Here's how the NFL works: One team wins the Super Bowl, and the other 31 teams study how that one team won the Super Bowl. Then each of those 31 teams tries to figure out how to turn its team into that Super Bowl champ.
Call it follow the leader. Do what the other guy does.
The NFL is often referred to as a copy-cat league. If a team holds practices in a Walmart parking lot while wearing polka dot swim suits and using teddy bears instead of footballs and wins it all, every team in football goes out and buys bathing suits and teddy bears — at Walmart, of course.
That brings us to today and the Baltimore Ravens, the team that just won the Super Bowl.
Their blueprint? A tall, strong-armed quarterback. A stocky, shifty running back. Big, physical receivers. A defense just good enough to keep the other team from scoring too many points.
Sounds a little like the Bucs, right?
Okay, take it easy, I didn't say it sounds "exactly'' like the Bucs. I said it sounds a "little'' like the Bucs. There is quite a difference between a team that won the Super Bowl and a 7-9 team that hasn't made the playoffs since the 2007 season.
But maybe, just maybe, the Bucs do have some of the pieces in place to build a model like the Super Bowl champs. Take a look.
He's a big kid, has loads of potential, wears No. 5. He occasionally struggles with accuracy but has a strong arm and the knack for making plays deep down the field. He's inconsistent, but you can see flashes of good.
Good description of Bucs QB Josh Freeman wouldn't you say? But that was what many folks said about Ravens QB Joe Flacco in his first four seasons.
Bucs fans — especially those convinced Freeman is never going to amount to anything — don't want to hear the comparisons between Flacco and Freeman. Flacco has gone to the playoffs five consecutive seasons. He has won nine playoff games, including a Super Bowl. Heck, he was Super Bowl MVP.
In four seasons Freeman has never even been to the playoffs. For many, comparing Freeman to Flacco is like comparing roller skates to a Corvette. Both have wheels. Both will get you from here to there. But one is way better.
However, maybe the comparisons aren't that far-fetched. Up until this season — and really, up until the playoffs started — Flacco wasn't considered a special quarterback. He wasn't that word du jour: elite. He wasn't like Brady or Brees or the Mannings. He was more of a good quarterback, a solid quarterback, a steady quarterback.
But he had flaws in his game. He struggled with consistency. He wasn't the most accurate passer in the league. If you look at Flacco's second, third and fourth seasons, his numbers are in the same ballpark as Freeman's second, third and fourth seasons.
Maybe Freeman will never be Flacco, but he's only 25. Let's see where he is when he is 28 — the age Flacco is now.
The running back
If you put the Ravens' Ray Rice and the Bucs' Doug Martin in the same jerseys, you'd have trouble telling them apart. And Bucs coach Greg Schiano knows how to use them. He coached Rice in college at Rutgers.
Martin is bigger. Rice is a tad quicker. Both have similar running styles. Both can catch the ball. Both can be the engine that drives the offense. Martin and Rice are the same running back.
Big, physical receivers
Baltimore's Anquan Boldin is a strong, physical receiver who caught 65 passes for 921 yards in the regular season. He may be Baltimore's No. 1 receiver, but if you're going to compare him to a Bucs receiver, the more apt comparison is to the Bucs' No. 2 wideout, Mike Williams, whose numbers (63 catches for 996 yards) are almost identical to Boldin's. Meantime, the Ravens' Torrey Smith had a nice season but nowhere close to the monster season put up by the Bucs' Vincent Jackson, who caught 72 balls for nearly 1,400 yards. Jackson is an elite receiver, better than anyone on the Ravens.
This is where we throw cold water on the Ravens-Bucs comparison. The Ravens didn't have the swarming, suffocating, stingy defense they had in years past, but it was still middle of the pack. The Bucs' defense was near the bottom, including a league-worst pass defense. To match the Ravens on defense, the Bucs need a big-time pass rusher, a shutdown corner and maybe another linebacker.
If the model you want to follow is the Ravens, then the Bucs do have a decent start. The quarterback here has the potential to be like the quarterback there. The running backs and receivers are similar, and you might even give the edge to the Bucs in those categories. The Bucs' offense was ninth in yards last season, much better than Baltimore's, and Tampa Bay scored only nine fewer points. All in all, the Bucs' offense was every bit as productive — arguably more so — than the Super Bowl champs'.
Now all the Bucs have to do is fix that defense.
Hey, you think Ray Lewis would be interested in one more season?