Flynn's Focus

June 24 – Several national publications and well-respected Internet sites have been impressed with Tampa Bay's offseason. Some are picking the Buccaneers to win the NFC South Division this season and some already are looking beyond the playoffs to San Diego, California for Super Bowl XXXVII. This installment of Flynn's Focus explains why it's premature for both the media and fans to mention the Bucs and Super Bowl in the same breath.

Flynn's Focus appears weekly on PewterReport.com
Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com
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Opinions and predictions and are like…, well, you know how the old saying goes. Everyone has one, and that's part of the fun of offseason and preseason hype. But for Bucs fans, four years of hype hasn't led to much more than disappointment.

Members of both the national and local media along with Tampa Bay's fans started to name the Bucs as Super Bowl favorites in 1998 after the team came off of its remarkable 1997 playoff run. But in 98', the expectations apparently were too much for the Bucs to live up to. Tampa Bay finished with an 8-8 record and failed to even make the playoffs.

In 1999, expectations were lowered a bit, but some people still expected super things from the Buccaneers. This time around, the Pewter Pirates came oh-so-close to making a lot of people – especially those who had placed the Bucs in the Super Bowl before the 99' season started -- look good when they won the NFC Central Division with an 11-5 record and reached the NFC Championship Game. But the Bucs fell short of reaching the Super Bowl when they were eliminated by the St. Louis Rams, 11-6.

After coming so close to reaching its first Super Bowl in franchise history, the hype surrounding the Buccaneers and Super Bowl talk were inevitable. Unfortunately for the Bucs, higher expectations led to more frustration. Tampa Bay finished 2000 with a 10-6 record and although they reached the playoffs, the Philadelphia Eagles eliminated them in the first round.

Last year, the Bucs were thought to be Super Bowl contenders after they inked quarterback Brad Johnson, but the high expectations along with reports suggesting that Tony Dungy would be fired if the team didn't make it deep into the playoffs led to the Bucs' debacle. Tampa Bay finished with a 9-7 record and were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Philadelphia Eagles, again.

But like every team in the National Football League, the Buccaneers have a clean slate to work with this season. Although they have a fresh start, some of the same high expectations that have plagued the Bucs for the last four years still are following the team. Why? Well, the Pewter Pirates have a new head coach and offensive guru in Jon Gruden and this unit will feature at least four new starters this season thanks to the additions of tight end Ken Dilger, running back Michael Pittman, wide receiver Keenan McCardell and left guard Kerry Jenkins.

Yes, the Bucs look good on paper again, but Tampa Bay should know all too well that how you look on paper doesn't mean anything. Last year, Pittsburgh safety Lee Flowers went as far as calling the Bucs "paper champions" after the Steelers dropped the Bucs to 2-3 on the season in dominating fashion.

"They talk so much, and they go to the Pro Bowl because they talk," Flowers said about the Buccaneers on October 21, 2001. "They ain't nothing but paper champions. That's all they are, and that's all they're ever going to be."

Despite their underachievements, some national publications are picking Tampa Bay to win the NFC South Division and some are even flirting with the idea of selecting the Buccaneers as the team that will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XXXVII. Some well-respected Internet sites such as Sportsline.com and CNNSI.com already have selected Tampa Bay as the team that had the No. 1 offseason of any team in the NFL.

While it might be tempting, don't look for too many writers to place Tampa Bay in Super Bowl XXXVII. Writers like Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z (Paul Zimmerman) feel betrayed by the Bucs. Dr. Z had picked the Bucs to reach the Super Bowl in two out of the past four seasons, and or course, neither of those predictions came to fruition. But then again, no one will confuse Dr. Z's prophecies with those of Nostradamus.

One would be hard pressed to find a team that had a better offseason than the Buccaneers and with Carolina and Atlanta in rebuilding phases and New Orleans' situation uncertain, winning the NFC South Division is a very realistic expectation for Tampa Bay. And of course, once a team secures a playoff spot, the Super Bowl is definitely within reach. Just ask the New England Patriots.

There's a rather interesting trend growing in the NFL in terms of teams that reach the Super Bowl. Teams with the most talented rosters are not necessarily the teams reaching the Super Bowl. Taking advantage of a favorable schedule and taking teams by surprise has been a formula for success for more teams than one might think. Since 1999, six of the eight Super Bowl participants did not reach the playoffs the year before their Super Bowl births. Take a look back at the last four Super Bowls. The teams in italic are the teams that had not reached the playoffs the year before reaching their respective Super Bowls.

Super Bowl XXXVI Patriots over Rams

Super Bowl XXXV Ravens over Giants

Super Bowl XXXIV Rams over Titans

Super Bowl XXXIII Broncos over Falcons

Of course, the Bucs, who have reached the playoffs four of the last five seasons, will not be able to use this formula for success.

Both the media and Tampa Bay fans should have learned by now that looking good on paper doesn't place teams in the Super Bowl.

That's not to say Tampa Bay doesn't have a talented team. But let's wait to see how the team comes together, how the offense comes together and how the team looks in training camp, preseason and even in the regular season before mentioning the Bucs and Super Bowl in the same breath.


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Copyright 2002 Pewter Report/PewterReport.com

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