It's a time of hope in the NFL, but do the Bucs deserve it?

John Romano: Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me 11 times, shame on the Bucs.
Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians is just the latest in a long line of coaching saviors who have tried to bring the postseason back to Tampa Bay. MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians is just the latest in a long line of coaching saviors who have tried to bring the postseason back to Tampa Bay. MONICA HERNDON | Times
Published July 23
Updated July 23

 

TAMPA — This is it, Buccaneer fans. The week you’ve all been waiting for.

Veterans report to training camp on Thursday, the season hits its peak on Friday, and we start dreaming of the 2020 NFL draft by Saturday. Don’t forget selfies for the scrapbook.

Oh, I’m sorry, did that feel rushed?

I suppose it’s just force of habit. You see enough seasons begin with a September expiration date and you learn to plan accordingly.

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Yes, I know there’s a new head coach, and a new defensive coordinator. There’s an exciting new rookie at middle linebacker and a new beginning for the franchise quarterback.

But there’s also a lot of old wounds.

You might recall, we’ve been on this new-coach highway before. Let’s see, Raheem Morris was fresh, Greg Schiano was tough, Lovie Smith was proven and Dirk Koetter was, well, available.

And between them, they averaged 5.5 wins a season.

That’s not mean, that’s reality. The Bucs have not been to the playoffs in 11 consecutive seasons which is darned hard to do. Statistically, it’s almost impossible to blunder that consistently.

Look at it this way:

Twelve teams make the NFL playoffs every season. That means, theoretically, each team has a 37.5 percent chance every single season. So, if I’m using my exponents calculator correctly, a team’s odds of making the playoffs at least once in 11 years comes in around 99.5 percent.

Which sounds right because, during the last 11 seasons, 93.7 percent of the NFL’s 32 teams have at least one playoff appearance. The unlucky longshots? The Bucs and Browns. And lots of NFL experts expect Cleveland to turn the corner in 2019.

So, yeah, don’t feel guilty about being cynical this morning.

You’ve earned your skepticism, one crappy season at a time.

Now, is there a chance 2019 might be different?

Absolutely.

Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) will start his fifth season in Tampa Bay with his third head coach.  DIRK SHADD   |   TimesBuccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) will start his fifth season in Tampa Bay with his third head coach. DIRK SHADD | Times

New coach Bruce Arians has a lengthy resume of success in the NFL, and he is exactly the kind of offensive mind who could unlock Jameis Winston’s considerable potential.

The Bucs wisely focused their draft on a defense that was among the worst anyone has ever seen in Tampa Bay, and so some degree of improvement is practically guaranteed.

There’s also the question of being somewhat unlucky in 2018. The Bucs lost seven games by eight points or less, which suggests they were a few breaks away from having a much more respectable record.

Add all of that up, and you can make a case for a playoff game in January.

But here’s the problem:

We’ve heard all of this before.

The 2012 Bucs also lost seven games by eight points or less and were coming off a 7-9 record. They seemed like the perfect candidates to flip their record around and challenge for a division title. Instead, they went 4-12 and Schiano was fired.

The 2016 Bucs rallied to a 9-7 finish with the offensive-minded Koetter whispering in Winston’s ear, and it seemed like the dawn of something special. Instead, the Bucs won a total of 10 games during the next two seasons and Koetter was fired.

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The truth is, this is the time of year when the NFL sells hope.

Sometimes it’s real and sometimes it’s concocted, but most towns have seen enough good days to believe anything is possible in the parity-driven NFL.

We, on the other hand, have come to view hope as a four-letter word.

Accepting the heartache of a minus-18 turnover ratio, or a quarterback following a suspension with a benching, or top draft picks sitting on the bench, is much easier when you don’t have high expectations in the first place.

So let them be stoked in Kansas City and pumped in New Orleans. Let them start saving money for playoff tickets in Indianapolis and clearing their schedules in Chicago.

As for Tampa Bay, we will do it our way:

Cynically.

Sarcastically.

And suspicious of hope.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

 

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