When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fired Lovie Smith last January and replaced him with Dirk Koetter, there were reports -- erroneous ones -- that Koetter back-stabbed Smith, his friend, to get the job.

The reality is that Koetter was having his second hip-replacement surgery when it went down, and was as stunned to hear the news as anyone. That's not the Koetter style, nor is it to politick with boosters, which he had to do at Arizona State when he was the head coach. Koetter just wants to coach. He's the son of coach who is one of those football-only guys. That's why I always thought he'd be a better NFL coach than he was at my alma mater, ASU.

That is playing out so far in his inaugural season as an NFL head coach, leading the young Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 6-5 record and putting them in the middle of the playoff race and up to No. 14 in my latest Power Rankings.

Yes, Tampa Bay.

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Koetter, who was Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator last season, was kept on in large part because of his relationship with second-year quarterback Jameis Winston. When Smith was fired, Winston was upset. But he also knew he had to move on, and his choice for the guy he was hopeful to take over was an easy one.


That's not why Koetter got the job, but it helped. And that relationship continues to grow as Koetter and Winston mature together. There were many in the media who were skeptical about the Koetter hire. That's because he doesn't spend a lot of time politicking for himself, and never has.

When he was the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville under Jack Del Rio and then in Atlanta under Mike Smith, he forged great relationships with his quarterbacks. Atlanta's Matt Ryan swears by him, much like Winston does now.

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We thought the Tampa Bay offense could be good with Winston this season. The surprise has been the improvement of the defense. Smith took over as the coordinator this season, and after a slow start the young players seem to be growing up and playing better.

The Bucs had six sacks and relentless pressure on Russell Wilson in their 14-5 victory Sunday. In the past two weeks, Tampa Bay defeated the Chiefs at Kansas City and a hot Seahawks team that most were saying was the best in the NFC.

Tampa Bay goes to San Diego for a big game with the Chargers this week. If they win that, they close with the Saints at home, at Dallas, at the Saints and home against the Panthers. The Cowboys are the only team in that group with a winning record.

Tampa Bay in the playoffs? It's not out of the question.

Biggest Movers
5 Chargers
6 Eagles
1 Cowboys They've ripped off 10 straight victories, but they have to be concerned about their pass rush. They didn't have a sack against the Redskins. -- 12-5-0
2 Patriots It wasn't pretty against the Jets, but that's what good teams do. They find a way. -- 10-7-0
3 Raiders They still have to be concerned about the defense. It has to be better come playoff time. Derek Carr's injured finger bears watching. -- 10-7-0
4 Giants At 8-3, barring a catastrophe, they should be a playoff team. They face a tough test this week at Pittsburgh. 2 4-13-0
5 Chiefs That was a big-time victory at Denver. When they get Dee Ford back to go with Justin Houston, they will be menacing on defense. 3 12-5-0
6 Falcons They came out of their bye and played well against Arizona. The loss of corner Desmond Trufant for the season will really hurt the defense. 1 7-10-0
7 Broncos They had to feel like they gave one away against the Chiefs. Their offense has to do more. 3 7-10-0
8 Seahawks The offensive line has to get better. Tampa Bay beat them up last week, and Russell Wilson had issues. 3 7-10-0
9 Lions They find a way to win close games, getting seven of them to lead the NFC North. They essentially have a two-game lead in the division with five to go. -- 3-13-1
10 Dolphins Winning six straight has them in the playoff hunt. Their game at Baltimore this week will feel like a playoff game. 1 9-8-0
11 Commanders Kirk Cousins rolled up big numbers against Dallas, but it wasn't enough. They face a second straight road game this week at Arizona. 1 7-10-0
12 Ravens They sit in first place in the AFC North with a tough game this week at home against the Dolphins. Their defense is improving by the week. 2 8-9-0
13 Steelers They seemed to get the offense rolling against the Colts on Thanksgiving. Now they face a challenge with the Giants coming to town. 2 9-7-1
14 Buccaneers They are improving on defense, which will decide their playoff fate. The young players are growing up. 2 13-4-0
15 Chargers They aren't done yet. This is a team nobody will want to see in the playoffs -- if they can get there. 5 9-8-0
16 Texans They are in first place, but they hardly look like a first-place team. Two consecutive losses has them reeling heading to Green Bay. 4 4-13-0
17 Vikings They have now lost five of their last six and are two behind the Lions in the division since they lost twice to them. Now comes a tough one with the Cowboys on Thursday night. 4 8-9-0
18 Colts We were reminded on Thanksgiving of the value of Andrew Luck when he couldn't play against the Steelers. He will be back this week against the Jets. -- 9-8-0
19 Titans They are one game out of first place in the division as they head to their bye week. Mike Mularkey has done a nice job. -- 12-5-0
20 Bills By rallying to beat the Jaguars, they are still alive and kicking in the playoff chase. They face a tough, long trip to Oakland this week. 1 11-6-0
21 Packers What we saw Monday night against the Eagles is what we expected to see this season. They are still alive. 1 13-4-0
22 Saints They impressed against the Rams. Drew Brees is rolling again. 3 9-8-0
23 Eagles They've lost two straight games and any talk of winning the division is done. The wild-card chances are slipping away as well. 6 9-8-0
24 Panthers Their playoff chances are about done, which means it's a full Super Bowl hangover. It has never looked right. 1 5-12-0
25 Bengals Here's a team that had a lot expected of it, but now will be playing out the string. Is a coaching change coming? 1 10-7-0
26 Cardinals It seems like anything that could go wrong has gone wrong this season. It's hard to believe they have a losing record. -- 11-6-0
27 Rams Jared Goff did some really good things against the Saints. That gives them hope for the future. -- 12-5-0
28 Jets This season is done. They are all about next year so why not play a young quarterback? -- 4-13-0
29 Bears They are undermanned, but they fought against the Titans. Matt Barkley did some good things. -- 6-11-0
30 Jaguars They battle at Buffalo, and this is a team that has young talent. It's clear that another coach will lead all of it next season. -- 3-14-0
31 49ers Colin Kaepernick is playing good football for a team going nowhere. Why did it take Chip Kelly so long to play him? -- 10-7-0
32 Browns They have so many issues right now. It's about the future as they play out the season. -- 8-9-0