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Only three teams in the history of the NFL have ever started a season off 0-3 and still made the playoffs.

The 0-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are attempting to become the fourth.

Most critics have already written off the Bucs for obvious reasons, especially with their remaining regular season schedule, which is tough.

But as this Pewter Insider article will illustrate, the Bucs aren’t the only ones with a difficult schedule, and those tough opponents might help the Bucs dig out of a deep hole and gain ground in the NFC South division.

The Bucs have lost their first three regular season games to the Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, who have a combined record of 9-3. Things won’t get any easier for the Bucs, who visit the 3-1 New Orleans Saints this Sunday and host the 3-1 Cincinnati Bengals and the 3-1 Philadelphia Eagles the following two weeks.

In fact, Tampa Bay’s remaining schedule is against opponents who have a combined record of 31-18 this season. Most people don’t like the Bucs’ chances of righting the ship with rookie quarterback Bruce Gradkowski leading the offense. However, if Gradkowski can play well and avoid turnovers, and Cadillac Williams and Tampa Bay’s defense return to form, the Bucs believe they can survive what appears to be a brutal schedule. Take a look for yourself.

TAMPA BAY’S REMAINING SCHEDULE
at New Orleans (3-1)
Cincinnati (3-1)
Philadelphia (3-1)
at New York Giants (1-2)
New Orleans (3-1)
at Carolina (2-2)
Washington (2-2)
Dallas (2-1)
at Pittsburgh (1-2)
Atlanta (3-1)
at Chicago (4-0)
at Cleveland (1-3)
Seattle (3-1)

You can look at Tampa Bay’s remaining schedule two different ways. Pessimists will look at the Bucs’ remaining 13 games and try to figure out how the team is going to avoid going 0-16 this season. But there is still optimism in the Tampa Bay locker room. The Bucs see opportunity in its remaining schedule, especially when it has four remaining contests against division opponents, including two contests vs. the Saints. That means the Bucs have the opportunity to gain some ground in the division with wins against division rivals like the Saints, Falcons and Panthers.

Tampa Bay’s schedule might seem unfair, especially in November when the Bucs are scheduled to play three games in 11 days. But if the Bucs can somehow string together a winning streak over their next three regular season contests against the Saints, Bengals and Eagles, respectively, they could find themselves right back in the NFC South division race since their division opponents will face some similar challenges in terms of upcoming opponents. A win in New Orleans is a must, however.

The 3-1 Atlanta Falcons appear to have a favorable schedule over the next several games, facing opponents that have a combined record of 22-22. But the second half of Atlanta’s schedule is tough, which means the Falcons could be at risk of having a second-half collapse just as they did in 2005 when the Falcons lost six of their last eight games.

ATLANTA’S UPCOMING SCHEDULE
Bye
New York Giants (1-2)
Pittsburgh (1-2)
at Cincinnati (3-1)
at Detroit (0-4)
Cleveland (1-3)
at Baltimore (4-0)
New Orleans (3-1)
at Washington (2-2)
at Tampa Bay (0-3)
Dallas (2-1)
Carolina (2-2)
at Philadelphia (3-1)

The Panthers have battled back from a 0-2 start to get to the .500 mark, but their schedule gets quite difficult after their game vs. the Cleveland Browns this week. Carolina will face opponents that have a combined record of 25-18 over the final 13 games of the season.

CAROLINA’S REMAINING SCHEDULE
Cleveland (0-3)
at Baltimore (4-0)
Cincinnati (3-1)
Dallas (2-1)
Bye
Tampa Bay (0-3)
St. Louis (3-1)
at Washington (2-2)
Philadelphia (3-1)
New York Giants (1-2)
Pittsburgh (1-2)
at Atlanta (3-1)
at New Orleans (3-1)

Some have questioned the strength of New Orleans’ opponents thus far, but if the 3-1 Saints manage to win the NFC South division they will have earned it judging by their remaining schedule, which features games against opponents that have combined for a record of 22-21.

NEW ORLEANS’ REMAINING SCHEDULE
Tampa Bay (0-3)
Philadelphia (3-1)
Bye
Baltimore (4-0)
at Tampa Bay (0-3)
at Pittsburgh (1-2)
Cincinnati (3-1)
at Atlanta (3-1)
San Francisco (1-3)
Dallas (2-1)
Washington (2-2)
at New York Giants (1-2)
Carolina (2-2)

Judging by their 0-3 record and remaining schedule, the Bucs are in a big hole. If they can find a way to defeat the Saints on the road, and Bengals and Eagles at home over the next three games they could make some serious ground as the rest of the NFC South teams have difficult schedules ahead of them as well.

Since the NFC South was formed in 2002, the division winners had 11-5 regular season records in each of the years except for one, which was the ’02 season when the Bucs put together a 12-4 record.

But given how competitive the NFC South division is, and how difficult each of the teams’ remaining schedules are, that will likely change this season.

The winner of the NFC South division title this year could have as few as nine regular season wins. If that is indeed the case and the winner of the NFC South produced a 9-7 record, the Bucs would have to go 9-4 in their final 13 games. Even if 10-6 was the record needed to win the division, the Bucs would have to win 10 of their final 13 games, but what helps them is the fact that they play the Saints twice and the Falcons and Panthers once during that 13-game stretch.

They might be a long shot to make the playoffs, but there’s good reason why the winless Bucs aren’t pressing the panic button just yet. They realize that they will have the opportunity to gain some serious ground in a hurry in the NFC South division as long as they can just string a few wins together. A win in New Orleans could go a long way for Tampa Bay in terms of gaining confidence and momentum. A loss, however, might make the hole the Bucs are in too deep to climb out of.

 


 

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