Personally, this issue has been bothering me for a while now.
6-3, tied for second in the NFC South, only one game behind the division-leading Falcons and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in one of the best positions they've ever been in.
Since the Super Bowl season of 2003, Tampa Bay (along with it's fans) have been searching for answers, answers that may not initially be addressed.
With nearly an entire starting lineup the average American can't name off the top of their head, the Bucs are one of the most unknown and mysterious clubs out there today.
So as we move forward this season, the question still remains: Are the Buccaneers real contenders?
Let's run the numbers.
Quality of Wins
The Buccaneers have one of the softest schedules of any team in the NFL, with only one win that can be qualified as "quality". The victory came in Cincinnati, with a 24-21 victory over the super-hyped Bengals.
In that game, quarterback Josh Freeman threw for 280 yards, one TD, 1one INT, and received a quarterback rating of just 85.4. Along with less-than-impressive rushing yardage out of Earnest Graham (65 yards, one TD) and Cadillac Williams (33 yards, 11 attempts), the Bucs were seemingly outplayed and outperformed on the road against Carson Palmer and company.
The rest of Tampa's victories came against Cleveland, Carolina (twice), St. Louis, and Arizona.
Tampa has one of the lowest points per game averages in the entire league, and a grand total of four wins have come with three points or less. The ability to score may be the difference between making the playoffs, or watching them at home.
However, all of the Bucs' losses have come at the hands of potential playoff contenders Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Atlanta.
This is one of the toughest teams to figure this season, sitting at 6-3. Yet I have a feeling (for some reason) that the glory days of Tampa are in the midst of regaining their spirits.
Peter King of SI.com mentioned talk of QB Josh Freeman being within the mid-season MVP-watch just a few weeks ago; and rightfully so.
Freeman has posted impressive numbers thus far: 1,963 yards, 12 touchdowns, five INT, along with a 90.1 QB rating to boot.
With help from growing star wide receiver Mike Williams on the end of 627 of Freeman's passing yards, along with a team-leading five touchdowns, Freeman will be able to grow in a comfortable passing offense for many years to come.
Tampa's 22nd-ranked offense, averaging 327.9 yards per game, will need significant improvement once top- tier opponents match-up against them. "If you can't stop them, you have to outscore them", would be the correct quote for this portion of the article.
The Bucs are ranked 14th in the NFL in rushing yards per game, behind former Oregon Duck LaGarrette Blount's 4.8 yards per carry.
Blount has certainly put up his fair share of highlight-reel plays this season, and the hope in Tampa is that he continues to put up the big numbers, especially against Arizona in week eight (120 yards, two TD).
With games against only two impressive defenses left on Tampa's schedule remaining (Baltimore and Seattle), the Bucs could certainly skid by and make the playoffs on the back of Blount. The question is, how will he respond to the pressure?
Of all the playoff "bubble" teams left in the league, the Bucs have the most questions defensively. Ranking just 22nd overall, Tampa is currently giving up 353.8 yards, and 22.9 points per game.
Tampa's defense is also allowing a staggering 82 points to opponents in the second quarter this season (that's approximately nine points allowed every second quarter on average).
If this team expects to contend against the best of the best coming down the stretch, they will have to step up the defensive play.
Let it be noted that in the Bucs' Week 3 pummeling against Pittsburgh, the Bucs allowed 38 points total, while only scoring 13 points— improvement is needed.
With the lack of quality wins, plus the high competition within the NFC South alone, the Bucs may have serious problems moving forward this season.
However, we cannot measure the intangibles that present themselves within an NFL franchise. And with that, we must not count out the most surprising team thus far into the season.
I have to give the Bucs a chance, just by sheer nature. If the defense can improve, Tampa has a shot a grabbing one of the wild-card spots heading into the playoffs— don't count them out just yet.