The truth probably lies somewhere in between. What we do know is that if the Bucs don't start playing at a higher level they indeed won't make the playoffs. That is not only the responsibility of Tony Dungy and his staff, but it also falls on the core, veteran players on this squad, from whom more is expected.
For the audibles section of Buccaneer Magazine, I was asked what the second half might bring for this enigma of a team. When I went through game by game before the season, I came up with 11-5. With the Rams in St Louis looming, a run of the table will be needed for 11 wins. It bears examining again so here we go.
I get the weird feeling that this weeks game against the Bears is being taken lightly by a lot of people. Maybe because of the 41-0 pasting the Bucs gave Chicago last year at RJS. Whatever the case may be and no matter how badly Leo Haggerty thinks this game is a rout, it's not. Tampa wins but they'll have to fight tooth and nail to get it. In this mans opinion, the Monday nighter in St Louis is the only unwinnable game in the second half of the season. The Bucs will play hard but on the carpet, too much strain on the defense will mean an L. At 5-5, the Bucs will face one of those "must" games in Cincinnati. The weather will be bad, the Bengals are good at home, and the Bucs will be playing their second straight road game on a short week. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a loss, right? Wrong. It'll be ugly but the Bucs will figure out a way to win.
5 games remaining, 4 at home. Good setup. But, good setup doesn't always mean good setup for this team. The Detroit game will be a win. Just to be safe, the Bucs should root for the Lions to break their losing schnide by then. Remember, Detroit came to Tampa last year and won going away but, because the Lions stink, it simply won't happen this year. 7-5 and gaining steam. Logic would say the Bucs won't beat Cincy and Chicago on the road in December. Logics right. Dungy's crew didn't win at Soldier Field last season and they won't this year. As an added aside, I get a weird feeling that at the end of the Bucs win here this week, there will be some trash talking incident that will give the Bears bulletin board material. Not too much, but just enough to fire up a fading Bear team.
The final three games will be a real testament of Tony Dungy. If the Bucs really like him as much as they say they do, they'll lay it on the line knowing they need all three to get in the playoffs. Give em a win over New Orleans. Although the Saints are a very solid road team, this could be an elimination game in the NFC. It's a gut pick, but the Bucs stay alive. Now, in come the defending champion Ravens. It could be Elvis Grbac, it could be Randall Cunningham at QB. I gave Tampa a loss at the beginning of the season and I still like the Ravens in a defensive slopfest. At 8-7, the Bucs are alive but on life support. Going into the final game against the Philly, the hometown heroes will have to get involved in some convoluted tiebreaker to get in. The Eagles will be in already and might be fighting for a bye in the first round. Despite that, the Bucs shut down Donovan Mcnabb and finish up at 9-7.
9-7. Hmmmmm. A little math tells me it is possible and here's the way it could break down. Give division titles to St Louis, Philadelphia and in all likelihood, the Packers. Green Bay's only games against teams with better than .500 records the rest of the way are Chicago at home and at the Giants the last week. The division race isn't over but it would take a major collapse for the Packers to not win it. One wild card is almost definitely going to the currently 6-2 Niners. The other two will come from the Bucs, Giants, Bears Falcons and Saints. Throw out the Falcons who are dysfunctional and will likely start Michael Vick down the stretch. Give the Bears 10 wins and the other spot based solely on schedule and their 6-2 start. The Ginats still have to play Oakland, Seattle, Green Bay and at Minnesota and Philadelphia. At best, they get 10 wins which would knock the Tampa out. The Bucs will have the tiebreaker on New Orleans via their win over them. So, in essence, the Saints have to lose two of these games they have left: at New England, at Atlanta, vs St Louis and vs San Francisco. It could happen but, then again, it's looking more and more like you'll need 10 wins in the NFC.
For those of you whose heads are spinning, get yourself a stiff drink, and I promise no more sizing up of the playoff picture for another couple of weeks.
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