Yardbarker Horiz

Monday, December 27, 2010

Buccaneers: Comeback Team Of The Year

Is it the coaching which has turned a 3-13 team into a 9-6 Playoff Contender?  Is it the front office which found a huge group of young, talented players to remake the team?

It's hard to credit one without the other, so credit them both:  the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should be the Comeback Team Of The Year for 2010.  And there are many reasons why.

How Far They Have Come

The 2009 season was as dismal as Tampa has suffered in many years, and the Buccaneers were joined at the bottom by several struggling teams.

Here are the 10 worst records from 2009:

Miami Dolphins 7-9
Buffalo Bills 6-10
Cleveland Browns 5-11    
Oakland Raiders 5-11    
Seattle Seahawks 5-11    
Kansas City Chiefs 4-12    
Washington Redskins 4-12    
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3-13
Detroit Lions 2-14    
St. Louis Rams 1-15

Here is the same list of teams for the 2010 season (with +/- wins in parenthesis):

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-6 (+6)
Kansas City Chiefs 10-5 (+6)
St. Louis Rams 7-8  (+6)
Detroit Lions 5-10  (+3)
Oakland Raiders 7-8  (+2)
Washington Redskins 6-9  (+2)
Seattle Seahawks 6-9  (+1)
Cleveland Browns 5-10  (0)
Miami Dolphins 7-8  (0)
Buffalo Bills 4-11  (-2)

The Chiefs and Rams have improved greatly as well.  The Chiefs already have a playoff spot reserved for them.  And the Rams, like the Buccaneers, can get to the playoffs this weekend.  However, the Rams cannot finish with a winning regular season record.  

Consider the opposition each of those three teams have faced:  the Chiefs are in the AFC West which has a combined record of 29-31 (.483) and the Rams are in the NFC West which has a combined record of 23-37 (.383).  The Buccaneers, however, are in the rugged NFC South, which has a combined record of 34-26 (.566) for the top win total in the NFC and is tied with the AFC East for the best divisional record in the NFL.

What They Went Through

The Chiefs have dealt with 7 injured players this season.  Of those players, one was active on opening day (Cameron Sheffield) and only one other has touched the field this season (Jackie Bates).

The Rams have suffered 11 injured players this season, eight of which have field time this season.  One (Na'il Diggs) was an opening day starter.

Buccaneers have dealt with 12 injuries as well as a suspension this season. Of those 13 players, six were opening day starters (which does not include Aqib Talib, suspended for the first game of 2010 but now on IR).  Three others played significant minutes this season.

So while all three teams have either reached the playoffs or are still in the hunt with one game remaining in 2010, the Buccaneers have overcome the most adversity, demonstrating prowess not only on the practice field through coaching but in the front office by finding the necessary talent to keep the team on a winning course.

Plus The Upside

This is very straightforward.  The Buccaneers started the season as the second youngest team in the NFL and will finish going away as The Youngest team in the NFL.  

For perspective on how young, the Buccaneer's current roster has just three players with eight or more years of NFL experience while Kansas City has seven and Saint Louis has nine.  From the other side of the experience ladder, Saint Louis has 14 players on their roster with less than two years of NFL experience while Kansas City has 16.  Tampa Bay has 24 players on their current roster with two or less years of NFL experience.

One thing the three teams do have in common is youth at quarterback, with Bradford in Saint Louis having a stellar rookie season, Freeman in Tampa Bay leading a strong sophomore NFL season, and Cassel in Kansas City having what it essentially this third NFL season as the lead signal caller. 

So not only are the Buccaneers much improved, in the playoff hunt, and very young, they also have a team built on youth which (hopefully) should maintain their competitive level for years to come.

Isn't that the definition of "comeback"?

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