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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers produced an impressive 5-1 record in its first six regular season games. But now that the bye week has ended, the Bucs are looking ahead to the second half of their season, which appears to be much tougher than the first.

Tampa Bay’s first six opponents have a combined record of 13-25. In fact, the Bucs have yet to face a team that currently has a winning record.

But that changes over the second part of Tampa Bay’s season, where the Bucs are scheduled play teams that currently have a combined record of 22-22 (only counts Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans once even though Tampa Bay is scheduled to play each of those teams twice).

Five of Tampa Bay’s final 10 regular season games are against teams that currently have winning records, and two clubs are .500.

To put that number in perspective, four of Atlanta’s remaining nine opponents, four of New Orleans’ nine remaining opponents and five of Carolina’s 10 remaining opponents have winning records.

With six of Tampa Bay’s remaining contests against Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, the Bucs control their destiny in terms of winning the NFC South division.

How realistic will it be for the Bucs to accomplish that feat? Take a look at the remaining schedule for the Bucs, Falcons, Panthers and Saints, and decide for yourself.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-1 record)
at San Francisco 1-5
Carolina 4-2
Washington 4-2
at Atlanta 5-2
Chicago 3-3
at New Orleans 2-5
at Carolina 4-2
at New England 3-3
Atlanta 5-2
New Orleans 2-5
Combined Record Of Upcoming Opponents: 22-22
Forecast: With a win this Sunday vs. the 49ers, home wins vs. the Bears, Panthers and Falcons, and a sweep of the Saints, the Bucs go 6-4 down the stretch, including 1-3 during their three-week road trip to New Orleans, Carolina and New England. An 11-5 record will probably be enough to get Tampa Bay into the playoffs in the tough NFC, but it probably won’t be enough to win the NFC South division because of Atlanta’s fairly easy remainin schedule. If they are to win the NFC South, the Bucs might have to sweep the Panthers and find a way to beat the red-hot Redskins at Raymond James Stadium.

Atlanta Falcons (5-2 record)
Bye
at Miami 2-4
Green Bay 1-5
Tampa Bay 5-1
at Detroit 3-3
at Carolina 4-2
New Orleans 2-5
at Chicago 3-3
at Tampa Bay 5-1
Carolina 4-2
Combined Record Of Upcoming Opponents: 20-23
Forecast: Atlanta got the tough part of its schedule out of the way early, and the bad news for Tampa Bay is it produced a 5-2 record in the process. While Atlanta could lose in Chicago, the teams that stand the best chance of downing the Falcons are Carolina and Tampa Bay, and both teams must defeat the Dirty Birds at home since the Georgia Dome has proven to be a tough place for opponents to play. A 7-2 record down the stretch would give Atlanta a 12-4 record, which will likely be good enough to win the NFC South division for the second consecutive year.

Carolina Panthers (4-2 record)
Minnesota 2-4
at Tampa Bay 5-1
New York Jets 2-5
at Chicago 3-3
at Buffalo 3-4
Atlanta 4-2
Tampa Bay 5-1
at New Orleans 2-5
Dallas 4-3
at Atlanta 4-2

Combined Record Of Upcoming Opponents: 25-27
Forecast: Carolina stands a good chance of going 7-3 in its final 10 regular season games, but the Panthers could slip up in either Chicago or Buffalo, which would give them a 6-4 outing and a 10-6 record overall. The Panthers’ three other losses will likely come in their final four regular season contests, two of which are vs. divisional opponents. Carolina has swept Tampa Bay two consecutive seasons, but it’s the Bucs who must sweep the Panthers in order to avoid a tiebreaker situation and put themselves in position to win the NFC South division title.

New Orleans Saints (2-5 record)
Miami 2-4
Chicago 3-3
Bye
at New England 3-3
at New York Jets 2-5
Tampa Bay 5-1
at Atlanta 4-2
Carolina 4-2
Detroit 3-3
at Tampa Bay 5-1
Combined Record Of Upcoming Opponents: 26-23
Forecast: From Mother Nature to the officiating crews, New Orleans just can’t seem to catch a break, so what makes think the Saints’ luck will change for the better over the next nine games? Not much. Pride might keep them competitive, but the Saints will probably still go 1-8 down the stretch, which would give them a 3-13 overall record and a top five pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.

2005 NFC South Division Forecast
1. Atlanta 12-4
2. Tampa Bay 11-5
3. Carolina 10-6
4. New Orleans 3-13
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