A MRSA outbreak, allegations of a sabotaged captain vote followed by a dicey quarterback demotion, an injury to their star running back and a fiery billboard calling for the coach's termination. After all of this, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now the best football team in the state of Florida.
At 1-8, the Bucs are having a miserable season. Embattled coach Greg Schiano has been heavily criticized, and plenty of outsiders have speculated that he may be losing control of his team. However, he's found a way to hold on to the locker room, and after a hard-fought victory on Monday night over the Miami Dolphins, it's clear that his team is still playing hard for him.
In addition to the effort still being there, this team actually has a lot of talent.
On offense, Vincent Jackson remains an explosive weapon, and the offensive line has drastically improved their play as of late. After struggling to create lanes for Doug Martin earlier this year, they've now led the Mike James/Brian Leonard/Bobby Rainey tandem to an impressive 205 rushing yards on the road in Seattle and 140 in their win over the Dolphins.
Not surprisingly, the defense has had its fair share of struggles this year. However when you look at the stats, they're now ranked a respectable 14th in total defense, per NFL.com.
On the individual side, DT Gerald McCoy is finally having the breakout year many people have been waiting for, and Lavonte David has emerged as one of the best linebackers in the NFL. While questions linger around Darrelle Revis' health as well as how he's being used schematically, he's still a nightmare for opposing receivers and will be productive for a long time.
The skeptics will point out that despite the Bucs victory over the Dolphins, the 'Phins 4-5 record still makes them the best team in Florida.
While they've had some nice wins this year, they're now in complete shambles following the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying scandal. After losing these two major pieces of their line, they'll continue to struggle as they did Monday, as the Dolphins finished with two combined rushing yards.
They've now allowed a league-high 37 sacks, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill has struggled under the pressure. I could go on about the Dolphins, but other journalists have them pretty well-covered.
Then there’s the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars, who've lost eight games by an average of 22.25. In the Bucs' eight losses, they've only lost by an average of 8.25 points per contest.
The Jaguars rank 28th in total defense and lack any consistency on offense. There's a major gap in overall talent level between the Bucs and Jaguars, and while the Bucs are just a few adjustments away from being a playoff team, the Jaguars just aren't.
The future is relatively bright for the Buccaneers, although it's tough to discern that through this season's mess. That only leaves the Florida State Seminoles...