The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are fresh off a 10-win season that saw them complete the single biggest turnaround in franchise history.
Josh Freeman appears to be the franchise quarterback that the team has lacked since Doug Williams. Raheem Morris does indeed appear to know what he is doing after all, and the team has a wealth of young talent everywhere.
Yet in spite of all of these accomplishments, Buccaneer fans should enter next season cautiously.
Why should Bucs fans feel that way when the sky appears to be the limit for this franchise?
Look no further than the Cleveland Browns.
Remember a few years ago, when the Browns finished a surprising 10-6, just missed the playoffs and became the darlings of the NFL?
Like Josh Freeman this year, Derek Anderson showed great poise in promise during that 2007 and had a Pro Bowl-caliber season. Similarly to those 2007 Browns, the Buccaneers were able to take advantage of a relatively easy schedule en route to those 10 wins. Both teams played well for a coach that was presumed to be on the hot seat.
The Browns were able to parlay their success into securing six (yes, six) prime time games during the 2008 season. Tampa Bay played all of their games on Sunday afternoons during the 2010 season, but rest assured they will be making some prime time appearances next season.
How many games do you think the Buccaneers will win in 2011?
During the offseason, Cleveland was heaped with praise by the pundits across the NFL, claiming that the Browns would be the team of the future. The clock had barely ended on Tampa’s magical 2010 campaign, and the experts were automatically claiming the young Bucs to be serious threats for the next decade.
For all the success that the Browns had in 2007 and the hype surrounding the team in 2008, Cleveland was only able to win four games, and Derek Anderson regressed noticeably.
This is by no means to say that the Buccaneers are doomed to repeat that same fate. It is just important to maintain perspective, especially in a league with as much parity as the NFL.
The Buccaneers have a good young nucleus of talent and play very hard for their head coach. That in itself should make them a viable threat for years to come. However, it is possible that the team played way over their heads this season, and next season may serve as a reality check.
I hope that this is not the case, as the Bucs are a tough, young and likeable team, but in the NFL you never know what can happen. One season you can be in the penthouse—the next season you may be in the outhouse.