It's been over 10 years since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last were in the Super Bowl.
That day, January 26th, 2003, the Jon Gruden-coached Bucs demolished the Oakland Raiders 48-21, claiming the Lombardi Trophy for the first time in franchise history.
Since then, Tampa has not won a playoff game (two defeats in the Wild Card Round, however, in the 2005 and 2007 seasons).
But after an impressive 7-9 2012 season under new head coach Greg Schiano, a postseason berth does not seem too distant.
With the playoffs in sight, it's time to take it one step further and ask: how far away are the Buccaneers from their next Super Bowl victory?
We can predict a time frame based on just one player; Josh Freeman.
If the young quarterback takes another step forward in 2013, the Bucs are that much closer to being Super Bowl contenders.
If No. 5 regresses or even stays the same, the Bucs will have to look for other options under center if they want to win in February.
It seems as though every other article you read about football says something about how the NFL has become a passing league. You read it so often it's become a cliché.
Yet every cliché has some grain of truth. The NFL is a passing league. The teams with the best quarterbacks win.
Three names are listed twice (Roethlisberger, Brady, and the younger Manning), two are all-time greats (Brady and Peyton Manning), and, excluding Joe Flacco, they are six out of the seven best quarterbacks in the game today (Matt Ryan rounding out the list of the top seven).
If you want to win a Super Bowl, you need a great quarterback (then again...Brad Johnson, Brad Johnson, Brad Johnson).
18 interceptions and an accuracy percentage of 54.8 won't cut it. The modern elite quarterback needs to complete 63% of pass attempts, throw for 4,000 yards a season, have a passer rating in the 90s or above, and NOT turn the ball over so many times that fans have to question if the signal-caller can tell the difference between his team's jerseys and his opponents'.
If Josh Freeman can be a top 10 quarterback, then the time between now and the Bucs' next Super Bowl win is dramatically shorter than if he can't.
With weapons on offense like running back Doug Martin, wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and even WR Mike Williams, a solid offensive line, and a young, emerging defense, Tampa has the pieces in place to become a contender.
The defense, especially, has the most potential for success, as it has a core of current and future (potentially, of course) stars in defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, weak side linebacker Lavonte David, middle linebacker Mason Foster, and strong safety Mark Barron that should continue to improve as the individual pieces learn to play as a team.
For a Super Bowl run, the Bucs definitely need a better secondary and pass rush, and probably a receiver who is a threat down the middle of the field. That works out to roughly three to four players Tampa needs to add to contender. One good cornerback, a pass-rushing defensive end/tackle and a slot receiver or pass-catching tight end. Three big needs.
The Bucs can fill all three holes with one, maybe two drafts. The 2012 draft provided the team with three impact players in Barron, Martin and David, so who's to say Tampa can't replicate that draft success in 2013?
Once the pieces are there, the team may take anywhere from one to four years to develop into one cohesive unit capable of winning the last game of the season. There is no exact time frame for this, and even if the pieces are there, that doesn't guarantee postseason success.
If Josh Freeman is truly the quarterback for Tampa Bay, a Super Bowl can be won anywhere from two to five years, assuming the team doesn't lose any integral components down the line.
But if Josh Freeman isn't the quarterback, then the team will have to either draft a new one and wait a few years for him to develop, or hope that a Super Bowl-caliber QB enters free agency, basically a repeat of the Peyton Manning saga of last year.
Drafting a quarterback seems more likely. That will slow the team's momentum down considerably, as waiting for the prospect to turn elite will take some time probably adding another three to four years to the Super Bowl wait.
No matter what, the Buccaneers' Super Bowl chances depend on whether Josh Freeman takes a step forward or a step backward in 2013.