Copyright 2007

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A large contingency of our Pewter Report subscribers love Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur's Dirty Dozen column, and understandably so.

Hugh is quite a busy man these days, but he'll have a Dirty Dozen for you sometime soon.

In the meantime, I've decided to do my own version of Hugh's column in this installment of Flynn's Focus.

1. What does the future hold for Bucs fullback Mike Alstott? After suffering two serious neck injuries since 2003, the latest of which occurred in training camp and landed the "A-Train" on injured reserve, I suspect Alstott will be announcing his retirement from the National Football League sometime soon.

Alstott is — and always will be — a legend in Tampa Bay. However, he clearly was no longer in his prime, even before he got hurt again. Alstott averaged just 3.9 yards per reception last year. B.J. Askew, who is a better lead blocker and has played an integral role in Earnest Graham's success this season, is averaging 9.7 yards per catch.

I'm no doctor, but I think it's safe to say Alstott would be putting his health in serious jeopardy by resuming his football career. This six-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion doesn't have any more to prove.

Alstott turns 34 one week from today. The guess here is that the Buccaneers will win the NFC South division vs. the Falcons on Sunday, which will allow the team to celebrate for about a week before giving Alstott the stage to announce his retirement the week leading up to the regular season finale vs. the Carolina Panthers.

If the Bucs have already won the division heading into the game vs. Panthers, that contest might not mean a whole lot from a standings standpoint, but it certainly would take on great meaning if it turns out to be the stage and setting for Alstott's farewell and retirement ceremony.

Speaking of Tampa Bay's regular season finale vs. Carolina, that game might have some significant meaning to the Buccaneers even if Alstott doesn't announce his retirement.

The Bucs have all but been eliminated from the race for the No. 2 NFC playoff seed, which belongs to the Green Bay Packers. That means Tampa Bay likely will not have a bye week in the playoffs.

However, if the Bucs can win the division in the next two weeks, they really will have nothing to gain but momentum by winning the regular season games they play from that point on.

That said, Tampa Bay would be in a position to treat its regular season finale vs. Carolina as a bye week. That means having the opportunity to rest players like quarterback Jeff Garcia, running back Earnest Graham, fullback B.J. Askew, wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard, defensive ends Greg White and Kevin Carter, defensive tackles Jovan Haye and Chris Hovan, linebackers Derrick Brooks, Barrett Ruud and Cato June and cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly.

The Bucs did not have the opportunity to rest players as they went into the playoffs in 2005 because they didn't win the division until they beat the Saints in the regular season finale that year. Tampa Bay lost to Washington the following week, 17-10.

The earlier the Bucs win the NFC South division the better off they should be come playoff time.

3. By winning the 2007 NFC South division title, the Buccaneers will keep two interesting trends alive. Not only will no NFC South team have repeated as division champions, but every team that will have won the division will have been a team that finished the previous season in last place in the NFC South.

Don't expect the last-to-first place trend to continue in the NFC South next year, though. I just don't see the Atlanta Falcons doing their part in that regard. The Buccaneers, of course, will be charged with the difficult task of becoming the first team in the history of the NFC South to repeat as the division winner.

4. It could be tough for Tampa Bay to defend a division title in 2008 based on its '08 opponents, which have already been determined if you assume the Bucs have won the 2007 NFC South division championship. Here's a look at their 2008 home and away opponents:

Home: Atlanta (3-10), Carolina (5-8), New Orleans (6-7), Green Bay (11-2), Minnesota (7-6), Oakland (4-9), San Diego (8-5) and likely Seattle (9-4)

Away: Atlanta (3-10), Carolina (5-8), New Orleans (6-7), Chicago (5-8), Detroit (6-7), Denver (6-7), Kansas City (4-9) and likely Dallas (12-1)

Tampa Bay's 13 regular season opponents in 2008 currently have a combined record of 86-83 (only counting Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans once).

The Bucs' home opponents have a combined record of 53-51, and four of them would make the playoffs if the post-season started today. The away schedule is more favorable with Tampa Bay's opponents having a combined 47-57 record and only one of those teams poised to make the playoffs this season.

If the Bucs are going to make a push for the Super Bowl in 2009, which is scheduled to be played in Raymond James Stadium, by the way, they will certainly have to earn it.

5. It should be interesting to see which team secures the sixth and final spot in the NFC playoff race. If the playoffs started today, Dallas, Green Bay, Seattle, Tampa Bay, New York (Giants) and Minnesota would make the playoffs.

As weak as some consider the NFC South division to be this year, there's still a chance the 6-7 New Orleans Saints could get into the playoffs. They're one game behind the 7-6 Vikings with three games left to play in the regular season.

Minnesota's final three games are vs. Chicago and Washington and at Denver. New Orleans' final three contests are vs. Arizona, Philadelphia and at Chicago.

As of right now, it looks as though the Bucs would host the 9-4 New York Giants, who are 6-1 on the road, in the first round of the playoffs. However, if Tampa Bay can somehow sneak its way into the No. 3 playoff spot, which is currently owned by 9-4 Seattle, the Buccaneers could face the Saints for the third time this season.

It might not happen, but it's certainly something to keep an eye on.

6. He might go to training camp and through preseason with Tampa Bay, but I don't expect defensive end Greg Spires to be part of the Buccaneers once the 2008 regular season begins unless it's at a reduced salary.

Spires, 33, is scheduled to have a base salary and cap value of $3.9 million and $4.361 million, respectively, next year. He has missed five games due to an ankle injury and has just one sack on the season. Frankly, Tampa Bay's defensive line hasn't really missed Spires during his five-game hiatus.

Tampa Bay's roster has had a plethora of turnover over the past few years, and 2008 could feature more. Each team has an average roster turnover of approximately 15 players per year.

Tampa Bay has attempted to get younger on defense by parting ways with the likes of Warren Sapp, John Lynch, Shelton Quarles and Simeon Rice in recent years, but more turnover should be expected with aging players like defensive ends Kevin Carter (34) and Greg Spires (33), linebacker Derrick Brooks (34) and cornerbacks Ronde Barber (32) and Brian Kelly (31).

Some players like linebackers Quincy Black and Adam Hayward, defensive ends Gaines Adams and Greg White and cornerback Phillip Buchanon are potential successors for these aging players, but the Bucs will also use free agency and the draft to get younger in some spots next year. But be prepared — getting younger could mean parting ways with more fans favorites.

Here's an early Free Agency Wish List for the Buccaneers in 2008: defensive end Jared Allen (Kansas City), defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (Tennessee) and linebacker Lance Briggs (Chicago). If, and it's a big if, these players make it to free agency, the Bucs likely will target them as they have approximately $30 million to spend next year.

If I had to say right now, I think the Buccaneers will sign Vikings running back Mewelde Moore in free agency in 2008. Both Michael Bennett and Michael Pittman are scheduled to become free agents next year, and it doesn't seem like the Bucs have been too impressed with Bennett thus far. Pittman could return, but he'll be 33 next year and has battled an ankle injury throughout most of the season.

With Cadillac Williams' knee injury likely lingering into 2008, the Bucs really can't count on having him contribute much next year. That would leave the Bucs with Earnest Graham as their feature running back. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the Bucs would need some depth as Graham is wearing down due to his increased workload.

Moore, 25, has a lot of Pittman-like qualities. He's got excellent hands, evidenced by his 116 receptions for 1,093 yards and three touchdowns in 52 career games. He also runs the ball well, averaging 5.0 yards per carry on 282 attempts.

With Adrian Peterson having a sensational rookie campaign, it doesn't look like there is room left for Moore in Minnesota. Tampa Bay's need for a running back and return specialist, which Moore has experience doing in the NFL, could lure him to the Bucs next year.

Players like Michael Turner (San Diego) and Julius Jones (Dallas) are also scheduled to become free agents, too, but the best fit for what the Bucs do offensively could be Moore, and he could be fairly inexpensive as well.

I'm not sure anyone saw enough playing time from Luke McCown to anoint him Tampa Bay's quarterback of the future. However, it's probably safe to say that everyone feels McCown has a much better chance of becoming the quarterback of the future in Tampa Bay than Bruce Gradkowski.

McCown has completed 69.6 percent of his passes for 588 yards and tossed two touchdowns and one interception in three games this season. Those aren't bad numbers, but McCown clearly has some things he needs to work on, like getting rid of the ball in a timelier manner.

The good news is McCown is only 26 and has started just six career games, two of which have come with Tampa Bay.

With Chris Simms' future up in the air at this point, the Bucs might be satisfied with Jeff Garcia, McCown and Jake Plummer next year, but they're still attempting to get Plummer out of retirement.

11. Scott Reynolds will touch on this more in his SR's Fab Five column, but do Falcons owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay really have a right to complain about Bobby Petrino's decision to resign as head coach with three games remaining in the season to take the head coaching job with Arkansas?

Ironically, it was nearly four years ago to the day when McKay resigned from his general manager post with the Bucs to take a job with the Atlanta Falcons, who just happen to be in the same division as Tampa Bay.

Granted, McKay asked for – and received permission from the Glazers – to leave Tampa Bay, but other than that what's really different about the situation? McKay still left the Bucs during a tough 2003 season. McKay wasn't happy, and obviously neither was Petrino.

It sounds cliché', but sometimes what comes around goes around. Boy, Blank and McKay are learning that the hard way.

12. My wife Jodi and I had the opportunity to accompany Dennis Pfeiffer and his Buc Fan Tours group to Houston last Sunday to watch Tampa Bay unfortunately lose to Houston, 28-14. It was the first Bucs game I haven't had to professionally cover in nearly a decade, and I thoroughly enjoyed it despite the outcome of the contest.

All of the fans that took advantage of the great package Dennis put together were great to talk to and interact with. I could tell these people were some of the most loyal Bucs fans that exist. If you ever want to go to a Bucs away game, I highly recommend Buc Fan Tours.

Speaking of fans, I couldn't help but notice that Houston's Reliant Stadium, which is an immaculate arena and one you must see a football game in during your lifetime, was missing about 20,000 people even though the Texans still are technically alive for a playoff spot.

One can understand that Houston is a huge city and there are lot of other things to do, not to mention the traffic in that city is a real pain in the butt. But the fan support was pretty disappointing in terms of turnout.

To the credit of the 50,000 or so fans that did actually attend last Sunday's game, my hat is off to them. Granted, the roof on Reliant Stadium was closed for the game, but it was deafening at times during the Bucs-Texans contest.

The Texans fans knew when to get on their feet and get loud. They truly gave Houston the homefield advantage and gave Tampa Bay's offense problems in terms of communicating. That was evidenced by the two false start penalties by guard Arron Sears and tackle Jeremy Trueblood, and quarterback Luke McCown's fumble on a shotgun snap from center John Wade.

We've been told by several members of the Buccaneer organization that they are sometimes disappointed in the level of fan participation at Raymond James Stadium in terms of crowd noise.

I've been to several away stadiums for football games, and I can tell you that the people in the Bucs organization have a legitimate gripe. There is a contingency of Bucs fans that get loud on a consistent basis during Bucs home games, but there aren't enough of them.

Sometimes the crowd noise, or lack thereof, at Ray-Jay sounds more like something you'd expect to hear at a slow-pitch softball game, certainly not a professional football game.

The Buccaneers have a chance to win the NFC South division and clinch a playoff spot and home playoff game with a win over the Falcons at Ray-Jay on Sunday. It should be interesting to see if the Bucs fans that attend the game have the same sense of urgency they expect their team to play with on Sunday.

Not that this contains any type of inside scoop or analysis, but I'd like to take this opportunity to recognize some of the people that do a lot of work behind the scenes to make Pewter Report and possible.

Scott Reynolds and I often times receive a lot of the recognition (good and bad), but it's important that our readers and subscribers know that there are other people that help the engine run, including subscriptions manager Kim Roper, contributing writer Charles Gonzalez, director of video operations Jenna Laine, director of photography Cliff Welch and photographer Reinhold Matay, production director Mike Custer, direct marketer Chip Whalen, advertising sales director Shawn Atkins, our web development company, Hunt and Gather, and last, but certainly not least, our fearless leader, president Hugh MacArthur.

Each of these people play an integral role in our business, and Pewter Report simply wouldn't be possible without them. We appreciate all they do and hope you do, too.

Have a safe and wonderful holiday, Bucs fans!

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