Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Can Josh Freeman Lead Bucs to a Wild Card Run?

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Can Josh Freeman Lead Bucs to a Wild Card Run?
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It may only be Week 5 of the regular season, but with today's surprise win over Cincinnati, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already matched their win total from last year.  The only way to go from here is up, and their reach may be farther than anticipated.

Second-year quarterback Josh Freeman began to show NFL maturity at the tail-end of last season as he led the Bucs to a win over the powerhouse New Orleans Saints.  Since then, he has shown remarkable growth as a QB, dramatically reducing the number of interceptions thrown and consistently staging fourth quarter comebacks.  

He holds a respectable 84.6 QB rating on the season (just 0.1 behind Donovan McNabb, and a full three points ahead of NYG’s Eli Manning). Plus, Freeman’s yards per game surpass fellow 2009 draftee Mark Sanchez’ by 20—particularly impressive considering the level of young talent surrounding Freeman versus the seasoned talent supporting Sanchez.

Now Freeman and the rest of the Bucs find themselves at 3-1 on the season, second in the NFC South with at least seven winnable games left (St. Louis, Arizona, Carolina, San Francisco, Detroit, and Seattle).

As of now, the NFC Wild Card competitors look to be the Giants—who are struggling for consistency and have only three “sure” wins on their schedule (Detroit, Jacksonville, and Seattle), the Saints—who were unable to beat even rookie Max Hall and the rest of the Cardinals, and the Packers—the team likely to be the NFC’s fifth seed if the Bears continue to perform.  Each other team’s schedule is considerably more difficult leaving the Bucs with a real chance to see playoff time.

Coming out of 2009 with a 3-13 finish it’s easy to see the Buccaneers as NFL bottom-feeders but, the fact is the Bucs have six winning seasons and five playoff appearances in the last 10 years.  The rest of the NFC South can claim only three playoff appearances each and have four and three winning seasons respectively over the same time period.

Last season was clearly a moment of transition for Tampa Bay.

If Freeman continues improving consistently throughout the season, and third overall pick Gerald McCoy quickly becomes the NFL tackle he is expected to be, the Bucs will undoubtedly make a speedy comeback as a leader of the NFC South.  

This year, do not be surprised to see the Buccaneers as a competitive foe and upset artist each Sunday afternoon.

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