The Kansas City/Seattle/San Diego span turning disastrous
Ernest Hooper, @hoop4you: Two 2015 playoff teams, difficult road venues, talented quarterbacks, terrific coaches, imposing defenses. It just didn't sound like a recipe for success for the upstart Bucs. No matter what happens in the last four games, this four-game streak can be a cornerstone in future success. Remember, the Bucs greatest teams used a 1996 victory in San Diego as a springboard into a great six-year run. History may be about to repeat itself.
The entire team
Tom Jones, @tomwjones: Well, this entire team. No way I saw a winning season.
Before the season, I predicted six wins. They already have seven. I wasn't convinced that Dirk Koetter would be the right coach, but he has proved me wrong. He has been a steady hand on a team that has had to overcome injuries and adversity. This is a good football team. They might not make the playoffs. They might not even finish with a winning record. But even if they go 8-8, it has been a major step forward. And when you look at this team, the arrow is definitely pointing up. This looks like only the beginning of what could be a nice run for the franchise.
A four-game winning streak nobody saw coming
Thomas Bassinger, @tometrics: I was most wrong about the four-game winning streak.
I didn't see the Bucs winning four games in a row, especially after the defense allowed nearly 1,100 yards in back-to-back losses to the Raiders and Falcons.
Since then, however, Tampa Bay ranks first in points per game allowed (13.3), first in takeaways (11), first in opponent passer rating (67.3), second in opponent third-down conversion percentage (28.9), fifth in yards per game allowed (300.3) and fifth in sacks (12).
The Bucs defense
Rick Stroud, @NFLStroud: I didn't see this turnaround coming. Not after giving up more than 1,000 yards against the Raiders and Falcons. In the past four games, the Bucs have led the NFL in points per game (13.75), takeaways (11) and opposing passer rating 67.3. They also have 11 sacks and the 28.9 third down percentage is second in the league since Week 10. That's a 180 degree spin.
Martin Fennelly, @mjfennelly: Mike Smith being over the hill as defensive coordinator.
The Bucs' confidence in safeties McDougald and Conte.
Greg Auman, @gregauman: For as bad as the Bucs' pass defense was in 2015, they stuck with the same two safeties who spent the entire season on the field last year, re-signing Chris Conte to a one-year deal and tendering Bradley McDougald as a restricted free agent. Unless they've been hurt, they've stayed on the field every play this season -- Conte's recent chest injury has sidelined him, but he made two huge interceptions, first the pick-six to spark the win against his old Bears, then the end-zone INT to help nail down the win against the Chiefs. McDougald, too, has been physical and made a huge pick against Russell Wilson to clinch the win against Seattle.
The Bucs put a fourth-round pick into Ryan Smith but haven't played him a snap at safety, in part because they have such confidence in McDougald and Conte, and even in Keith Tandy, another holdover from 2015 who took a modest two-year contract to stay with the Bucs. Both McDougald and Conte are now unrestricted free agents this spring, so it'll be interesting to see how they handle both moving forward at the position.