They have the longest winning streak in the National Football Legue, which is not too surprising since they allowed fewer points than the Vikings, Raiders and Steelers last season. Also, they managed to steal the next great young quarterback, and their former third-string fullback might soon be starting for the baltimore Colts.

The identity of this juggernaut: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

We'll pause a moment while the laughter subsides.

There now, ready to pay attention? The young Bucs, losers of 35 of the 40 games they have played until this year, have leaped from hopeless to mediocre.It says here they can triple their victories of last season, or win six games, and that they will at least have the last giggle this year.

Already, NFL junkies have noticed that the Bucs' winning streak - five games - includes three of those preseason successes this year that everyone tends to regard as meaningless.

With Tampa Bay, no W is meaningless.

That was especially true this preseason, because the Bucs were just learning to consider the posibility of winning rather thatn inventing ways to lose each game. After 26 straight regular-season defeats, they had beaten the Saints and Cardinals.

"Want to know the most nervous man in America today?" said the Bears' Jim Finks the morning the Saints tackled the 0-26 Bucs in New Orleans. "It's Hank Stram."

Later, Stram was fired. And so was the Cardinal coach, Don Coryell. This year, John McKay might well add another scalp or so, because his team - if it stays healthy - enjoys the prospects of rapidly maturing players and an easy schedule.

The Bucs have two games each with the Giants, Packers, injury-plagued Lions and still-suspect Bears. They also play the Chiefs, Saints, Bills and 49ers. None of those teams figures to score many points against Tampa Bay.

This ought to be the year the Bucs score some points - at last. In the two years since their birth, their offense has been as inept as any in the entire history of the NFL. You've heard countless times how teams couldn't move the ball against a stiff breeze. Tampa Bay couldn't gain on bad breath.

In their 26 losses, the Bucs socred a touchdown or less 16 times. They were shut out 11 times. Last season, they scored 11 touchdowns; four of them came on interception and fumble returns.

Somehow, the defense not only stayed alive, it also allowed only 223 points last year. With the offense at least decent this preseason, the defense has been even stingier, allowing only 15 points to the Bengals, Colts and Saints. Only New England also has allowed fewer than 30 points.

While victory has been more important to the Bucs thatn most teams this preseason, it has not been gained under extraordinary conditions. None of the three quarterbacks - Mike Boryla, Gary Huff and Doug Williams - has played more than one half in any of the three games.

And Tampa rallied to beat the Colts during the debut of Williams, the gifted rookie passer 16 teams passed on this year. In time, he will be brilliant; he may start sooner than anyone expected.

Still, the keys to whether the Bucs rise or stay buried are named Jimmie Giles, Darryl Carlton, Dan Medlin, Steve Wilson, Jeff Winans and Dave Reavis. From tight end to left tackle, that is the Tampa offensive line.

Last season, those players either were with other teams, manning other positions or getting to know one another. An offensive line takes considerable to jell; this one is learning.

And Ricky Bell, Jimmy DuBose, Louis Carter and some others are happly to finally be able to crash into a defensive back or two rather than meet a nose guard head on just after grabbing the handoff.

"Even if our draft choices don't do anything this year," McKay said, "we'll be a good team.A couple of years ago, if our draft choices didn't do the job, well . . . that's about all we had."

After their victory over the Colts, the Bucs had enough quality runners to trade fullback Don Hardeman to runner-shy Baltimore for draft choices to be based on his performance.

"For the first time," a Buc official said, "half the coaches aren't spending practice looking at the waiver list. They're working with player they know will be here."

Tampa Bay is not the only team that figures to be vastly improved this season.

"Detroit will be better," said Redskin player personnel director Mike Allman, "though injuries have hit them again. And Houston really looked good against Dallas last week. I saw that one.

"Cliff Harris does not want to see Earl Campbell again. Harris is one tough player, but Earl mistreated him last Saturday."

Houston has a habit of mistreating Dallas in preseason and doing little else thereafter; Detroit often has better players in the hospital than on the field; the Giants, among others, could do well in preseason and immediately fold when the games began to count.

As Allman said: "If Tampa Bay improves quicker than the teams at its level, which seems to be the case, some people had better look out. 'Course there's 16 games."

So little is certain at this point, except that one day rather soon losing to Tampa Bay will not be a serious enough sin for a coach to lose his job. McKay and others have made the proper moves and suffered the proper length of time. This is the year not everyone passes the Bucs.