The holiday season is upon us, and as we inch closer to Christmas each day we are also inching closer to one of the most exciting times of year for sports, the NFL playoffs. As usual this year’s NFL season has been full of injuries, disappointments, and surprises, and as we enter week 15 with the playoff picture starting to take shape there are few teams in better position to give their fans a surprise Christmas gift than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
As a team that most NFL analysts overlooked as “in development”, the Buccaneers improved over the course of the first 14 weeks and currently sit at 8-5 and in position of the second wildcard playoff spot. The team is now heading into a showdown with the equally surprising Dallas Cowboys in prime-time this Sunday night, and does so with their playoff destiny in their own hands.
Tampa Bay’s surprising season got off to a rocky start, going 1-3 in the first four games and giving up more points per game, on average, than any other team in the league. While the offense was firing on all cylinders, led by second year quarterback Jameis Winston and star receiver Mike Evans, the defense was among the league’s worst. However that same defense has managed to turn things around over the last four weeks and allowed the Buccaneers to pull themselves back into the playoff picture.
In the last four weeks Tampa Bay has found a way to improve the amount of points per game that they allowed from 29 down to 12.8 which, if they continue on this track, will be a record for defensive improvement over the course of the season. The team has also scaled back the defensive playbook allowing their players to focus more on the fundamentals of the game and resulting in 25 takeaways this season, which is a tie for the league lead, and a +6 turnover differential after starting -9 in their first 4 games.
Such a quick turnaround is impressive for any team, but the Buccaneers newfound success becomes even greater when you consider the fact that just two years ago the team drafted Winston in the first round, following a season of having the worst record in the league. In that short time they have laid the groundwork for a winning franchise and put themselves in position to be a real playoff threat.