It's safe to say that almost nobody predicted that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would have been a good football team this year, let alone one still playing when the Divisional Round rolled around.
The Bucs were picked to be among the worst teams in the league, one that would spend more time looking at top quarterbacks to tank for than a shot at the Super Bowl. Despite the doubt, Tampa Bay put together arguably its second-best season of the decade behind a resurgent defense and the leadership of Baker Mayfield.
Falling into a 1-6 slump cost the Bucs all of the goodwill they had earned after getting off to a surprisingly hot start, but Todd Bowles kept a steady hand on the wheel and corrected course. The result was the first four-game winning streak since the 2021 season and a total destruction of the reigning NFC champions in the Wild Card round.
All of that has Bucs fans hyped about a rematch with the Lions this weekend, but not everyone is drinking the Kool-Aid.
ESPN calls Bucs over Lions predictions an 'overreaction'
While looking back at what happened last weekend and looking ahead to the Divisional Round, ESPN's Dan Graziano called it an 'overreaction' to think the Bucs can pull off another upset win.
"I can totally see the Lions doing something similar, having finally broken their own decades-long playoff drought, and their personnel are drastically superior to Tampa Bay's group. With an extra day of rest and without the pressure of having not won a playoff game in the 21-year history of their own stadium, the Lions have more than enough to beat the Bucs. Tampa Bay deserves a ton of credit for the season it had, and Mayfield deserves a contract extension. But I don't see how this team belongs in the same conversation as the 49ers and Lions at this point."- Dan Graziano, ESPN
That's fair, but it also feels like a backhanded compliment more than anything else.
Don't get it twisted, the Lions are a fantastic team and have surpassed the hype they came into the season with. Ending the kind of drought Detroit did deserves to be celebrated, but let's not pretend like they blew the doors of Los Angeles in doing so.
Detroit got off to a hot start but slowed to a grind as the game went on. It's notable that the Lions won by only a single point against an offense that looked a level below where Tampa Bay was operating on Monday.
Granted, the Eagles looked putrid, but the Bucs hadn't taken advantage of that sort of situation all season but did so in a way that only further built momentum. Lest we forget these teams met when the Bucs weren't at their best, as the 20-6 loss in Week 6 featured the sort of self-inflicted mistakes that sunk the team into a slump.
The same logic heading into the Wild Card applies now: this isn't the same team that showed up earlier in the year. Tampa Bay has made important strides in key areas that held them back the first time around, from the offense clicking better than ever to the defense being on an entirely different level.
It's not going to be easy, but the Bucs have earned their way into a deep playoff run and it's far from an overreaction to think that it can continue.