After a great comeback against a team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shouldn’t have had to come back against and the bye week in the rearview mirror, we’re now in the home stretch. With a 6-3 record, the Bucs are in good shape to make something special this season, but the real question is can they? Is this a team with a good record that will flounder in the playoffs? Is this a team with enough talent and firepower to keep winning and even secure a playoff spot? Or is this a team that’s just teasing us and will be on the outside looking in when all is said and done?
First of all, I don’t believe it’s the last one of those. I do think this is a playoff team if only because of their 6-3 record. With the way the Bucs are playing and the remaining schedule, it’s safe to assume we’re looking at a 3-4 finish at worst. This would put Tampa Bay at 9-7 and hopefully give them a chance to claim one of the wild card spots. However, I think they will do better than that. And here’s why…
The Bucs still face the Detroit Lions and the Oakland Raiders. If Tampa Bay drops either of those games then maybe they don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. Not to upset any fans of those teams, but you know how good (or bad) your squads are this year and you should already be getting psyched for the draft. With those two wins, the Bucs would be up to 8-3 (yes, I know Detroit and Oakland aren’t the next two teams on Tampa Bay’s schedule, but bare with me here).
Next, let’s look at the other non-divisional matchups: the Minnesota Vikings and the San Diego Chargers. The Vikings are very beatable due to their shaky passing attack. The Bucs’ defense should give them trouble all day and be able to focus on stopping Adrian Peterson while forcing the Viking to beat them through the air. On the other hand, San Diego offers up an interesting matchup. The Chargers have to be the most talented team with a sub-.500 record. Which San Diego team will the Bucs get? The one that beat the New England Patriots by 20 points? Or the one that’s lost five games? I’ll play it safe and say the Bucs split these games. The Chargers are still a very talented team and with Peterson in the mix, you never know what you’re going to get with the Vikings. So now we’re at a conservative 9-4.
And now we’re down to the divisional matchups. Tampa Bay is currently 2-1 in NFC South games and has one game against each team remaining. Keeping with the "playing it safe" theme, let’s throw out the possibility of the Bucs going 3-0 or 0-3 in those games. Either could happen, neither is highly likely. The Bucs handled the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers rather easily earlier this year, but the Falcons are still a huge question mark (is anyone else amazed this team is 6-3?) and the Panthers have improved since then to the point they are leading the division. Then there’s the team currently sitting at the bottom: the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are below .500 but are similar in respects to the Chargers in that they are more talented than their record and could play the spoiler role for the rest of the year. Putting the three games together, the strong possibilities are 2-1 or 1-2. This would bring the Bucs’ final record to 11-5 or 10-6.
With 10 or more wins, the Bucs are in a good position to get into the playoffs, which I think (baring a catastrophic collapse) will happen. But what do you all think? Is this a playoff team? Will the Bucs make it in, but be knocked out the first weekend? Or are we looking at a team that overachieved early and will falter down the stretch?