It’s been a long drought, hasn’t it Bucs fans? Tampa Bay hasn’t sniffed post season play since January 6th, 2008 – a 24-14 loss to the eventual Super Bowl Champion in the playoffs and team of destiny New York Giants (that was the 18-1 dethroning of the Patriots year).
The closest the Bucs have gotten to playoff football was in 2010 when Raheem’s team won the Race to Ten (but they actually needed 11). It ends this season. I know what you’re thinking. There goes Crazy DLT again, wearing his homer red and pewter colors and letting his Buc flag fly.
I’m not alone, though. There’s many an “NFL Expert” picking the Bucs as a surprise team or a wildcard contender. Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds is on record at a 10-6 mark. BucNation’s Sander is right around the same zone.
The feeling is there. This is the best Bucs team we’ve had around here in quite some time.
I know, as Bucs fans, we are conditioned to expect the worst because frankly, it usually happens to us. Our boys in pewter always seem to do the wrong thing at the wrong time against the wrong opponent and find a way to get themselves beat. They’re basically the Anti-Panthers. You see, Carolina, while being very good, seems to always make that key play to win them the game. A key turnover or a penalty by their opponent or Cam just pulls something out of his backside to save the day.
The Bucs, it seemed the opposite happens – or at least it did until a certain #3 joined the ranks. That’s where we begin – Jameis Winston. One of the main reason the Bucs are going back to the Playoffs.
Yes, Winston is 6-10 as a starter. He’s thrown away some games early in his career (Tennessee and both Carolina games come to mind). Still, Jameis has that special something doesn’t he? Be it his dedication to his craft, his leadership ability, his love for the game and desire to change the culture and win here. It’s very much like that sea change in the vast abyss that was the 1980’s and 90’s.
Another energetic Buc decided it was time for the losing to end. Warren Sapp, together with Derrick Brooks, John Lynch and Ronde Barber led the Bucs out of the wilderness that was the “Yucks” and crafted a new story for this franchise. Soon, teams who loved to come down for a mini-vacation and get an easy W against the pastel footwipes from the tropics suddenly hated playing Tampa Bay.
The Bucs were brash, mean and they won a lot.
Winston is leading Tampa Bay in a different way. He’s instilling confidence in a team that was devoid of it for the last decade. He’s not accepting losing attitude from his teammates. The culture is changing (and maybe already has changed).
Oh by the way, he’s pretty darned good, too.
All that needs to come now is some wins.
The Defense is Back
Probably the most frustrating aspect of Lovie’s “Pray for Turnovers” defense was the passiveness of it. Never challenge the receivers. Never bring heat to the quarterback. Stay in your zone, even if you think you can make a play on the ball. Sure, it worked great in the early aughts, when the Bucs had four Hall of Famers on defense (yes, I am including Lynch and Barber – both should get in eventually), but it was too passive for today’s NFL.
Under Mike Smith, the Bucs are an aggressive, attacking defense. They pressure the heck out of the QB and they play with instinct. Playmakers like Lavonte David, neutered in Lovie’s scheme, seem to be back to their old playmaking ways.
While statistically the Bucs were a top ten defense, they were the bottom of the league in points allowed. If they can shave off just seven or eight points a game off that total, this team will win a lot of football games.
Mike Evans is Back, Too
Welcome back, Mike Evans. Not sure what happened to #13 last year but he definitely wasn’t the same player who dominated opposing end zones in his rookie year. Evans was nigh unstoppable in the pre-season, especially near the red zone and it looks like his hands might be back.
About That Schedule
Yes, we hear it so many times. The schedule…oh the schedule is so tough. Look, do the Seattle Seahawks worry about who they’re playing? No, of course not. They go lineup and beat the crap out of whomever they face – be it the Browns or the Cardinals. If you’re a good team, you’re going to win your share against the other good teams. You can’t smoke-and-mirrors your way to the playoffs. Atlanta found that out last year. They got off to a terrific start, feasting on a weak schedule and then when they started playing better teams they got their heads kicked in.
If you’re worthy, the schedule won’t matter. Not to mention, that schedule stuff is all b.s. anyway. It’s based on last year’s records. No one knows for sure which teams will be good, which ones won’t be good – who will sustain a major injury (like Minnesota). Would Carolina be as daunting if both Luke Kuechly and Cam Newton missed the game with injuries? No. Will Denver be as good with Trevor Siemian as QB? They won last night but I didn’t think they were unstoppable.
And speaking of the NFC South, man – Carolina’s defense sure looked susceptible to the run and batter Cam around a bit and he’s not quite as effective. Now, of course the Bucs don’t have the defense Denver has (few teams do) but under Mike Smith, things could be a little different. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is still throwing picks – even in Pre-Season – and even with Dwight Freeney added to the rotation, the Falcons don’t look like they can muster much of a pass rush. The Saints are the Saints. Drew Brees will get his 300 yds and 2 TDs, but you might get him for a pick or two – and that Saints defense is godawful.
Right now, I’m ready to say the Bucs are the second best team in the division. They’ll get to prove it on Sunday in Atlanta but that’s where I’m at right now. If Carolina can’t figure out their run defense or Cam isn’t the player he was last season then the door may even open slightly a bit more for a division title.
Yes, the Panthers have won three straight NFC South titles – but many forget that one of those was with a 7-8-1 record. The Panthers have yet to put back-to-back winning seasons together in their franchise history. Many treat the Panthers like the Patriots and the Seahawks – but I’m not sure they’ve earned that yet.
The final reason why I think the Bucs will be in the playoffs is Coach Dirk Koetter. While he’s yet to coach his first real NFL game, I’ve liked everything I’ve seen. I was unsure about Schiano, I was very disappointed in what we got out of Lovie. Koetter is the most Gruden-like coach we’ve had hear since Chucky formed the Fired Football Coaches Association. He tells it like it is. He’s got guts and his players love playing for him. He has put together a heck of a coaching staff, especially on the defensive side of the ball, a dramatic upgrade over Lovie’s cronism and nepotism.
After three consecutive horrible coaches (although I still think they pulled the trigger on Rah too quickly), I think the Glazer Boys may have stumbled their way into a winner.
The Bucs will make their way through the land mines of the 2016 schedule and find their way to a 10-6 record, which will be good enough for a wild-card (and maybe more if Carolina holds to form).
Photo Credit: Cliff Welch / Pewter Report