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Pewter Report Buccaneers beat writer Charlie Campbell debuts a new Pewter Insider column that will appear regularly on PewterReport.com. In Campbell's Cover 2 a topic of debate will be spoken for from both sides of the argument.
This week Campbell will debate the degree of difficulty of Tampa Bay's 2008 regular season schedule, which was announced on Tuesday.
Cover 1 – The Buccaneers Schedule Is Easy
One of the first things to look at in determining the degree of difficulty of a schedule is where the team's bye week falls. In disappointing years like 2001, 2003, and 2006 the Buccaneers had their bye early in the season.
In 2001 the Buccaneers had their Week 2 contest vs. Philadelphia moved to the end of the year due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and had their bye in Week 3 of the season. Tampa Bay then had 15 straight games to play. While the team finished 9-7 and made the playoffs, it was a disappointing season with a loss at Philadelphia and head coach Tony Dungy getting fired.
In 2003 the Bucs had their bye in Week 4, forcing the team to play 13 straight games. As defending champions the Buccaneers finished 7-9 and lost seven games by a touchdown or less. Fatigue could have played a part in some of those three November losses that all but ended the team's chance of returning to the postseason.
In 2006 the bye week came in Week 4 again. After losing its first three Tampa Bay went on to lose nine of their final 13 games and had its worst season since a 3-13 outing in 1991.
In contrast to recent years when the Buccaneers had their bye in the middle of the season the team has had success. In 2005 the division-winning Buccaneers had their bye in late October in Week 7. In 2002, 2007, and the upcoming 2008 Tampa Bay has its bye in Week 10.
In examining the rest of the schedule it looks pretty easy.
The Buccaneers get their hardest divisional road game (at New Orleans) to start the season when the team is fresh and has a better chance of being healthy. There is 10 days between the Bucs' last preseason game and when they start the year at New Orleans on Sept. 7.
Even if the team loses the opener, the Bucs should have a good chance of turning the momentum around when they play Atlanta at home in Week 2. Following the Atlanta game the Bucs have another good draw getting Chicago early in the year before winter makes Chicago harder to play in.
Having Green Bay at home in Week 4 allows the Buccaneers to play the Packers before they may have made a complete transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. The Buccaneers escape a potential winter game again when they play at Denver the following week for the first time since 1996.
In Weeks 6 and 7 Carolina and Seattle come to Tampa, respectively. The Seattle game is the Buccaneers' first night home game since 2003 against the New York Giants. Tampa Bay fans are sure to give the Bucs a nice home field advantage that night in front of a nationally televised audience.
The Buccaneers follow those two home games with road games at Dallas and Kansas City. The Dallas game could be difficult but the Cowboys lost a few games at home at the end of last year including their playoff game with the Giants. Kansas City is always a difficult place to play but the Chiefs are one of the worst teams in the league. The talent discrepancy will be hard for the Chiefs to make up.
After those road games the Buccaneers' well timed bye week arrives. An extra week to prepare will be helpful as the Vikings come to Tampa following it. The Bucs having extra rest will be helpful for handling the physical Vikings and running back Adrian Peterson.
Down the stretch the Buccaneers play at Detroit the Sunday before Thanksgiving. The Lions could be looking ahead to Thanksgiving Day, which is always a big game for Detroit.
Following the Lions the Buccaneers finish their divisional games with a home contest against New Orleans, a Monday night game at Carolina, and then a trip to Atlanta. Following a Monday night game on the road is always difficult, but drawing perhaps their easiest road game of the year at Atlanta is definitely accommodating. The Falcons (7-6), Bengals (4-2), and Ravens (1-0) are the only teams Tampa Bay has a plus .500 roard record against.
The Buccaneers conclude the season with two home games against San Diego and Oakland. Week 16 against San Diego is scheduled to be a Sunday Night Football game but that could be changed due to flex scheduling. Even with all the money spent this offseason it is doubtful that the Raiders will be fighting for a playoff spot at the end of the year. At that point the Raiders will have played 15 games and will have to fly across the country to play one more before the offseason. It could be a very unmotivated Raider team showing up in Tampa.
All in all the Buccaneers' schedule looks at least manageable, if not easy. The best-case scenario could be Tampa Bay going 13-3 with losses against Dallas, San Diego, and Denver.
Cover 2 – The Buccaneers Schedule Is Difficult
At first look the Tampa Bay schedule looks encouraging. However when you look closer its actually pretty difficult.
First of all starting at New Orleans will be a big challenge. The Superdome will be loud and the Saints will be motivated to start the year on a good note by beating the defending division champs, who swept the Saints last year.
Following the Saints, the Bucs have another tough game in Week 3. Chicago is a difficult place to play, especially for Tampa Bay, which has produced just a 5-20 all-time regular season record at Soldier Field. The Bears defense could pose major problems for the Bucs offense as well. The Bucs have another tough defense following the Bears when the Packers come into town in Week 4.
Playing Denver in the thin Colorado air is always hard and it will be a challenge for the Buccaneers. Following the Broncos the Bucs have three teams they have had a difficult time beating in Carolina, Seattle, and Dallas.
Even though it's at home, the Seahawks game won't be easy based on previous outings. Seattle is actually undefeated (4-0) in Tampa Bay. Dallas won't be an easy place to escape with a win as the Bucs are 1-6 all-time in the regular season on the road vs. the Cowboys.
The Buccaneers haven't beat Carolina at home since 2002, so there is not a home field advantage against them. Following the Panthers, the Bucs play the Seahawks on Sunday night. The Buccaneers are 1-7 all-time against Seattle and have lost to them in recent seasons (2004, 2006, and 2007). Following the night game the Bucs go to Dallas where the last time they played quarterback Tony Romo and the Cowboys they were beat 38-10 on a Thanksgiving Day massacre.
In Week 9 the Bucs go to one of the toughest places to play in the league at Kansas City. While the Chiefs went 4-12 last year, the Buccaneers are 1-4 all-time at Kansas City and that one win came in 1978.
The Buccaneers run defense will have a stiff challenge against Peterson and the Vikings at home in Week 11. From there the Buccaneers have three of four on the road. None of those road teams of Detroit, Carolina, and Atlanta are exceptional teams but having that many road games late in the year will make those contests harder for the Buccaneers. Also the game at Carolina is on Monday night and the Buccaneers are 2-5 on the road all-time on Monday night. Then the Bucs have another road game just six days later.
The last two games at home with the Chargers and Raiders could be difficult. The Chargers may have the most talented roster in the NFL and could be fighting for playoff positioning in the ultra-competitive AFC. The Raiders in the final game may be much improved by the end of the year. If quarterback JaMarcus Russell makes strides during the season he could pose a big challenge in the final game of the year.
Looking at it closely the Buccaneers could have a pretty difficult schedule, especially the road games, where the Bucs' combined all-time regular season record vs. their away opponents is just 38-67. The worst-case scenario could be the Buccaneers going 7-9, missing the playoffs and failing to defend their NFC South division title for the third time since 2003.
Taking both covers into consideration Tampa Bay's schedule is pretty favorable. One thing to look at as well is the schedules of the division rivals. Atlanta and Carolina have schedules that are on par with the Buccaneers, but New Orleans has what appears to be a pretty tough slate in 2008. The Saints have two Monday Night Football contests, a game in London against San Diego, and a Thursday night outing at Chicago in December. That is much harder than the Saints, who missed the playoffs last year, would have preferred.
Another advantage the Buccaneers have this year is that none of their opponents have a bye week before playing Tampa Bay. Giving any NFL coaching staff an extra week to prepare for an opponent is a big advantage. After having to endure more prepared and rested teams last year, the Buccaneers are spared of facing that particular challenge in 2008.
It is easy to be optimistic in April, but after looking at the 2008 schedule this analyst has the Buccaneers going 11-5.
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