There has been a lot of "the end is near" mentality going around after the recent loss to the New Orleans Saints. So, I thought I'd take a closer look into this. I wanted to see how warranted it really is.
Now, admittedly, the loss to the Saints puts us in 3rd place in the division and in a very difficult place to make the playoffs. In that sense, the sky could be falling. Having split games with the Saints, and also being 2 games back, it's not gonna be easy to overtake them again and we have no head-to-head tie-break against them anymore. We are both 2-1 in the division. The Falcons are ahead of us, but only by one game and we still have the tie-break edge at this point. A win against them and we'd have the full tie-break advantage against them and another division win.
Next thing to do is look at the schedule. Starting with the Saints, they have to play the Falcons twice and Panthers once. They also have the Lions and Giants to play at home. Not easy by any stretch of the imagination. And with the inconsistency they've played with, there's no telling they'll even beat the Titans or Vikings on the road. The Falcons have the Saints twice, the Panthers on the road and the Bucs in division. They have the Texans to play as well. But add in the Titans, Vikings and Jaguars all at home and their road may be a bit easier. Now, the Bucs have an interesting road ahead. Obviously we have tough meetings with the Packers and Texans ahead. But, between then and the season finale, the road is a bit muddled. We face the Titans, Panthers twice, Jaguars, and Cowboys. None of those teams have shown much consistency and all can be beaten. We finish against the Falcons. It's not too far fetched to see the Saints and/or Falcons stumble once or twice and the Bucs to sneak back into this thing.
Ok, so that's the road ahead, but what about all this "regression" going around on the team? What about firing coaches, or punishing players for stupid things on the field? A lot of that talk going around as well, so I thought I'd look at where we're at and who we have and compare it to other teams around the league. Obviously our record is mediocre, 4-4. The expectations were for Freeman to be a "Franchise QB", Blount to be a Juggernaut, Mike Williams to take over and give advantages to Benn and the others. Our Defense looked to be improving and expectations coming off last year were high.
Those are the keys I've honed in on because they're all important here. So, let's take a look at another team that is 4-4, has a "Franchise" or Elite QB, a young RB taken in the first round, a top WR talent, and had a defense in the top half of the league for the past 3 years. The expectations are high for them to be in the playoffs this year considering their weak division, yet they're in a fight for their life to make the playoffs with a fairly difficult schedule ahead. I'm talking about the San Diego Chargers. With "stud" QB Phillip Rivers, top draft pick Ryan Matthews, and Vincent Jackson... playing in the weak AFC West... having a good defense. How could they be struggling? This is also a team that has mostly chosen the "build through the draft" mentality. They didn't add much in the way of free agents. The coaching staff is pretty much the same other than the loss of DC Ron Rivera to the Panthers. They're a more veteran team and the expectations for them were much higher nationally than for the Bucs. So, were our expectations too high since we're fans of the team? or is it just the "build through the draft" mentality?
Ok, given that, let's look at two teams that chose the free agency route that also had high expectations. Both have "Franchise" QBs, both have top RBs, one has top WRs, and both are known for great defense. Both are also playing tonight on Monday Night Football. The Bears and the Eagles. Cutler and Vick (both non-draft acquisitions), Forte and McCoy, Maclin and Jackson. Both defenses bolstered by top free agents like Julius Peppers, Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, etc. Yet, if the Eagles happen to win, both teams will be 4-4 just like our Bucs. If the Bears win, that means the "Dream Team" will be 3-5. So, it's not signing top free agents putting teams over the top. It's not Veteran coaching either. You can't get more Veteran coaching that Andy Reid, and Lovie Smith has been around for a while as well. Norv Turner's been in the league for quite some time.
My intent here is not to answer my question, but to pose it. The feeling I'm getting from the fan base is that the sky is, indeed, falling. But we've taken a close look, and teams with even higher expectations (nationally) than our beloved Bucs are in no better situation that we are. Looking at our losses, we've been beaten by the Lions (6-2), the 49ers (7-1), the Bears (4-4 or 5-3) and the Saints (6-3). Those are all pretty good teams this year. I don't think there's anything to be ashamed of losing to any of them this year, but plenty to be proud of if we beat teams like that. Well, out of our 4 wins, 2 came against teams like that, with winning records at this point. The Saints and Falcons, with a bonus because those were also division opponents. 6 of our 8 games against teams with pretty good records and we sit at 4-4. And by most fan's accounts, we have not played good football as a team this year. Freeman's been off target. Olsen won't run Blount. Benn isn't even in on passing downs. The defense can't tackle. Our secondary gets torched. The whole team is making stupid penalties before, during and after the play.
You see... we're 4-4 against some pretty good competition and we still haven't played our best football. So, I ask again... Is the sky falling? or not?
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