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If, And, But: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Will Be in the Playoffs in 2013

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It took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a mere 27 tries to win a regular-season game and just 27 seasons to win a Super Bowl.

Obviously, the Bucs can still win some games. But are they on the verge of being a Super Bowl contender again?

Greg Schiano led the team to a 7-9 finish in his debut season at the helm in 2012. But there were too many blown opportunities that could have made it a nine- or 10-win season.

Still, it's another year and another chance for the team to recapture that Super glory from just over a decade ago.

And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2007…

If: The team avoids another collapse following a respectable start. We've seen it with the Buccaneers each of the last two seasons; the final year of the Raheem Morris regime and the debut campaign of the Schiano Era. In 2011, Tampa was 4-2 and not only lost its final 10 contests but its head coach as well. A year ago, the Bucs were 6-4 before losing five straight games and only a season-ending win at Atlanta stopped the bleeding.

And: The Tampa defense improves its play against the pass. One year after finishing dead last in the league when it came to stopping the run, the Buccaneers completely reversed that issue and were No. 1 in the NFL in rushing defense in 2012. But as the adage says, "why drive when you can fly?" And no team in the league gave up more yards through the air this past season than the Bucs, who totaled just 27 sacks while allowing 30 touchdown passes.

But: Despite the free agent addition of two-time Pro Bowl free safety DaShon Goldson (49ers), is this Tampa defense a better unit than its 2013 predecessor? Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy remains but the line took a few hits with the departures of Roy Miller (Jaguars) and Michael Bennett (Seahawks). There are promising young players in linebacker Lavonte David and safety Mark Barron. With quarterback Josh Freeman, running back Doug Martin and receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, Tampa can score points. But are they capable of stopping anyone consistently?

So what do you think? It's been a spell since we last saw the Buccaneers in the playoffs. And since finishing 10-6 in 2010, the team is a combined 11-21 the last two years. There's always a chance in the ultra-competitive NFC South, but this team must first rebound from a pair of last-place finishes. But never say never in a league that has seen its share of teams go from worst to first in a heartbeat.

Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country, can be heard on Yahoo! Sports Radio and many other networks and was blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

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