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With a 2-5 record and just nine games remaining in the 2004 regular season, the words “playoffs” and the “Buccaneers” probably don’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath.

Most pundits have written off Tampa Bay, but after taking a closer look at Buccaneers’ remaining schedule and the NFC playoff race, one could make the case for the Pewter Pirates making a serious, against-all-odds run at the playoffs over the next several weeks.

Injuries, inconsistent play (particularly on the offensive side of the ball) and some bad luck contributed to Tampa Bay’s first five losses, and the Bucs can’t afford to lose too many more games this season.

But after going 0-4 in the first quarter of the season, the Bucs have played fairly well over their past three games and have compiled a 2-1 record in the second quarter.

Tampa Bay’s recent success and the first-place Atlanta Falcons’ 1-2 record over their last three games has the Bucs finding themselves alive in the NFC South division race.

Since 12 NFC teams currently have a better record than Tampa Bay, the Bucs’ best chance of making the playoffs is winning their division, and with five of their remaining nine games against NFC South division opponents, including two games against the 5-2 Falcons, the Bucs could actually control their own destiny if the Falcons lose in Denver to the 5-2 Broncos this Sunday.

Tampa Bay’s remaining schedule appears to be favorable and includes home contests against Kansas City (2-4), San Francisco (1-5), Atlanta (5-2), New Orleans (3-4) and Carolina (1-5). Those teams have a combined record of 12-20, which could bode well for the Bucs, who haven’t exactly fared well at Raymond James Stadium as of late (4-7 over past two seasons).

The away contests are against teams with a combined record of 12-14 and feature games in Atlanta (5-2), Carolina (1-5), San Diego (4-3) and Arizona (2-4).

Now, these combined records might not mean much since Tampa Bay went 2-5 against teams that have a combined record of 20-26. In fact, only two of the teams that beat the Bucs earlier in the season currently have winning records.

But the Bucs have played better over their past three games, and they’re getting players back healthy, including wide receivers Joe Jurevicius and Joey Galloway. Add these things to the fact that four of the Bucs’ five losses have come by one score or less and only three of their remaining nine games are against teams with a winning record and you can start to make a case for the Pewter Pirates still being alive for post-season play.

With Carolina 1-5 on the season and New Orleans 3-4, and likely destined to implode as usual, Tampa Bay has a real chance to sneak back in the division race, but it will need some help from the Atlanta Falcons, who need to lose to Denver this Sunday.

If that comes to fruition and Tampa Bay finds a way to defeat Kansas City on November 7, which could be quite possible since the Chiefs will be coming off an emotional rematch of the AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, the 3-5 Buccaneers would then be headed into their first game against the 5-3 Falcons. Should this scenario unfold, the Bucs could cut the Falcons’ division lead to just one game with a win at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 14.

The second half of the Falcons’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, either. Atlanta has road games against Denver, Tampa Bay, New York Giants, New Orleans and Seattle.

That said, the Bucs need to go 7-2 over their final nine games of the season, and neither of those two losses can come to the Falcons, who would then need to go 4-5 over their final nine games in order for the Bucs to win the division.

Of course, the Bucs can hand two of those losses to the Falcons when these two division rivals clash twice over the final two months of the season, the second of which will take place at Ray-Jay on December 5.

Even after starting the season with a 1-5 record, Tampa Bay has a chance to make the NFC South division race quite interesting, and it could possibly win it. While that doesn’t say much for the strength of the division, I doubt anyone would mind if the Bucs managed to dig themselves out of a huge hole and accomplish that feat.

Is this whole scenario being a little too optimistic? Sure, it probably is, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. One thing is for sure, though — we’ll be able to better gauge just how much life is left in Tampa Bay’s season over the next two games.

Remaining Schedules:

Tampa Bay:
Kansas City 2-4
at Atlanta 5-2
San Francisco 1-5
at Carolina 1-5
Atlanta 5-2
at San Diego 4-3
New Orleans 3-4
Carolina 1-5
at Arizona 2-4

at Denver 5-2
Tampa Bay 2-5
at New York Giants 4-2
New Orleans 3-4
at Tampa Bay 2-5
Oakland 2-5
Carolina 1-5
at New Orleans 3-4
at Seattle 3-3

New Orleans:
at San Diego 4-3
Kansas City 2-4
Denver 5-2
at Atlanta 5-2
Carolina 1-5
at Dallas 2-4
at Tampa Bay 2-5
Atlanta 5-2
at Carolina 1-5

This story is intended to be read by PewterInsider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers. Be sure to read the latest issue of Pewter Report on-line in PDF format on Buccaneers merchandise in the world.

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