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Are Bucs – don’t laugh – really playoff contenders?

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Are the Tampa Bay Bucs playoff contenders?

Really?

The Bucs are 5-5, and at the moment, a .500 record seems like flying high. Especially with last year’s 2-14 record. Even with this year’s 1-3 start.

But the question remains of just how good the Bucs can be after their dominating 45-17 victory over Philadelphia Sunday. The Bucs are now ranked as the No. 12 team in the ESPN power rankings, an interesting number since 12 teams make the NFL playoffs.

“It’s kind of the same message each week,” coach Lovie Smith said. “The message is we are in the playoff race, we have been. Our message is about that next opponent. All those other things will take care of themselves. We talked an awful lot about getting to 5-5. Now we have chance to get over .500, win three games in a row. That’s what we’re going to talk about. As much as anything, individual improvement – we didn’t play a perfect game. As you start watching the video, there are so many things to clean up.”

So how good can the Bucs be?

If they win five out of six, they win 10 games and are pretty much guaranteed the playoffs.

If they win four out of six, they win nine and get a winning season. That puts them in the wild-card discussion.

If they win three out of six, they finish at .500, not a bad record after last year’s two-win season.

Can they be that good? We’ll see.

It should be said that the schedule ahead isn’t imposing. Carolina is unbeaten and will be a chore to play against. But the other five teams on the Bucs’ schedule each have at least four losses. There are two teams (New Orleans and Atlanta) who the Bucs beat on the road earlier.

So far, the Bucs have the ninth-ranked offense with Jameis Winston and Doug Martin and the 13th-ranked defense.

Tampa Bay visits Indianapolis on Sunday.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit garysheltonsports@gmail.com.

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