The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the embodiment of the frustrating nature of the National Football League.
On the surface, the Bucs have the qualities of a playoff team – an above average offense capable of moving the ball and scoring points, and a defense that excels in stopping the run.
And up until a month ago, it looked as though they were just that. Sitting at 6-4 and with a home game against the division rival and league-leading Atlanta Falcons, the Bucs had the chance to control their own destiny.
Control their own destiny they have, in a way, but not for the better. The Buccaneers lost that game to the Falcons and proceeded to lose their next three as well, including losses the last two weeks to teams with records below .500.
Now at 6-8, the Bucs will be playing for pride when they face the Rams this weekend at Raymond James Stadium. That’s not to say the Buccaneers will lay down, though. Despite being frozen out of the postseason, the Bucs are still a threat to win every time they take the field.
It starts with an offense that has no shortage of playmakers. After a down 2011, quarterback Josh Freeman has had a resurgent season, throwing 25 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. Freeman has an outside shot at getting to 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his career, and barring a really terrible game he will set a career high for passing yards in a season this Sunday.
Freeman’s bounceback year has been aided by the acquisition of one of the game’s best big-play receivers, Vincent Jackson. Jackson, who was signed to a five-year, $55.55 million contract in the offseason, is fifth in the NFL with 1,226 receiving yards. His 19.8 yards per reception is the most of any player with over 11 receptions.
Jackson is complemented by third-year receiver Mike Williams. Together, the pair has over 2,000 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. In the backfield, rookie Doug Wilson has been a revelation, rushing for 1,250 yards and 10 touchdowns through his first 15 NFL games.
It’s on defense that Tampa Bay confounds. The Buccaneers are allowing a stout 83.3 rushing yards per game, best in the league, but pair that with a league-worst 310.6 passing yards allowed per game. The sum is good for 30th of the 32 teams in total yards allowed. The defense is also allowing 24.9 points per game, 22nd in the NFL.
Although the Rams are, by virtue of record, the better team in this matchup, there’s little question that the Buccaneers are capable of making this Sunday as uncomfortable for the Rams as the last.