In the first game of the year, it's difficult to know what to expect, so I'll just be talking in general terms about Tampa's basic schemes and their strengths and weaknesses in terms of personnel.
After the jump, I break down the positional groupings (BGA-style!) to try and highlight what the Jets need to look out for.
Josh Freeman's 2012 season was actually pretty similar to Mark Sanchez's 2011 season. The numbers weren't too far off, but it was more the way that the season unraveled. Each made a solid start, because more inconsistent after the first month or so and then fell off completely over the last three games. The major difference was that, while the Jets opted to extend Sanchez after 2011, the Bucs backed away from their plans to extend Freeman. He therefore enters the final season of his contract with a lot to prove and it will be interesting to see how his performance compares with Sanchez's post-extension. As Sanchez's performance suggests, a drop-off at the end of a season can carry over - although let's not forget that Sanchez was stellar in last year's opener.
The absence of Carl Nicks at left guard ensures that this is a position of uncertainty for the Bucs, especially on the interior. Jeremy Zuttah and Davin Joseph have played together plenty of times, although Zuttah (the current center) was often at left guard. Neither of them has played much with Nicks' replacement, Gabe Carimi. Carimi is hoping to become the latest disappointing high draft pick at tackle to make the switch inside. Joseph, who will be 30 in November, missed all of last season with a knee injury and played just 10 snaps in preseason, so their chemistry will be tested. Carimi will have his hands full with Muhammad Wilkerson, the player he was drafted one pick ahead of in 2011.
At tackle, the Bucs are pretty solid. Donald Penn might be best known for guaranteeing the Bucs would win the Super Bowl in 2011, but is a former Pro Bowler and solid player. On the right side Demar Dotson became a full time starter for the first time last year and didn't fare too badly, although he was a little prone to penalties (his 10 had him tied with Carimi for 8th among tackles).
Doug Martin had an outstanding rookie season and is obviously a big threat to rack up yardage or break long plays at any time. The splits seem to indicate his strength is running between the tackles, especially over the left side, so it will be interesting to see how the Jets line can hold up against that, especially with the uncertainty on the Bucs' interior. Martin played just eight snaps in preseason following a concussion.
The Bucs have veteran depth at running back with Brian Leonard and Peyton Hillis available, although both have seen their careers go off the rails a bit in the last few years, especially Hillis. In fact, Hillis would probably have been inactive if not for an eye injury to rookie Mike James. Erik Lorig is the fullback and played 40% of the time last year, but he did not make the trip, so Leonard and Hillis will have to fill that role.
Vincent Jackson is now 30, but shows no signs of slowing down. His Pro Bowl season last year slipped under the radar, but he's still sure-handed and as much of a deep threat as he ever was. He only had one catch on five targets in preseason, though. I'd expect Antonio Cromartie to draw this assignment. Mike Williams is listed as the other starter and he's no slouch either, falling just four yards shy of a 1,000 yard season last year. He's a downfield threat too.
In reserve, they have Kevin Ogletree, who exploded on opening day last year (eight catches, 114 yards and two touchdowns), so the Jets should be wary of another fast start from the veteran. He only surpassed 50 receiving yards two other times all season though.
At tight end, they are hurt by Tom Crabtree's absence. Starter Luke Stocker is viewed as more of a blocker, but does have 28 catches in two seasons in the NFL. At 6'6" he could be a red zone target, although he only has one touchdown so far in his career.
Much has been made of the Bucs number one ranked defense against the run. Since the Bucs had such a poor secondary, some people have questioned whether they simply didn't give up as much yardage on the ground because teams knew they could successfully attack them through the air. While there's always merit in such a suggestion, the analytical sites take this into account and, while they may no longer have viewed them as the best run defense in the league, still rated them highly (Football Outsiders = 3rd, PFF = 8th).
However, the defensive line has been somewhat overhauled. The strength of last year's team was Gerald McCoy and Michael Bennett, who PFF ranked 5th and 7th at their respective positions against the run. McCoy, the third overall pick in 2010, had a great season last year and went to the Pro Bowl. They'll be relying on him to repeat that. Bennett, however, is now a Seattle Seahawk and the reps at the two defensive end positions now look set filled by Daniel Te'o-Nesheim and Adrian Clayborne. Te'o-Nesheim started every game from week three onwards last year after playing sparingly in his first two seasons in the league. Clayborne had a decent rookie season (7.5 sacks) but is a definite step down from Bennett against the run.
The other tackle position could be manned by rookie Akeem Spence, but the Bucs did also bring back Gary Gibson last week. Gibson started one game last year and was solid against the run in a rotational role. The Bucs also have contributors off the bench in the shape of Da'Quan Bowers, who is usually employed as a situational pass rusher and Derek Landri, a solid hand at defensive tackle. Rookie William Gholston showed promise in preseason.
The back seven for the Bucs has been completely overhauled over the last two years. Back in 2011, rookie Mason Foster was an every down player and it was apparently too much of a role for him to handle. Last year, however, the Bucs drafted Lavonte David in the second round and his excellent play against the run and in coverage meant that Foster didn't need to be an every down player. Foster responded with a much better year, made more impact plays and - while Pro Bowl talk was probably premature - established himself as a key player for the Bucs. Dekoda Watson and Adam Hayward started nine games between them last year, so they should man the other spot. Look for Watson to get the nod. Jonathan Casillas adds veteran depth.
The defensive backfield has also been completely rebuilt. Back in 2011, they missed an unfathomable amount of tackles - 102. That's the secondary alone. By way of a comparison, the entire Steelers team missed just 69. This improved last year, although not by much - they still had 81 missed tackles in the secondary, with rookie Mark Barron (13) one of the chief culprits. Two other culprits, EJ Biggers and Ronde Barber (28 between them) are gone though, with big money spent on ex-49er Dashon Goldson to shore up the secondary even further. He isn't immune to mistakes though - he missed 15 tackles himself, including three in the playoffs. Barron made a solid finish to last season with just one missed tackle in the last five games, so last year's 7th overall pick should be expected to make strides in his second year.
At cornerback, Leonard Johnson made six starts last year and played fairly well. He figures to start with Biggers and Eric Wright gone. Rookie Johnthan (yes, I did spell that right) Banks will push him for time. Those two started all four preseason games and Michael Adams was the main guy in the slot. I honestly don't know who will be the slot guy on Sunday.
Oh, and they have this guy called Revis, but I can't see him being a factor, can you?
Veteran Michael Koenen is the punter and also handles kickoffs. He ranks in the middle of the pack as a punter and gave up the 5th most return yards in the league last year. Ryan Lindell joins them as placekicker after a decade in Buffalo. He was released just one year into a four year contract that he signed last February. Undrafted rookie Eric Page is listed as the team's kickoff and punt returner. He averaged 12 yards per punt return and 27.3 per kickoff return in preseason, despite not having a punt return over 20 yards or a kickoff return over 40.
I'll be back tomorrow to recap the game!
Stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.