Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cruised into the playoffs with a dominant win in their season finale. The offense has exploded for over 40 points in back-to-back games and their defense has manhandled the opposition down the stretch. They're peaking at the perfect time and Brady is putting up All-Pro numbers that suggest he's ready for another Super Bowl run.
That's the narrative surrounding the Bucs right now and, on the surface, everything mentioned above is factual. However, if you look deeper, it's clear the Bucs are not true Super Bowl contenders no matter how many columns you read to the contrary this week -- and likely next after the fifth-seeded Bucs beat the NFC East winner.
Tampa Bay finished the season on a four-game winning streak against opponents with 16 combined wins. Dominant victories over the Vikings, Falcons, Lions and then Falcons again is great from a confidence-building standpoint, but it does little to make you believe this team can keep up the torrid offensive pace it has been on.
The Lions, Vikings and Falcons give up the 32nd, 28th and 19th most points per game in the NFL, respectively, so while it's nice to celebrate the Bucs' sudden offensive outburst, let's not forget who they've played against. This isn't playoff-caliber competition. These are some of the worst defenses in the NFL.
Speaking of playoff-caliber, the Bucs finished the year 1-5 against teams with winning records. Even worse, with the exception of their 38-10 drubbing of the Packers way back in Week 6, they were outscored 146-93 against teams with winning records this season. And let's not forget, the game against the Packers was in Tampa Bay. Unless something stunning happens in the playoffs, the Bucs will have to win three games on the road just to make the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady has never won a Super Bowl when he's had to win more than one game on the road. That one time he did it against the Chiefs in the 2018 playoffs and the Patriots should have lost. If only Dee Ford hadn't been lined up offside on a potential game-ending interception, things might have been different. This year to get there he'll likely have to win either in Green Bay or New Orleans, and maybe both. If not there, it could be Seattle. Regardless, you're talking about three of the toughest places to win on the road in the playoffs and Brady will have to win in two of them. He's worked miracles before, but that's hard to imagine.
The narrative around Tampa Bay during its season-closing four-game winning streak has been how things have finally started to click, but that's easy to say without context. Anybody can look like world-beaters against the bottom-feeders of the NFL, especially a team as talented as the Bucs. That Brady led them to four wins and a playoff berth is worth noting, but not enough to crown them true contenders. They've done nothing to earn that right all season and the reality is their latest outburst is more a product of who they've played more than who they are.