Where do the Bucs stand amongst the NFL elite?
It was amusing the other day to look back to September to check out Pro Football Weekly's Power Rankings before the 2010 season began. The Bucs were down in 30th (they ended in 12th), Dallas were 4th (21st) and Pittsburgh 17th (3rd). Just goes to show what most pundits really know.

But it did get me thinking about ranking the 32 NFL teams based on where they stand on a platform for going forward. And for this I would consider ownership, franchise quarterback and then overall talent as my three areas of measurement. Because although teams can have one good year here and there, those first two categories are crucial to the long-term success of a franchise in the modern era.

The elite - Atlanta, Baltimore, New England, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh.
I really don't think you can argue with any of these five perhaps except the inclusion of the Ravens. But Steve Biscotti is the kind of solid stay-out-the-spotlight owner that every really good team needs and they have a great coach in John Harbaugh. Atlanta has the franchise QB, the Eagles have been good every year Andy Reid has been there and the Patriots and Steelers go in without comment.

The next level - Chicago, Dallas, Green Bay, Indianapolis, New Orleans, NY Giants, NY Jets, San Diego
Now this is where it starts to get interesting. Most of these teams have their franchise passer in place although the Bears are the possible discussion point here as to their inclusion. But they won their division again and were in the Super Bowl not so long ago with Interceptorsaurus Rex at QB so they must have enough other key parts in place to be deserving of such status.

The Colts are beginning their long-expected downturn but it's been a good ride and with Peyton at the helm, will always be there or thereabouts. And if the Chargers ever get a real coach instead of Norv, then perhaps they too can finally reach the elite status that their talent level has expected the past few seasons.

Middle of the pack - Houston, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Tennessee
The Texans perenially under-achieve, the Titans always over-achieve. Perhaps that is a snapshot of the head coaches involved. But there are enough question marks about all four to keep them in the middle of the rankings for now.

Just above the bottom - Cleveland, Detroit, Miami, Minnesota, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, St.Louis, Washington
The Rams have their franchise QB in place as do the Lions but they are a long way from truly proving themselves in the NFL. And there are enough issues surrounding the Dolphins and Vikings to make a case for them dropping down from even this position. And whilst Al Davis owns the Raiders, they will never truly be a long-term force in the NFL again. Sad to say but unfortunately too true.

The cellar dwellers - Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina, Cincinnati, Denver
A recent Super Bowl team in the basement? That's what happen when you mortgage your future to Matt Leinhart. Right now the Cardinals will take any quarterback, let alone a franchise one. The Bengals have the worst owner in the NFL, Denver have two years of Josh McDaniels' mess to clear up and the Bills and Panthers need more than just a franchise passer to even become respectable.

And now the $64,000 question - where do the Bucs rank?
Right in the middle with a view to moving up the second tier in 2011. The solid ownership is in place (and I know that some people will disagree but I have seen how things work behind the scenes and I have no doubts at all here), we might just have ourselves a franchise quarterback (anyone think Josh Freeman isn't the real deal?) and there is more young talent on the Tampa roster than most other places in the league.

But I do remember 1998. Everyone expected the Bucs to be a major player after their breakout 1997 season and the weight of expectation as well as the disruption caused by the new stadium put them behind the eight-ball from the start.

Things are definitely looking up in Tampa. And along with the likes of Atlanta and Detroit, there is true realistic optimism about the future. Contrastly, Dolphins and Vikings fans must wonder if they have reached the bottom of the abyss yet based on the direction they were heading at the end of the 2010 season.

You've been great, enjoy the Goombay Dance Band.