Time to throw a bucket of cold reality on this 2012 Bucs season.
Don't be fooled by what you're watching. Don't get too carried away with the 6-4 record. Hold off on those postseason dreams just for a moment.
We've seen this before.
Remember 2010? The Bucs went 10-6 and we all swallowed the bait, thinking it was the start of something great in Tampa Bay.
Then we realized the Bucs beat up on a bunch of weaklings and nobodies. That 10-6 record was fool's gold. That good team on the horizon turned out to be a mirage.
So here we are. Another solid season, another good Bucs team in the making.
Or is it?
Look, I'm not trying to rain on the parade here, but, at the very least, let this be a cautionary tale.
Okay, so the Bucs are 6-4. That's reason for optimism. A 6-4 record is nice. Heck, it's even impressive considering what a bumbling, stumbling mess this team was a season ago. Six wins is more than some predicted the Bucs would get all season, and to win games without Carl Nicks, Davin Joseph, Adrian Clayborn and Aqib Talib is quite the accomplishment.
But here's the thing: The Bucs haven't beaten anybody.
Think about it. Whom has this team beaten to make you think it is that good? I want to believe this team has moved into the upper echelon of the NFL and I want to point to a big victory as proof. But that victory just isn't there.
Here's a look at whom the Bucs have beaten, what's left and what it all means.
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Whom the Bucs have beaten
We're 11 weeks into the NFL season, and the combined victories of the teams the Bucs have beaten is 16. Their six victories have come against teams that are a combined 16-34.
One victory came against the Chiefs, who have won once and might be the worst team in professional football. Another came in a wild shootout against the 3-7 Raiders and another came against the 4-6 Chargers. There are two victories against the two-win Panthers, each by six points.
Oh, speaking of beating Carolina on Sunday: Should we be gushing about the Bucs winning a game in which they blew a 10-point lead then needed a late field goal, followed by a defensive stop, a perfect throw-and-catch touchdown, a two-point conversion, a coin flip and an overtime touchdown to beat a team that can't seem to get through a week without firing someone?
The best victory? Probably that Thursday night win at Minnesota on three days' rest. The Vikings are 6-4, but you watch, by season's end, the Vikings will not have a winning record.
The quarterbacks the Bucs have beaten aren't exactly a murderers' row of signal callers. More like a murmurs' row: a sophomore-slumping Cam Newton, Christian Ponder, Brady Quinn, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers, who has been just awful this season. These five quarterbacks have thrown a combined 46 interceptions.
Meantime, the Bucs' four losses have come against teams with a combined record of 20-20. They lost to a pair of 5-5 teams (Saints and Cowboys) who are better than their records. They've played four teams with a .500 record or better and beaten only one. They've played four really good quarterbacks - Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Drew Brees and Robert Griffin III - and lost to all of them.
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The 2012 Bucs are more talented, better coached and would flat-out hammer the 2010 Bucs. But the comparison shouldn't be between the 2012 and 2010 Bucs. What matters is how the 2012 Bucs stack up against the rest of the NFL, and we'll have a better indication starting this week.
They play the Falcons, a team that might not be as good as its 9-1 record but is certainly the best team the Bucs have faced this season. Then comes a trip to Denver in what appears to be the most difficult game on the schedule. After that, they still have road games left against both the Saints and the Falcons.
These are the games that will tell us just how far the Bucs have come. Beat Atlanta. Beat Denver. Beat New Orleans. Heck, beat one or two of them. Then maybe you have something.
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What it all means
It's not the Bucs' fault that they've beaten a bunch of lousy teams. They don't pick the schedule. And winning any game in the NFL is tough stuff no matter whom you play. This isn't fishing. In the NFL, you don't throw wins back, no matter the opponent or performance. In the end, the NFL doesn't count how, it counts how many.
But here's the point in all of this: We really don't know yet how good this team is. We won't until it beats a decent team. Until then, don't get sucked into the hype like we all did in 2010. I'm not talking to just the fans, but to Bucs management, too.
Back in 2010, the Bucs went 10-6. But here's the rub: they were 9-1 against teams below .500 and 1-5 against teams above .500. The organization either grossly overestimated its talent or became too cocky. The result was that it was completely fooled by 2010 and completely unprepared for 2011. It made no significant offseason moves, and it ended up going 4-12.
Those in charge over at One Buc Place need to closely evaluate how this team plays against the big boys such as the Falcons, Broncos and Saints over the next few weeks. That way, even if the Bucs lose, recent bad history will not repeat itself.