last season. In two games, he completed 53 of 76 passes for 684 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. And just think: This year, he has his coach (and offensive guru) Sean Payton back.
A sure-bet loss
At Seattle on Nov. 3.
A sure-bet win
Predictions: By the numbers
Home games that will be blacked out
Touchdowns and interceptions for Josh Freeman
Rushing yards for Doug Martin
Interceptions for cornerback Darrelle Revis
Passes rookie Mike Glennon will throw
Story that won't go away
Keep an eye on this Lawrence Tynes-MRSA story. Tynes believes he should be on injured reserve, and he isn't going to back down. This could prove to be a long-term public relations scar for the organization. Whether the Bucs are right or wrong doesn't matter. There is no way they can spin it and not look bad.
Three things that popped into my head
1. If the Bucs miss the playoffs and go 6-10 or worse, two of the following three will not be back next season: general manager Mark Dominik, coach Greg Schiano and quarterback Josh Freeman. My guess? The one who returns would be Schiano.
2. How many losses would the Bucs need to have to fire Schiano? A lot. Like 13 or more.
3. I'm trying to find eight victories on the schedule. I can find only six — maybe. Seven at the most.