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My colleague Josh Hill posted an article earlier today (You can read it here) where he outlined his thoughts on this current Buccaneers team, and why it’s okay for them to have missed the playoffs. Rather than spending any time outlining his thoughts, I want to make my own assertion.
This Tampa Bay Buccaneers team will never have another chance to have a playoff run like they would this season.
Do I agree with Josh that there is talent on this team that can be developed for the future? Absolutely. And I also agree it’s likely that the team wouldn’t make an incredible playoff run, especially considering recent form. However, the NFL is not a league where the future is guaranteed. After Cadillac Williams’ first four games with the Buccaneers, how many of us were just “waiting” for a few seasons down the road, when Caddy was leading a potent Bucs running game to playoff victories? Injuries, free agency, and age all play against the Buccaneers at this point, and despite having a young roster, waiting for next season will only take away one chance at making a run, and that may be the one chance several of these players will have. The Buccaneers will never get to play the 2012 season again, and that’s something we can’t take for granted.
Taking a look at the Buccaneers schedule this season, the wins were there for the taking. The NFL’s scheduling standards had the Buccaneers up against the NFC East and AFC West, two of the worse divisions in football. The NFC East is easily the most overrated division, with constant hype about the Cowboys and Eagles clouding the fact that the teams in this division often end in a close knit bunch, and were it not for well timed playoff runs by the Giants, the division would be completely unremarkable. Yet the Buccaneers managed to drop all of their NFC East games this season.
The AFC West is a Peyton Manning away from being a laughing stock, and fortunately, the Buccaneers took care of their AFC West foes this season, accounting for 3 of the team’s 6 wins. Next season, the Buccaneers play the AFC East, and NFC West. This is a drastic upgrade in opposition, as the Buccaneers will have to visit Seattle and New England, which I would boldly say we can pencil in as losses regardless of what the front office does this offseason.
Those are two VERY difficult places to play.
The Jets and 49ers will also provide difficult opposition, and if the Cardinals are able to find a quarterback, they should be a challenge as well. That leaves the St. Louis Rams, along with a John Skelton or Kevin Kolb led Cardinals team, as the easier matchups from these divisions, and those teams are a step ahead of the Raiders and Chiefs that the Buccaneers got to face this season.
The Buccaneers will also get a home game against the NFC East and NFC North teams that finish in the corresponding position in the division standings. If the Buccaneers finish second or third, as we assume they will, that means a home game against the Cowboys or Redskins, and a road game against the Bears or Lions.
The worst case scenario being a home game against Tony Romo, aka Buccaneer Kryptonite, and a road tilt against the Bears in cold weather. I would argue that you can already count on 4 or 5 losses next season, even if the Buccaneers have a dream offseason.