What a difference a year makes. Week 9 last season saw the Buccaneers coming off their bye at a woeful 0-7, and showing no signs of getting any better. The only glimmer of hope was the news of young gun Josh Freeman making his NFL debut that upcoming week at home against the Packers in classic orange throwback uniforms. The Buccaneers won their first game of the 2009 season that Sunday behind Freeman's first of many 4th quarter come-from-behind victories.
Fast-forward one year and the story is completely different, and like the Empire Strikes Back, this sequel is much better than the original. This version of week 9 features the surprising Buccaneers sitting atop the NFC South at 5-2 and locked in a tie for first place with the Atlanta Falcons who host the Bucs this Sunday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA.
The Buccaneers have shown a lot so far this season and are currently riding a 5 game road winning streak including three straight this season in Carolina, Cincinnati, and Arizona. Despite that, the Falcons are still a heavy favorite heading into the weekend’s action, with handicappers giving the Falcons an 8 point edge to defeat the Buccaneers.
The pessimism for the Buccaneer's can be somewhat understood. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have looked very strong early and continue to get better, while the Buccaneers were one of the worst teams in the league last season and also have their share of weaknesses this season. Many will point too a poor quality of opponents in the Buccaneer's victories and that when matched against real talented teams like Pittsburgh and New Orleans the Bucs were blown out. The defense and running game have also been suspect but an outstanding +8 turnover differential and the LeGarrette Blount coming out party may alleviate those worries.
There is of course reason for optimism, the aforementioned LeGarrette Blount has brought new vigor and energy to a much maligned running game and the development of Josh Freeman continues to excite Buc fans. Freeman is growing up before our eyes and may be on his way to becoming an elite quarterback much sooner than anyone predicted.
While the Buccaneers may not favored in this one there is definitely reasons for hope, and it should be a great game. No matter what happens Sunday, one things is for sure; If you told any Buccaneer fan that in week 9 they would be squaring off for the division lead they would take it in a heartbeat.