Do you feel that there is any remaining animosity between the Lions and Bucs fanbases from the old NFC Central days?
PN: In Tampa, there is now. Last season the Buccaneers would have made the playoffs if they beat Detroit. After dropping the game to the Lions Tampa went on to way-lay the Seahawks and then beat the Saints in the Superdome to finish 10-6. They lost on a tie-breaker that sent the Green Bay Packers to the playoffs as the last wild card spot and we all saw what they went on to do.
Bucs fans, for the most part, aren’t so bold as to say the team would have made a Super Bowl run in place of the Packers, but they are acutely aware that the Lions game cost the Bucs a chance to go to the playoffs. There is some animosity there, and the Bucs players have been looking forward to this date for a while. Granted, that animosity doesn’t date back to the old NFC Central days (when it was more reserved for the Packers), but it does exist on the Tampa end.
ZS: I don’t get the sense that there is any residual animosity. The Lions and Bucs didn’t have a long stretch where both were relevant in the division race at the same time so it was hard to build up that hatred like Lions fans have with the Bears, Packers and Vikings. It was nice the Lions could play the spoiler role in Tampa last year but that doesn’t result in any feelings towards the Bucs.
Long-term, outside of QB’s, what do you think will be the best matchup when the Lions and Bucs square off?
Well, there’s McCoy vs. Suh. They were picked 2-3 in last year’s draft and while Suh went on to have an absolutely phenomenal rookie season, McCoy struggled and then finished the season on IR right as he was finally finding his form. All accounts say McCoy is healthy and looking to have a big season this year, and I’m sure a large part of that is motivated by the constant comparisons to Suh.
But beyond that, I am intrigued by the coaches. Jim Schwartz and Raheem Morris seem to be two of the brightest young stars in coaching and they are both fairly unconventional in their methods at times. I could see them having some great battles. One thing you can’t say about the coaching match-ups of Dungy and Belichick are that there was a ton of personality involved. I’m sure away from the field both guys are interesting (hell, Belichick is close friends with Bon Jovi, he has to be), but on the field it was Hoody McTerse vs. Captain Cliche and that’s just not much fun. Morris and Schwartz have personality and as they win and become more confident I only expect that to grow.
ZS: The Lions defense against the Bucs Offense. The Lions have put together some weapons on offense but it will be the improvement of the defense that leads the team where they want to go. I have been impressed with Josh Freeman but the Bucs have an offense that features a lot of balance. How the Lions defense handles a balanced attack could be the difference between winning and losing. We know they can get after the quarterback but teams have to worry about the ground game too thanks to a breakout year by LeGarrette Blount.