The Bucs finished 10-6 last year, surprising just about everybody, but still fell short of the playoffs. With that in mind, who will be the best team in 2011 NOT to make the postseason?
More disappointment in DallasThe Giants also had 10 wins to join the Bucs in the woulda-coulda-shoulda made the playoffs House of Blues last season. This time around, the Cowboys could be one of those teams. Dallas will be improved but being consistent enough to stay in the mix with the wealth of potentially good teams in the NFC could prove daunting. The defense is still a work in progress, the Cowboys don't have a running back that can stay healthy and the offensive line is still being formulated.
Early season losses count as much as late-season losses, and if Dallas takes too long to steady itself, it could wind up missing the playoffs. There are just too many good teams.
Bucs could have familiar feeling
I'll go with the Cowboys, though, because I think the depth of the division will hurt them. Despite their injuries, I think the Giants have playoff potential. And I still like the Eagles even with their warts and issues this preseason.
I'm not sure Dallas has the chemistry and leadership to end up in the playoffs, but it certainly has the individual talent to be in the conversation. And those Bucs could find themselves in the same bind, again, with the NFC South so deep.
NFC will provide stiff competitionThe best team not to make the playoffs carries a backhanded compliment along the lines of "Hey Rank, you're not as big a jerk as I thought you would be."
That being said, there is going to be another very good NFC team that will miss out this year. My division winners are Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans and Arizona. That means that Dallas, Atlanta and Detroit will be battling for the wild-card spot.
And with the Cowboys' secondary so vulnerable, they will be the odd team out.
December matchup could sort it outSorry, Tampa fans, but when this season's playoffs arrive, your talented, young Bucs will once again be on the outside looking in.
It's not that I dislike Raheem Morris' team, but because the league has opted not to rescind the automatic playoff berth that goes to the NFC West's least abysmal team, there just aren't enough slots for the Bucs to get in. On last week's Dave Dameshek Football Program, we seeded the NFC postseason bracket like this: 1. Green Bay, 2. Philadelphia, 3. New Orleans, 4. San Francisco, 5. Atlanta, 6. Dallas.
The schedule ain't easy, either. Tampa has four combined games against elite division foes New Orleans and Atlanta; home matchups with Houston, Chicago and Indy; plus a visit to Green Bay. The Bucs' biggest game, though, might be the Week 15 prime-time get-together at home vs. the Cowboys. Don't be surprised if the loser of that one ends up missing out on a trip to the postseason.