By Max Luckan
It might be time to talk playoffs for these Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who currently sit in second place in the NFC South with a record of 5-4. Coming off a 34-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers, the Bucs look to be peaking at just the right time.
There’s no longer any doubt that the Bucs are in the playoff race after having won four of their last five games with the only loss over that span being against the New Orleans Saints in a very close game. The Bucs have been one of the best offensive teams in the league over the past couple of weeks, and are averaging 365.6 yards per game this season.
Obviously, the defense has had its difficulties this year, especially against the pass, but the Bucs’ biggest enemy the rest of the way may end up being the schedule. The Bucs still have to face the Atlanta Falcons twice, the Denver Broncos, and the New Orleans Saints, who have already beaten the Bucs once this year and are slowly improving as of late.
The Green Bay Packers are currently the projected fifth seed in the NFC with a 6-3 record, and the two wild card spots are occupied by the Seattle Seahawks at 6-4 and the Minnesota Vikings at 6-4 as well.
While not insurmountable, the schedule is definitely tough considering that many of the remaining opponents are also peaking at the right time. The Saints, for instance, beat the Atlanta Falcons 31-27 last Sunday and are gaining momentum, which could spring them back into the race.
Also playing against the Bucs is the fact that the injuries continue to pile up. Guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph, defensive end Adrian Clayborn, and now linebacker Quincy Black have all been placed on injured reserve. So far, the Bucs have found ways to overcome these huge losses, but the going will only get tougher from here on out.
Then again, the team seems to be playing with more confidence as of late. On offense, quarterback Josh Freeman is taking shots down the field, and the explosive plays are there. Freeman is playing probably the best football of his career and has only thrown five interceptions this year. Compared to the nine thrown by Drew Brees, or 11 thrown by Eli Manning, Freeman is having success limiting turnovers, which could continue to help the offense in the long run. And when the offense doesn’t put up big numbers, the lack of turnovers is what is really important, head coach Greg Schiano said.
But there are still concerns on the defensive side of the ball.
Yes, the injury bug has plagued the Bucs this season, but the Bucs have been relatively healthy in the secondary, which is where most of the problems on defense stem from. The Bucs are dead last in the NFL, allowing over 320 yards per game through the air on defense. On the flipside, the Bucs are third in the league in interceptions with 15 on the year.
So the question of whether or not the Bucs are a playoff team remains.
The answer lies within how they finish the season. While that may seem obvious, and it is, the Bucs still have their toughest stretch of games ahead. Yes, one can argue that the game against the New York Giants was tough, but that’s been the only good team that they have faced so far.
The key will be how they matchup against some of the best teams in the league, and how they respond on a weekly basis. All in all, the playoffs are clearly within reach for the Bucs, but the road definitely won’t be easy.
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Max Luckan lives in Tampa, FL and is a sports writer covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and NFL. Luckan has been covering the Buccaneers for a few years now. You can find more of his work at Examiner.com.