Every year, it's someone.
Every year, some team matters again. Every year, someone is relevant once more. Every year, things work out somewhere.
So why not this team?
And why not this year?
Go ahead. Laugh if you will. It has been a long time since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers mattered. Every year, on the verge of training camp, the Bucs have talked about being good enough for the rest of the league to notice. And in almost every year, disappointment has followed.
In other places, there are success stories.
With other teams, someone learns how to win.
Last year, it was the Kansas City Chiefs. The year before, the Indianapolis Colts. The year before, the San Francisco 49ers.
So why not the Bucs? And why not now? Finally?
There is a better feel about the franchise than there has been in years, despite coming off a coach-killing 4-12 season, and considering it has been six years since the team made the playoffs, and considering this will be the 12th season since it won the Super Bowl. A plan finally seems to be in place. The franchise no longer feels too tight or too loose or too secretive or too smart for the rest of the room.
From time to time, new coach Lovie Smith reminds us that in the NFL, teams often go from very bad to pretty darn good. Of course, they're pointing that out in Oakland, too, and in Detroit, and in Cleveland, and in Miami. The league's quick turnarounds are the stuff of hope. It's what the teams sell to season ticket buyers in the towns where there is little else to sell.
In the past, that has happened here, too. This time, it feels different. Lovie feels different. New general manager Jason Licht feels different. A team that has upgraded at quarterback, offensive line, wide receiver, tight end, defensive end and linebacker feels different.
But does this team have the ingredients for a quick turnaround? Let's review the driving force behind other teams' turnarounds.
1. The coach
It starts there. Yes, it's a player's league, but don't underestimate the importance of the guy in the big office. The arrival of Andy Reid was one of the reasons the Chiefs were able to turn a 2-14 record in 2012 into an 11-5 season last year.
Remember the 2011 49ers? That was when Jim Harbaugh took over, and the team jumped from 6-10 in 2010 to 13-3 in Harbaugh's first year. Remember the 2002 Colts, when Tony Dungy took a 6-10 team to 10-6 in the first of his seven straight double-digit win seasons?
Does Smith measure up? In Chicago, he did. The parallels between he and Dungy are striking.
Yes, luck matters. It just doesn't last.
For one season, however, a team can ride karma pretty hard. There were the 2008 Miami Dolphins, who went from a 1-15 record to 11-5. There were the 2011 Detroit Lions, who went from 6-10 to 10-6 and the playoffs.
The luckiest team in recent memory, of course, was the 2005 Buccaneers, who got every break imaginable on their way to an 11-5 season (after finishing 5-11 the year before). Phantom pass interference calls and missed calls and dropped interceptions.
Will this team be lucky, too? Let's hope so.
3. The quarterback
Teams have had turnarounds without one (Chris Simms, Josh Freeman and Chad Pennington led their teams to turnarounds with career years). But if you plan on hanging around with the good teams for several years, you could really use excellence at quarterback.
In 1999, for instance, the Colts went from 3-13 to 13-3 because of a second-year guy named Peyton Manning. And when Manning left the Colts, they went from 2-14 to 11-5 under rookie Andrew Luck. In 2004, the Chargers went from 4-12 to 12-4 behind Drew Brees, the same year the Steelers went from 6-10 to 15-1 behind Ben Roethlisberger. In 2009, the Packers went from 6-10 to 11-5 as Aaron Rodgers developed.
The Bucs? With Josh McCown, quarterback remains their biggest question mark. If he's good, the feeling is the team will be, too.
4. The schedule
No, it isn't just the fourth-place schedule (which impacts only two games). But the quality of your opponents matters greatly. For instance, when the Chiefs started 9-0 last year, they played only one playoff team during the streak. Back in 2010, when the Bucs went from 3-13 to 10-6, the only winning team they beat all year was New Orleans.
This year's schedule? It's livable. The Bucs' strength of schedule ranks 19th in the 32-team league. They do have to play Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, and their division is daunting. But they have a chance.
5. The timing
Are the Bucs a team on the verge of big things? That matters, too.
When the Patriots went from 5-11 to 11-5 in 2001, it started an impressive run under Bill Belichick. The Rams turned it around in 1999 because they were about to enter a fine offensive era. The great days of San Francisco under Bill Walsh, of Pittsburgh under Chuck Noll, of Dallas under Jimmy Johnson all started with turnaround seasons.
Can it happen here?