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My team is better

I admit I projected my team 6-10.

Coming off a 4-12 season a year ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn’t seem improved enough to be a playoff contender, especially in a division with the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons.

And maybe any other year they wouldn’t have been.

The Bucs have made a living out of losing close games over the past several years because of their kicker who rarely made extra points, much less game-winning field goals.

Sure, Matt Bryant has only been better at times, but those times have seemed to be the ones that mattered.

Saturday’s escape against Atlanta was a typical week for Tampa Bay this year. They’ve pulled out games in overtime, won them on last-second drives and held on at the end.

Perhaps their only convincing victory of the season came in week two when they beat the lowly Buffalo Bills 19-3.

I’ve only been a Tampa Bay fan for a few years, admittedly. For most of my life I was a loyal fan of the Washington Redskins, but when Daniel Snyder hired Steve Spurrier, I had enough.

While I certainly respect his right to choose whomever he wishes to coach his team, I couldn’t support it and began looking for a new football club. I was drawn to the Bucs because at the time it seemed Bill Parcels was going to take the job.

When they got Jon Gruden, I decided it was close enough and switched my loyalty to south Florida.

The first year I was a fan, they won the Super Bowl and I celebrated like everyone else. The following year they drafted Chris Simms, something I was elated about.

Since then there haven’t been many chances for me to cheer for the burnt orange and pewter of the Tampa Bay franchise.

I haven’t wavered in my support of the team, but I have had serious doubts about how long it would take to get back to Super Bowl form.

Certainly I didn’t think this was the season.

Despite the addition of Cadillac Williams, I wasn’t sure Tampa Bay had the offensive firepower necessary to compete. Sure, I knew they would be better because their running game had to improve.

Since Warrick Dunn left for Atlanta, the rushing game of the Bucs has been dismal at the very best. This year, it got better quickly.

As many of you know, I’m a big believer in the importance of the offensive line and I had questions about this one. They have been up to the task, however, as Williams has six 100-yard rushing games this year.

The Buccaneer defense has always been good. Monte Kiffin is the best Defensive Coordinator in the league, no matter what anyone says. He did his job well under Tony Dungy and he continues to do well now. There is a reason he is the longest tenured DC in the league.

I’m not the only one around the News-Herald office who is happy.

When the season began there were few of us around here with great expectations. David Taylor was convinced his Bears would go 10-6 (we laughed at him), but other than that Cal Bryant and David Friedman were sure their Dolphins were doomed to a chance at the draft’s first pick and I was on board with another losing season for the Buccaneers. (Billy Harrell always says the Redskins will win the Super Bowl, so I disregard his pick.)

As the season winds down, however, Taylor was right to have faith in the Bears’ defense as they stand 11-4 and will play their first playoff game at Soldier Field.

My team is 10-5 and needs only a win to clinch a playoff victory as they host New Orleans this weekend.

Miami, meanwhile, is on a five-game winning streak that has them 8-7 and assured at the very least of not having a losing season.

The Redskins are 9-6 heading into the weekend and still have an outside shot at making the playoffs.

While on the subject of the National Football League, Coach of the Year honors will be a nightmare. Lovie Smith of the Bears, Tom Coughlin of the Giants, Mike Holmgren of the Seattle Seahawks, Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals, Mike Shanahan of the Denver Broncos and Tony Dungy of the Colts all deserve consideration.

I think the next tier however, would be Jon Gruden of the Buccaneers, Romeo Crennel of the Cleveland Browns and Nick Saban of the Dolphins.

For what it’s worth, my vote would go to Smith.

Questions? Comments? Snide remarks? All are welcome. You can reach me at thadd.white@r-cnews.com or call me at 332-7211.

Be careful out there and be good sports.