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Catching up with … the Buccaneers

07.18.13 at 7:45 am ET

As we count down to the start of training camp, we’€™ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’€™ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We featured the Bills and Jets. Now, we go out of the division for a look at the Buccaneers.

Specifics: The Patriots host Tampa Bay in the first non-divisional contest of the season, set for Sept. 22 at 1 p.m. at Gillette.

Say goodbye to … running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive back Ronde Barber, defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Roy Miller.

Welcome … cornerback Darrelle Revis, safety Dashon Goldson, cornerback Johnthan Banks, quarterback Mike Glennon, offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back/returner Jeff Demps.

Recent history: The Patriots and Bucs have only met seven times in the regular season, and New England has come away with a 5-2 record. The Patriots have won the last two games by a combined 63-7 score, including a 28-0 win over Tampa Bay in Foxboro on Dec. 17, 2005, and a 35-7 victory over the Bucs in London on Oct. 25, 2009. (They’€™ve actually become fairly regular preseason opponents — New England has met Tampa 10 times in the preseason and is 2-8. The two teams will meet again this August, and will have a series of joint practices before that one. Then, the whole Bill BelichickGreg Schiano lovefest also figures into the mix. Needless to say, these two teams will know each other about as well as any two non-divisional opponents by the time September rolls around.)

The Patriots should be worried because … Tampa is a pretty good team, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The Bucs are big and fast and aggressive up front, and between Revis and Goldson, the Bucs now feature one of the best secondaries Tom Brady and the Patriots will face all season. (Goldson will line up alongside Marc Barron, the seventh player chosen in the 2012 draft.) In the past, the Jets often went with Revis on Wes Welker, but with Welker gone, it will be interesting to see how the Bucs will use Revis when they face New England (Danny Amendola?). Combine that with the fact that the Bucs were one of the best teams in the league last season when it came to stopping the run (1,320 rushing yards allowed, 3.5 yards per carry and 82.5 rushing yards per game were all best in the NFL), and the Tampa defense will present a tall order for New England, which could still be undergoing an acclimation process with all the new options in the passing game so early in the season.

The Patriots shouldn’€™t be worried because … the game is at home, and when it comes to squaring off against his pals, Belichick usually is able to figure out a weakness and exploit that matchup. In this case, it could be trying to get some heat on quarterback Josh Freeman, who has had some positive moments in his relatively brief career,but also more than a few flashes of inconsistency. (In 2012 Freeman certainly started strong, but he faded down the stretch, ending with a 54.8 completion rate, 4,065 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 17 picks.) Expect Freeman to lean heavily on running back Doug Martin, who finished 2012 with 1,454 rushing yards. It’€™s also worth mentioning that the Patriots will have 10 days to prepare for the game, as they will be coming off a Thursday night game against the Jets the week before. Meanwhile, the Bucs will have seven days and will be coming off a divisional contest against the Saints.

The skinny: On paper, after the Pats face the Bills and Jets to open the regular season, Tampa represents the first significant challenge of the season. Expect lots of Belichick-Schiano stories over the course of the week, as well as talk about the showdown between Brady and Revis. One thing that should be emphasized is the danger of reading too much into the preseason game — figure that both teams will keep it as vanilla as possible when they meet in August in hopes of trying to pull a surprise or two come September. Regardless, this certainly sets up as one of the most intriguing games on the schedule.

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