Can The Buccaneers Become The Next Great Cinderella Story?
By Christopher Scali
The final stretch of the season has always been a bit of a let down for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The team has not been able to reach the playoffs since the Raheem Morris era back in 2009, and the Bucs were knocked out quickly at home by the New York Giants. As slim as this may sound, however, Tampa Bay still has an outside chance to get to the playoffs in what has been a very dreadful 2013 season. It will not be an easy task though, as the Buccaneers would have to win their last four games straight to finish at 7-9 and hope for a little outside help from other teams as well. In their final four contests, Tampa plays the Buffalo Bills, San Francicso 49ers, St. Louis Rams and an NFC powerhouse in the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.
Here are a few things the Buccaneers will have to do to complete an unlikely run to the postseason.
First, rookie QB Mike Glennon must have a stellar performance down the final stretch. Last week Glennon had his worst performance so far, passing for just 180 yards with zero touchdowns. Tampa Bay's offense was simply missing and the Bucs let the Carolina Panthers pounce on them early. Secondly, the defense was a disgrace and essentially gave Panthers QB Cam Newton the game. If the Buccaneers want to make it to the playoffs, they have to perform 110 percent better.
This week, the Buccaneers are hosting the Bills at home. The young, struggling Bucs have to contain rookie passer EJ Manuel and the running ability of C.J. Spiller. I think the Buccaneers have a solid chance going into this game, largely because Manuel has been a little inconsistent which has restricted his offense's effectiveness at times. Tampa's defensive line has to get pressure on Manuel early and often. Manuel, like many other quarterbacks, does not have the greatest accuracy when he is under duress. The Buccaneers can’t give him time in the pocket to throw and they must also keep an eye on Spiller, who has 656 rushing yards and two scores in his injury-shortened season.
The Buccaneers play their final home game against the 49ers, which will not be an easy task thanks to mobile QB Colin Kaepernick and powerful RB Frank Gore. Kaepernick has been showing much improvement since his slow start to the season and now has 15 passing TDs. Gore meanwhile, has been solid all year long, rushing for 821 yards with eight scores this year. The Buccaneers can't afford to let Gore and Kaepernick have a field day on Tampa Bay soil.
After its battle with San Fran, Tampa Bay will sail up north for a matchup against the Rams. St. Louis has been making slow strides throughout the season, despite the loss of QB Sam Bradford to injury. The Rams turned to backup signal caller Kellen Clemens to lead the offense, and the up-and-down Rams now sit at 5-7. I personally do not think Clemens can handle what the Bucs defense throws at him, so this should be an easy road win for the Buccaneers...I hope.
If Tampa Bay is able to come away victorious against the the Bills, 49ers and Rams, the team would potentially be one win away from entering the playoffs.
No big deal, right?
Unfortunately, that team would be the NFC South-leading Saints down in New Orleans. With so much on the line, this game can make or break the Buccaneers postseason ambitions. Keeping QB Drew Brees pressured is not going to be easy, as he has a cannon for an arm and is one of the most accurate passers in the game. There is really only one way the Bucs can come out on top in this one - pure perfection. No mistakes can be made on offense or defense and the Buccaneers defense will have to attack the football in the arms of the ball carrier on every single play. The defensive line must break through and give Brees a hellish time behind center. This is the biggest game Tampa has left this season. The Buccaneers can’t afford to embarrass themselves.
Of course, a record of 7-9 will not be enough to get in without some outside help.
Other teams in the NFC must lose some games in the upcoming weeks to give the Buccaneers some breathing room. The New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and the Rams must lose their remaining games in order for the Bucs to have a shot. I realize that sounds extremely unlikely, but anything can happen in the NFL.
The NFC in general is not performing too well as teams are averaging about five wins or fewer. Tampa Bay fans need to keep the faith because anything is possible.
Who knows, there may be a new Cinderella story brewing in Florida.