But their first test after the bye week could be the toughest — a meeting at Raymond James Stadium against the Minnesota Vikings.
"This is why you go to training camp, why you have offseason programs," Gruden said. "This is one of the rewards that you have for having a decent first half of the season. You're in contention. We've got to play our best football; we've got to play our best football right away. We've got the leader of the (NFC) North coming in here and they're as talented as any team I've seen. They've got a great team. Personnel-wise, they're tremendous. We'd better not look any further than this week. We've got the game film and it gets our guy's attention."
The Bucs and Falcons (6-3) are a game and a half behind first-place Carolina. And Tampa Bay knows how explosive the New Orleans Saints offense can become.
So what will determine the division champion over the next seven weeks?
"It's going to be a lot of things," Gruden said. "These are going to be hard-fought games. Matt Ryan's for real; he's great, he's really something. I watched him yesterday and I tip my hat to him. He's clearly a great prospect. Drew Brees and that team in New Orleans is capable of running the table, if you ask me. They've got that kind of team. And Carolina, they've just been ornery as hell on defense all year. They've got some fine players, so it's going to be a dogfight. Can't worry about it."
Gruden said Bucs coaches spent most of the bye week self-scouting and trying to determine their tendencies. The red zone remains a problem for the Bucs, but injuries to running backs Earnest Graham, Warrick Dunn and fullback B.J. Askew has been a major factor.
"We did a lot of good things. That's one of the reasons why we're 6-3," Gruden said. "Our players have done a lot of things well. But tendencies — what are we doing in the I formation, what are we doing in split backs, what are we doing in shotgun? What are we calling on defense on third-and-1? What are we calling on the goal line? We looked at the red zone hard. There are some opportunities there that we've got to cash in on. Partly we've got to do a better job calling plays, partly we've got to do a better job of executing plays. But we self-scouted everything. You try to break some tendencies here in the coming weeks and try to expand on some things that maybe we haven't shown."