The Buccaneers are doing the right thing by taking one game at a time, but we're going to bend the rules a bit and take a look ahead at each of Tampa Bay's six remaining games this season.
12/2/01: at Cincinnati: The Bengals started off the season strong, but have been in a funk as of late. One thing the Bengals would like to hang their hats is the frigid temperatures in Cincinnati, but forecasts are calling for 53 degree temperatures on Sunday. Cincinnati has posted a 4-6 overall record this season and they are 3-2 at home.
12/9/01: DETROIT: The Lions are 0-10 and are still in search of their first win this season. Tampa Bay had their opportunities to put the Lions away in Detroit, but failed to and came away with a close 20-17 victory. Tampa Bay will stand a much better chance of winning this game if the Lions come into Tampa Bay with one win under their belt. The Lions have played better football as of late and they remain a serious threat. Detroit is 0-5 on the road this season.
12/16/01:at Chicago: If Tampa Bay can go 2-0 in their next two games, mark this date on your calendar. The Bucs fell short to the Bears at Raymond James Stadium earlier this season, 27-24. The Bears are 8-2 and in first place of the NFC Central Division and they are 4-1 at home. What should Tampa Bay fear more-the temperatures that will likely be below 40 degrees (Bucs are 0-21 in games played in these temperatures) or should they fear the almighty Bears? It won't matter. Tampa Bay will need to overcome both the cold and Chicago. The Bucs need to get this win to make up for their loss to the Bears earlier this season. If Tampa Bay can win this game, they will improve their chances of securing a spot in the NFC playoffs and the Pewter Pirates will still stand a chance of winning the NFC Central Division.
12/23/01: NEW ORLEANS: The Saints are on a downward spiral and have posted a 5-5 record this season. The Saints are 3-3 on the road. New Orleans will be in the playoff hunt with the Bucs and the winner of this game could possibly knock their opponent out of playoff contention.
12/29/01: BALTIMORE: The defending Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens are 7-4 over all and 4-3 on the road this season. The Ravens, like the Bucs, have been inconsistent. This will be a Monday Night Football game, but played on a Saturday due to New Year's Eve falling on that Monday. What more incentive does a team need than playing for a spot in the playoffs and having a shot to knock off the defending Super Bowl Champs in front of a national audience? The Ravens will likely be fighting to win the AFC Central Division when they visit Tampa Bay.
1/6/02: PHILADELPHIA: The Eagles are 6-4 and have a one game lead in the NFC East Division, but they too have been struggling as of late. But Philadelphia has posted an impressive 4-0 record on the road this season and will be battling to secure a playoff spot and win their division when they make the trip to Tampa. The Bucs will be looking to avenge their 21-3 playoff loss to the Eagles last year, and they will likely be trying to secure a spot in the playoffs. This game will be last game of the regular season for both teams, and it will be nationally televised on ESPN.
Tampa Bay is known for rallying in the later part of the season under Dungy. In 1998, the Bucs won four of their last five games . In 1999, Tampa Bay finished the last nine games of the season with a 8-1 record. And in 2000, the Bucs finished the last nine games of the season with an impressive 7-2 record.
A lot of things are going to likely change between now and Jan. 6, but one thing will remain constant. The only way Tampa Bay can guarantee themselves a spot in the playoffs is by winning out. It will be hard to do, but not impossible.
Tampa Bay will finish the season with four of their last five games at home. The Bucs have posted an impressive 20-4 record in November and December in games played under Dungy. But the Bucs have posted an unimpressive 2-2 record at Raymond James Stadium and cannot afford to lose another home game this season.
The Bucs have posted a 3-3 record on the road, and the games at Cincinnati and Chicago will not be easy.
To be the best, you have to beat the best, and Tampa Bay will have their shot at beating some of the best football teams in the league in their final six games of the season. If the Buccaneers do make a late-season rally and make it to the playoffs, they will inevitably finish as one of the hottest teams in the NFL.
Tampa Bay controls their own destiny. The win over the Rams was impressive, but can the Pewter Pirates give that type of effort throughout the rest of the season? We'll know soon enough.
Copyright 2001 Buccaneer Magazine/BucMag.com
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