There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the future of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They're a young team that won ten games last season, and were playing better football with many injured players at the end of the season than they were when healthy at the beginning of the season. They have a young quarterback who looked like a star. So why, then, the title of this blog post? Because none of this means they'll actually be successful.
The Buccaneers won ten games last season, but they did so against a weak schedule, beating only one team with a winning record. And that one team had nothing to play for when they were beaten. Worse yet, the Bucs only had a few convincing wins. Five of their wins were by a field goal or less. They weren't a very dominant team, even against weak opposition. And one of those wins - over the Redskins - came on a last-second missed extra point. So how often is that going to happen in the future?
Then there's the turnover margin. The Buccaneers turned the ball over just 19 times, while taking it away 28 times. That ranked 6th and 13th in the league. Their turnover differential of +9 ranked 8th in the league. They did that playing against some really poor quarterbacks, like Jimmy Clausen, Troy Smith, Matt Hasselbeck/Charlie Whitehurst and Cardinals QB. Keep in mind that turnovers are very inconsistent from season to season. Freeman won't throw five interceptions every year, and the Bucs aren't likely to force 28 turnovers every year either. Especially so if Aqib Talib is suspended or even cut.
The Bucs weren't all that good in certain phases of the game either. Their pass offense was decent, but Freeman was still completing just 61.4% of all passes. Legarrette Blount managed to squeak out some long runs, but he couldn't do much in short yardage and there were many negative runs to go with the positive. Kellen Winslow barely featured in the game plan early in the season, and who knows how long his knee is going to hold out.
Then turn to the defense. The run defense was still pathetic last season, and the Bucs will have up to three rookie starters in their front seven to fix it. That seems like a recipe for disaster. And how will the pass defense fare without star cornerback Aqib Talib? If the offense looked good last season, the defense sure didn't, and you need both to do well in the NFL.
And then there's the injuries. Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Arrelious Benn, Cody Grimm, Aqib Talib, Kareem Huggins and Davin Joseph are all rehabbing right now. Will they all be ready in time for the season? More importantly, will they actually retain their skills after their injury? Many players have come back from injuries, but have never gotten back to the level at which they used to play. Cadillac Williams is the most obvious example of that for Bucs fans.
Finally, this Bucs team is young and hence has a high ceiling. But the players also need to improve in a lot of different ways, and a full offseason would be crucial for that improvement to occur. With the lockout in place, though, there is no offseason, no training, no coaching. And the Buccaneers will need that coaching more than most teams.
So you tell me: will the Bucs really be better next season?