1) I did not have the Bucs at 5-3 at this point. I had them as more 3-5. Silly me.
2) There are a lot of Good News / Bad News to be had. The Good News is that for a young team the Bucs are fearless, focused and finishing off opponents better than expected. The Bad News is that at key positions (DE, O-line, MLB) the talent is just not there yet for the Bucs to be a top-tier team in line for a Super Bowl win.3) Player of the Midseason. I have already admitted that in the case of Josh Freeman I am sitting down to a huge plate of crow. I ranted and gnashed teeth and wailed and rent garments when the Bucs drafted him First Round in 2009. I viewed him as a Second Round talent drafted too high simply because teams get enamored of big QBs. I felt back then our team needed to focus on fixing a broken D-line (which is still a problem today, natch), but by drafting Freeman the Bucs *did* find a rarity: an Honest-to-God Franchise QB. And better still, a Franchise QB that doesn't show signs of flaking out like Testaverde or Dilfer.
I have been genuinely impressed with Freeman's development and pray that he gets to stay on as the Franchise QB for the next five years (until free agency sends him to the desperate Cowboys). I *do* reserve the right to complain that the Bucs wasted a Fifth Rounder pick just to trade up 2 spots to get him though... seriously, Denver was going to draft him just ahead of us? Hrrmmmmm...
4) Game of the Midseason. Tricky because most of the wins have been come-from-behind, half-luck half-"what the hell" victories that did not spell out how the Bucs are a good team this year. The best one so far has to be the game AT Arizona, 38-35 win, where the Bucs offense and special teams contributed to a nice 31-14 lead... only to have the defense give up 14 unanswered points (with an offensive fumble returned for a TD added to that) before the offense regrouped for a patented FOURTH QUARTER COMEBACK. The good news of this game was how the Bucs are able to put up points if need be, something we haven't seen out of this team since 2002. The bad news still is how the defense is giving up points in horrific fashion, which has to stop soon if the Bucs want to have a postseason game or two this year.
5) Best Rookie. On a young team with rookies everywhere, there's still no question: WR Mike Williams, who has answered the maturity and dedication questions dogging him from his off-on college career by being the second-best WR in the whole damn NFC. This is a guy who has gone from 4th Round draft pick to Top Receiver on a pass-happy team. A spot on the All-Rookie squad usually named at the end of a season is a given: the real issue is if he gets a shot at Rookie of the Year.
6) Best Veteran. There aren't that many on this team, but of the ones we've got, I'd name third-year CB Aliq Talib. Leading the team in INTs (which itself is tied with the most turnovers stat for... the league or the NFC, I forget at the moment). Pretty much the one name guy on the defense who doesn't drive the fans crazy with What-The-Hell performances on the field. If the Bucs send anybody to the Pro Bowl this year... it has to be Freeman, Spurlock (special teamer) and Talib.
7) Best Improvement. With the wide receiver corps. This may be our best lineup since Keyshawn - McCardell - Jurevicius. Williams has been noted already. Benn is starting to show signs of being the other deep threat to scare secondaries. And Spurlock has secured the slot receiver (Number Three) spot.
8) Worst Non-Improvement. The defensive line. After using the top two picks for McCoy and Price, we've lost Price to constant injury woes and McCoy is barely showing signs of learning the system. The DEs are mostly missing in action: Stylez has a handful of sacks, but there's honestly little pressure on the QBs so far. While the gaps in the running game are slowly improving, the lack of sacks by the whole team and by the D-line in particular is a glaring problem.
9) Most Worrying Trend. Other than the lack of improvement with the D-line, it has to be the injury woes for the offensive line. We're starting guys who were on the Practice Squad just yesterday by this point. While the line so far hasn't completely collapsed with the loss of key players like C Faine, what had been an average O-line is in danger of dropping below average...
10) Games to Watch: this week's matchup against Carolina, just for the possibility of enjoying a beatdown of a hated rival suffering a 1-7 season. Or at least we'd be able to watch if the team would lighten up on the blackouts... Okay, seriously, the key games from this point are: road game vs. San Francisco (Bucs always have a hard time on the West Coast), home game vs. Atlanta (odds are high that playoff positions for the NFC South will be on the line), and road game at New Orleans for the season finale (if the Bucs and Saints are both in the playoff hunt, it will be a HUGE game indeed).