Buc Wild and myself thought it would be a good idea to discuss this topic in detail. Right now, there may be no more pressing topic. The Bucs are a win against New Orleans or Atlanta from likely making the playoffs yet it has also been well documented that they have yet to be a team with a winning record. Below is Buc Wild and I's exchange.
It is my assertion that this team is not a 7-4 team. Holding to my preseason prediction I still think we are a 6-7 win team. What I did not foresee was our schedule being this bad. Arizona, Carolina and San Fransisco are shells of the team I initially thought. Honestly, without a win against a team with a .500 record or better, this team hasn't earned the playoffs. I don't think there is much benefit to making the playoffs. Experience in "big games" is overrated if you get burned and it creates false expectations going into next year. With what will likely be a tougher schedule next year, to expect this team to look the same is hopeful at best. The damages that can be done by what will appear as a regression will be irreversible for Morris.
I hate to rely on a cliche, but as they say, you are what your record says you are. But let me temper that by saying I don't think we are one of the top 5 teams in the NFC right now. Our record is a bit misleading, based on what you mentioned. Some of those teams are just awful, but lets look at the bright side; we've beat the teams we were supposed to beat. Our schedule won't always feature these creampuffs, but with a young team, staying focused and winning those games is important. It shows the team is focused, ready to play on Sundays.
I'd love to get to the playoffs, and honestly, it won't hurt us a bit. If we stay in the 3rd spot in the South, and they send three teams (Saints, Falcons, us) to the playoffs, our schedule won't be any different next year than if we are 7-9 and in 3rd. We still play our division twice, another NFC and AFC division and then two other third place teams. So I'm not worried about what our schedule will be like, it should look the same regardless of what happens, unless the Saints collapse and we pass them.
What we seem to lack is a big play prevention defense and any consistency on offense. It gets old seeing the defense play well then give up a bomb out of nowhere. On the offensive side, we need consistency. Blount needs to hit the hole faster, Freeman needs to tighten up a bit, and our receivers need to catch the ball (I'm looking at you Spurlock).
I have to admit I've been pretty impressed with Morris this year. I can't stand listening to him talk and the way he handles his players leaves me confused, but there's no doubt he is getting the best out of them. No way are we the most talented team and on paper, I don't think either of our lines is anything better than average, but somehow, we're in the thick of it.
I lack all confidence in this team facing a tougher schedule next year. I hate to get ahead of ourselves that much when we still have 5 games left to play; but the problem is the better teams we face the more its completely apparent that we having gaping holes in talent versus teams like the Saints, Falcons, Steelers and Ravens. I can count maybe 3 players that would start on any team in the league. Especially with Grimm down, we leave a huge hole at safety, a hole at DT (who knows what Price will become), a 2nd CB, 2 DE'S, 3rd WR and a starting running back. Not to mention a G, T, C and depth on the OL.
We have miles to go before we put talent at every position that is capable of winning playoff games and winning a Super Bowl. I know this is a 5 year plan, one that I have no problem committing to. The Tampa fan base though? Impatient and over-zealous. They will see a 9-7 record or a 10-6 record and believe that we should improve on it next year. It simply won't happen, not if our schedule improves at all. I don't think this team was as bad as the record last year (toughest schedule in decades in the NFL) or this year (one of the easiest in the NFL).
I know we still have 5 games left, and I'm certainly not thinking the Bucs go 5-0 through that stretch, but we have a real shot at making the playoffs. We need a few breaks, but we're in the race, I think that's all we can ask at this point.
I still am not worried about next year's schedule. Whether we win out or lose out, we probably are the 3rd team in the South which means we face the 3rd place teams in two other games next year. So the rest of this year probably has no bearing on our schedule, it won't be easier or harder.
I agree though, we do have holes on our roster, some more frustrating than others. Our OL has started to realize they are average and the holes that Blount had in his first few starts are no long there and Freeman is running for his life more often.
I'm very interested to see what the fanbase does with this year. The majority of people I've talked to have said either "spend money" or "win" and they'll go to games. When we hit 7 wins, it surpassed most people's predictions, so where are the fans? Are they waiting for a told you so moment? I do agree that expectations will be high, but truthfully, the Bucs can't manage that. They aren't gonna come out and say "We won 10 games in 2010, but we're shooting for 6 in 2011. Come watch us regress!" I guess that's where the media (i.e. us) comes in.
Gun to my head, I don't think the Bucs finish in the wild card slot this year. And it's not for lack of effort. They conceivably could get to 10 wins (I'm looking at loss to Atlanta, win against everyone else until New Orleans) and still miss the playoffs due to tiebreakers. A loss to Atlanta means we can't catch them, and though a lot can happen between now and then, the Saints have 1.5 games on us so a loss to them in Week 17 and we finish behind them, meaning we've got 5 games to outplay the Packers and Giants.
Of course, if the Bucs go out and win on Sunday against the Falcons, we're playoff bound, no questions asked. That gets us to 8-4 and a 2-2 finish probably gets us in.
Maybe I'm separating making the playoffs and being a playoff team. Fair or not, the NFC is incredibly top heavy. Making the playoffs and not actually being a playoff team just sets the fanbase up for unreasonable expectations. Certianly I'm not asking the Bucs to win less this year and make next year more manageable. I'll take 10 wins all day long. I'm just trying to get an accurate assessment of where this team stands and frankly it scares me. The Bucs have look much better the last two weeks, but are really no higher than middle of the road in any one statistical category and this is against largely bad teams. Even advanced statistics will show that we are somewhere around the 18 best team in the league. Barely a playoff team and not much of a contender. If the Bucs lose to New Orleans and Atlanta, how much confidence can this team carry into the offseason knowing that they didn't beat a single team with a winning record? My guess, probably not much and you will still hear quite a bit of criticism coming from the Tampa media.
What say you? Is this Buccaneers team a legitimate playoff team?