Before the season began, the conversation surrounding our Tampa Bay Buccaneers (if there was any at all) was about how bad they would be and how many games would be blacked out. Optimism was hard to find. Sports radio was ready to fire Raheem Morris, analysts were predicting two wins, and the fan base was downright disinterested. Fast-forward to week eleven and this remarkable Buccaneers team has something different it would like you to talk about.
Josh Freeman was often hyped by the front office as a future elite quarterback but now the sports media is on the bandwagon and the future may be now. Rookie Mike Williams has demonstrated why he is the steal of the draft and is well on his way to stardom and offensive rookie of the year honors as he leads all rookies in catches, yards and touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount is no longer punching players off the field but is punishing them on the field.
The defense that was much maligned last season is much improved and has been downright stingy in the second half of games as well as opportunistic, making splash plays and creating turnovers on a weekly basis.
Head coach Raheem Morris is the talk of the town as his players all have his back and would all go to war for him. But the most unlikely storyline is that this once rebuilding season has the Buccaneers in the thick of a playoff race.
In the immortal words of Jim Mora, "Playoffs?! Playoffs?!"
That’s right, playoffs! The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just won their sixth game of the season and are in the thick of the NFC playoff picture. If the season ended today the Buccaneers however would be on the outside looking in as both Green Bay and New Orleans would be in with 6-3 records thanks to head to head and common opponent tie breakers. But the schedule going forward is favorable, and if the Buccaneers continue to play this way they have every opportunity to play themselves into a playoff berth in Raheem Morris’ second season.
Let’s take a look at what the Buccaneers will need to do if they hope to play deep into January.
The Buccaneers have an expression they like to use called "A Race to 10" which basically means the first teams to ten wins get a seat at the playoff table. Many would have joked before the season that this may have been possible only if the Bucs won all four preseason games and counted those but now sitting at 6-3 in Week 11 the Buccaneers are positioned perfectly for the sprint to the finish line.
With seven games left to play the Buccaneers need to simply go 4-3 in the final stretch to reach that 10 win goal. With games at San Francisco and Washington as well as Detroit and Seattle at home there are some winnable games on the schedule. Handling those lesser opponents and maybe shocking a team like Baltimore or New Orleans is well within the realm of possibility. There is also a rematch looming with the NFC South-leading Falcons following the dramatic Fourth and Goal defeat earlier this season in Atlanta, but this time the game is in Raymond James where a close game often favors the home team.
But will 10 wins even be enough? The NFC is often considered inferior to the AFC but this year it is highly competitive and the Buccaneers are playing in the leagues best division in which three teams find themselves 6-3 or better. Most analysts seem to agree that ten wins is enough but the Buccaneers may want to amend it and make it a "Race to 11". Having two teams that stand in their way on their schedule helps as well as victories over the Saints or Falcons helps the cause in more ways than just the ‘W’.
While a late season swoon is still realistically possible the Buccaneers have put themselves in exactly the position they had hoped to be in; right in the thick of a playoff race and playing meaningful games in November and into December. For such a young team to play this well has been a real treat to watch and as fans we can only hope that they continue to grow and improve down the stretch.
Now, if the Buccaneers do host a playoff game, will we be able to watch it on television? That’s a whole different story.