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The Buccaneers remain a contender with crafty veteran QB Jeff Garcia under center.


NFC South preview:

Bucs: Offense aging | Falcons: Rebuilding project | Panthers: Extreme makeover | Saints: Emphasis on defense

The Buccaneers are a case study of how fast things change in the NFL. They followed a Super Bowl title in 2002 with two losing seasons, rebounded in 2005 and then saw their once-great defense struggle in 2006, causing many people to believe the Bucs' window of opportunity had closed because the defense had gotten too old and needed to be re-made.

Just as quickly, however, coordinator Monte Kiffin managed to infuse youth into his unit and Tampa Bay, which fell to 17th on defense in 2006 -- its only failure to crack the top nine in more than a decade -- rebounded to second in 2007.

2008 forecast
Vic Carucci: Jeff Garcia is capable of quarterbacking this team on another playoff run. The scary part for the Buccaneers, however, is that his best weapon, receiver Joey Galloway, is 36 and could hit the proverbial wall at any time. For that matter, so could Garcia. The defense has its share of old-timers, but also some good speed. Prediction: 8-8

Thomas George: Good schemes, good players, just not good enough. Prediction: 9-7

Pat Kirwan: The Bucs gave up 11 points a game at home and to division opponents last season, which kept them in most games. Jeff Garcia is out to prove he's worth more money and is a better fit for this team than Brett Favre would have been. The Bucs repeat as division champs. Prediction: 10-6

Gil Brandt: It's hard to count out a defense that remains very good. The Bucs were second in total defense last year and first in turnover ratio. Star QB Jeff Garcia is 38 years old and star WR Joey Galloway is 36. Prediction: 9-7

» Buccaneers' 2008 schedule
Fantasy file
Riser: Earnest Graham
With Cadillac Williams out of action, Graham will start the regular season atop the Buccaneers' depth chart. Warrick Dunn will see some work, but Graham has far more fantasy potential.

Faller: Joey Galloway
How long can Galloway stare Father Time in the face and smile? He'll turn 37 this season and is coming off a season in which he turned in only three 100-yard performances (two vs. New Orleans).

» Fantasy draft kit | More fantasy

While so many of the familiar names are gone, Derrick Brooks and Ronde Barber remain in place, and defensive ends like Gaines Adams and Greg White are starting to make names for themselves.

Adams, the Bucs' first-round pick in 2007, played well late in the season after becoming a starter, and could be ready for a breakout year. White, meanwhile, was a happy meeting of luck and opportunity for Tampa Bay. Coach Jon Gruden's brother, Jay, found him in the Arena League and recommended him. Although White started only two games last season, he led the Bucs in sacks with eight.

Tampa Bay has been remaking itself in other ways, too.

Never known for their offense, the Bucs have invested heavily in linemen over the last three years. Despite a problem at left tackle, where last year's signing of Luke Pettigout did not pan out, Tampa Bay expects the line to be a strength. The Bucs spent big to sign free agent center Jeff Faine, giving them some experience between young guards Aaron Sears and Davin Joseph. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood rounds out the line.

Gruden, armed with a three-year contract extension, upset incumbent QB Jeff Garcia by toying with a Brett Favre deal, but a bigger issue on offense is health. The 38-year-old Garcia and 37-year-old receiver Joey Galloway missed a lot of training camp due to injuries.

On the hot seat

Offensive line coach Bill Muir. The Bucs have put a lot of money into the line the last couple of years and they need results; last year their offense ranked 18th overall, and they were 26th in scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

Difference-maker

Antonio Bryant. The troublemaking wide receiver who failed in Dallas, Cleveland and San Francisco and was out of the league last year, had a very good camp. Bryant is only 27 and should be in the prime of his career, if he has finally realized he's running out of chances. Then again, he's also a ticking time bomb. Either way, he's worth watching.

Hard road to hoe

If the Bucs can win their opener at New Orleans, considered by many the division favorite, they have a chance for a really good start. Four of their next six games are at home, including visits from Green Bay and Seattle, which traditionally struggles coming East.

Buccaneers will be better than you think if ...

Gruden trusts the running game, which could depend heavily on speedy back Michael Bennett. Bennett is a potential difference-maker who seems to have done a better job learning the playbook than he did last year, his first with the team. A strong running game would also help keep the defense fresh.

Buccaneers will be worse than you think if ...

Garcia begins to show his age or Galloway, the team's only decent speed threat, is out for an extended period.

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