Alan Dell

Too early to judge Tampa Bay Buccaneers by their record

Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III (28) runs plays during training camp Thursday in Tampa.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves III (28) runs plays during training camp Thursday in Tampa. AP

Bill Parcells might have been wrong when he said: “You are what your record says you are.”

What the Pro Football Hall of Fame coach should have said is: “You are what your record says you are when it’s time to be that way.”

It’s not that way now for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Bucs are an improving team, and their young players who figure to be the core of the team’s future are enthusiastic, with a work ethic second to none.

It might not show in the team’s record this year.

The Bucs are not without flaws and not as deep as you would want for a team and fan base that believes they can make the playoffs.

They are likely another draft and another season away from being judged by their record. Let’s not rush to judgment. Remember all the hype when Darrelle Revis put his island in Tampa Bay.

It’s probably going to take at least 10 victories to make the playoffs as an NFC wild-card team.

That is asking a lot from this group, so don’t judge a book by its cover.

It’s August, and in the NFL that means optimism has no boundaries. If you don’t believe you can win this time of year, what’s the point of it all?

There is a point for the Bucs, who were 6-10 last year and haven’t been in the playoffs for eight years.

This is a process that involves the Bucs and the other NFC teams.

The only two paths to the postseason are winning the NFC South or getting there as a wild card. Both are difficult, and there isn’t a lot of wiggle room.

A lot of it depends not only on the Bucs but their competition, particularly in their division.

The Bucs, Falcons and Saints share some of the same traits — none of them appear capable of unseating NFC South champion Carolina.

The NFC West should send two teams to the postseason in Arizona and Seattle. The NFC North sent Green Bay and Minnesota last year and could do the same, although the Vikings, who won the division, don’t appear to be close to a sure thing.

The Panthers might not be as good as last year’s 15-1 regular season team, but they are still more than capable of finishing ahead of the Bucs, Falcons and Saints.

Carolina lost cornerback Josh Norman, but they get back receiver Kelvin Benjamin and that could be considered a net gain, especially with tight end Greg Olson. They drafted three defensive backs, but they play a lot of zone so the loss of Norman might not be so devastating and that front seven can make up for a lot of mistakes.

The biggest number that sticks out for Carolina is its plus-20 turnover ratio, which led the league, but that is going to be hard to duplicate.

The Bucs, Falcons and Saints were all horrible on defense last year, and that is being kind. Tampa feels it has improved its defensive dramatically, but so do the Falcons and Saints.

The Bucs ranked 10th in total defense but gave up 26.1 points per game, which was 26th, the most out of 32 NFL teams. Atlanta was 16th in total defense but last in sacks with 19 and allowed 21.6 ppg (ranked 14th). New Orleans was abysmal on defense. The Saints gave up an NFL record 45 touchdown passes and were last in scoring defense at 29.8 points per game.

But the Saints ranked first in passing and were second in total offense thanks to Drew Brees, who threw 32 TD passes with only 11 interceptions and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

Who has improved the most among the Bucs, Falcons and Saints?

All can make a good case, though none appear good enough to reach that 10-win plateau.

The Falcons strengthened their offensive line and added receiver Mohamed Sanu to go along with Julio Jones, who led the league with 136 receptions for 1,871 yards but only had eight TD catches The Falcons have finished in the bottom half of the league in red-zone efficiency in six of the last eight years. They share the same red zone frustration as the Bucs.

The Saints claim they’ve strengthened their defense though it couldn’t get any worse, and a winning season for them will likely include a lot of shootouts.

Brees lost a lot of his longtime favorite pass catchers but might have his best corps of receivers in years with Brandin Cooks, Colby Fleener and rookie Michael Thomas along with 6-foot-6 Brandon Coleman. Rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins will significantly help the defensive line along with free agent Nick Farley. If the Saints’ secondary can stay healthy, which it didn’t last year, Brees could deliver a winning season.

The Bucs believe they’ve improved their secondary with rookie Vernon Hargreaves and free agent Brent Grimes. Rookie defensive end Noah Spence could be the steal of the draft. You have to love the linebacker corps headed by Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander, and Gerald McCoy will always be there for you.

The Bucs have a chance to determine their own destiny with games against Seattle and Arizona.

And Jameis Winston might be ready to move ahead of Atlanta’s Matt Ryan in the NFC South’s list of franchise quarterbacks behind Cam Newton and Brees.

The Bucs are improving. They are just not ready to be judged by their record.

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