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Some questioned whether the 9-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a legitimate playoff contender earlier in the season due to some of their opponents’ records, and rightfully so. The Bucs only faced one team (1-0 Buffalo) that had a winning record until Week 9 of the 2005 regular season.

But things have changed since the Bucs faced some of the teams that had .500 or losing records when they beat them earlier in the year.

The Minnesota Vikings, for example, started the season with a 2-5 record, and their first loss of the season came to the Bucs, who defeated them, 24-13, in Week 1. However, the Vikings have won six of their last seven games and compiled a record of 8-6 while competing for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs.

The Miami Dolphins, whom Tampa Bay defeated in Week 6 by a score of 27-13, started the season off with a 3-7 record. They’ve since won four straight games and are 7-7 on the year.

Sure, Tampa Bay won a few games vs. suspect opponents, including Buffalo (4-10), Detroit (4-10), Green Bay (3-10) and New Orleans (3-11), but it also downed the likes of Carolina (10-4), Atlanta (8-6), Washington (8-6) and Minnesota (8-6), all of whom are competing for playoffs spots.

While pundits are still scratching their heads wondering how in the world Tampa Bay lost on the road to the 3-11 New York Jets and 2-12 San Francisco 49ers, no one should forget to point out the fact that the Bucs’ three other losses this season came to Chicago (10-4), Carolina (10-4) and New England (9-5), all of which are teams that will likely secure playoff spots and win their respective divisions.

The Bucs’ 2005 regular season opponents have a combined record of 79-102, but that record doesn’t take into account the fact that they’ve faced Carolina twice and will play Atlanta for the second time this season on Saturday. Both teams have a combined record of 18-10. Plus, the combined records (5-23) of two teams – the 49ers and Jets – has somewhat inflated the loss column for the Bucs’ opponents this season.

Seven of Tampa Bay’s 12 regular season opponents have a .500 record or better this season. So looking back on it, it’s pretty easy to see that the Bucs haven’t necessarily played an easy schedule this year, which means they will have earned whatever credit and respect they deserve for producing a 9-5 record thus far.

A Look Ahead To 2006
Tampa Bay’s 2005 regular season schedule looks like a picnic compared to its 2006 opponents.

The Bucs will host Atlanta (8-6), Carolina (10-4), New Orleans (3-11), Baltimore (4-9), Cincinnati (11-3), Philadelphia (6-8) and Washington (8-6). The only home opponent that has yet to be determined is the NFC West team that will be on Tampa Bay’s ’06 schedule. If the season ended today, St. Louis (5-9) would visit Tampa Bay next year. Tampa Bay’s ’06 home opponents have a combined record of 55-56 this season.

Tampa Bay’s ’06 away schedule appears to be brutal. Its away opponents have produced a combined record of 61-51 this season. The Bucs’ ’06 away schedule features games at Atlanta (8-6), Carolina (10-4), New Orleans (3-11), Cleveland (5-9), Dallas (8-6), Pittsburgh (9-5) and the New York Giants (10-4). The only away opponent that has yet to be determined is the NFC North team that will be on Tampa Bay’s ’06 schedule. If the season ended today, the Bucs would visit Minnesota to take on the Vikings (8-6) next year.


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