A review of the three NFC Central teams that failed to make the playoffs indicates the Bucs' 2001 season will be no easier.
Start with the Packers, who came on strong in the second half.
Green Bay finished 9-7 and had six wins against teams with winning records, more than any other team. The Titans, Bucs, Jets and Lions were second with five.
The Packers defense improved from last season under coordinator Ed Donatell, but Green Bay will look to fortify its defensive line. It will have to do it through the draft because cap problems are expected to limit it in free agency.
It will help, however, that the staff will coach at the Senior Bowl. Remember, the Bucs thoroughly enjoyed assessing the talent at the 1999 Senior Bowl as one of the coaching staffs and ended up drafting Anthony McFarland and Shaun King.
UNBEARABLE: The Bears' biggest problem in 2000 was getting production out of their first-round picks from 1999 and 1998 _ Cade McNown and Curtis Enis.
Coach Dick Jauron, who has to hire a new offensive coordinator with Gary Crowton's departure to Brigham Young, admitted last week he played McNown too long and overestimated his readiness. McNown finished 1-8 as a starter and 29th in passer rating.
The competition will be wide open in training camp next season with Jim Miller expected to contend with McNown and another quarterback.
Meanwhile, Enis, a restricted free agent, sounded off about playing fullback and insists he will not embrace that role next year. In a place like Kansas City, Enis might flourish.
Clearly, Jauron must bring in a coordinator who can best utilize McNown and Enis. After some initial success, Crowton's offense was simply unable to function in the NFL. No one will be more disappointed about the Bears changing systems than the Bucs defense, which did not give up a touchdown against the pass-happy attack.
LINE ON THE LIONS: Like the Bears, the Lions must get more production out of tackle Aaron Gibson, the '99 first-round pick, and guard Stockar McDougle, the 2000 first-round pick. Gibson missed all of 1999 with a shoulder separation and also battled injury this season, as did McDougle.
Quarterback Charlie Batch is being called injury-prone, but the the truth is he didn't get enough protection from his line. Gary Moeller must get that unit together and find a few more playmakers, perhaps at receiver and third-down back.
NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Here are the final numbers on one of the most surprising trends: Home teams won only 56 percent of their games this season (138-110). Last season it was 60 percent (148-100) and in 1998 it was 63 percent (151-89). In the five seasons before this one, home teams had won 60.6 percent of their games.
QUOTEABLE: Arizona coach Dave McGinnis after having interim removed from his title: "I'm not sitting here telling you this is going to be a magic-potion show, but I'm telling you right now this is changing because now my role is different. I'm in charge of this thing. There are going to be changes made on the staff, changes made with personnel. We're going forward from here.
"Everybody's heard of the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' Well, this thing's broke, and we're going to fix it. There are going to be changes made, and some of these changes are going to come fast and furious. You better hang on because this thing's going to start spinning. The people that come to the stadium for the first game next year are going to need to buy a program to find out what's going on because this thing is going to get fired."
REMEMBERING DAN: The widow of former long snapper Dan Turk had harsh words for the Redskins. Turk died of cancer last week, and Peggy Turk had an incredulous reaction when she heard the team observed a moment of silence for her husband. She said even though their home is within walking distance of Redskins Park, only one player, Cory Raymer, visited Turk while he was ailing.
"That organization has no class since Dan Snyder took over. There's a thing called human decency, and that organization showed none," Turk told the Washington Times. "It would have taken nothing for them to stop by our home and visit with Dan. But not one gesture. Nothing. Not a card. Not a signed football.
"It's sickening. But now they care. Tell me how I'm supposed to feel about that. There are a lot of so-called Christian men on that football team, and not one of them ever called our home. Now they care. Right."
She added, "I know I sound bitter because I am bitter. I lived it.
"Do they know how much it would have meant to Dan if they had let him know they were behind him, or were they too busy feeling sorry for themselves because they lost a few games? I saw what my husband went through, and I saw how it hurt him."