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FAB 3. Ranking The Bucs’ 2017 Opponents

It’s a split decision when it comes to how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will fare in 2017 following a 9-7 season last year. The Bucs have gotten more respect and notoriety this offseason following another very good draft and a solid free agency haul, highlighted by wide receiver DeSean Jackson and defensive tackle Chris Baker.

Tampa Bay has become the media darling by some outlets, including NFL.com, which has the Bucs ranked as the ninth best team following free agency and the draft. Most in the media, including PewterReport.com, expect the Bucs to make the playoffs in 2017, ending an eight-year postseason drought, and even a couple of writers have predicted Tampa Bay going to the Super Bowl.

Yet some of the wise guys and odds makers in Las Vegas and elsewhere, including Bovada, have the Bucs’ over/under at 8.5 wins – a step back from last season’s nine-win campaign.

Injuries, untimely turnovers and missed kicks can spell doom for the best of NFL teams, and allow the worst teams in pro football to register upsets that live up to the game’s “on any given Sunday” mantra.

While PewterReport.com won’t make its official predictions for the Bucs’ 2017 season until after the preseason in early September, here’s a look at Tampa Bay’s upcoming opponents, which could give some insight into how many victories the Bucs could register. I’ve ranked all 13 of the opponents Tampa Bay will face in order from toughest to easiest (if there is such a thing in the NFL).

Ultra Tough Games For The Bucs

Patriots QB Tom Brady - Photo by: Getty Images

Patriots QB Tom Brady – Photo by: Getty Images

1. New England Patriots – Week 5 at Tampa Bay
The fact that the Bucs get this game at home on a short week means they actually have a chance of upsetting the defending Super Bowl champions. Facing Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro is a tall order for any seasoned playoff-caliber team, and the Bucs aren’t quite there yet, so it’s fortunate that this game will be played at Raymond James Stadium. The fact that it’s on Thursday Night Football in prime time wearing Color Rush jerseys might energize the Bucs and the hometown crowd, but Tampa Bay was embarrassed at home by Atlanta last year, 43-28, under similar circumstances. Playing an improved Patriots team, which re-signed linebacker Dont’a Hightower signed cornerback Stephon Gilmore, tight end Dwayne Allen and linebacker David Harris, and traded for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, will be the Bucs’ tallest order this year.

2. Green Bay Packers – Week 13 at Green Bay
As if playing Aaron Rodgers and the Packers isn’t hard enough, doing so in Green Bay in December – when the weather will be dramatically different than it is Tampa Bay – will be the ultimate challenge. The Packers were quiet in free agency, but helped their defense in the draft with defensive backs Kevin King and Josh Jones, and their front seven with defensive tackle Montravius Adams and linebacker Vince Beigel. Green Bay also added three running backs in Jamaal Williams, Aaron Jones and Devante Mayes in the draft. The Packers were one of the hottest teams in the league last year, winning eight games at the end of last year before losing to the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.

3. Atlanta Falcons – Week 12 at Atlanta, Week 15 at Tampa Bay
Three things make the Falcons a very difficult and dangerous opponent: the fact that the team won the NFC South and made it to the Super Bowl LI; quarterback Matt Ryan coming off an MVP season; and the fact that the Bucs play Atlanta twice a year as division rivals. The Falcons re-signed cornerback Desmond Trufant to a five-year extension, and the team had another defensive-minded draft, featuring defensive end Takkarist McKinley and linebacker Duke Riley. The Bucs scored an upset at Atlanta in Week 1, but got trounced at home on Thursday Night Football. Will the Falcons have a Super Bowl hangover after blowing a 28-3 lead? And how quickly will Atlanta pick up the schemes of new coordinators Steve Sarkisian and Marquand Manuel?

4. New York Giants – Week 4 at Tampa Bay
Eli Manning always makes the Giants formidable, especially coming off an 11-5 season. Free agent Brandon Marshall is an upgrade over wide receiver Victor Cruz, who was released this offseason. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was re-signed to a four-year deal in March, and the Giants also added offensive tackle D.J. Fluker. Tight end Evan Engram and running back Wayne Gallman were added in the draft to give Manning even more weapons outside of Odell Beckham, Jr. New York is a veteran team that knows how to win. The Giants were 5-1 in games decided by four points or less last year. Having this game at Raymond James Stadium helps the Bucs.

Challenging Contests For Tampa Bay

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald - Photo by: Getty Images

Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald – Photo by: Getty Images

5. Arizona Cardinals – Week 6 at Arizona
The Cardinals destroyed the Bucs in Arizona last year, 40-7, in Week 2 that helped them finish 7-9. Tampa Bay will be looking for some payback when it travels to Arizona again, but after a nine-day break following the Patriots game, which should help. The Cardinals had a big offseason, re-signing linebacker Chandler Jones and Karlos Dansby and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker, and added safety Antoine Bethea and linebacker Jarvis Jones in free agency, and linebacker Hasson Reddick and safety Budda Baker in the draft to help the defense. Tight end Jermaine Gresham was re-signed to help Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense, which features legendary wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and dominant running back David Johnson. After a disappointing 2016 campaign, Arizona is primed to bounce back in 2017.

6. Miami Dolphins – Week 1 at Miami
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is on the mend after a partial tear of his ACL late last season, and received some good news with the re-signing of speedster Kenny Stills to go along with running back Jay Ajayi, who had a breakthrough season in 2016. The re-signing of linebacker Kiko Alonso and defensive end Cameron Wake this offseason helps a defense that let go of defensive ends Mario Williams and Dion Jordan, and defensive tackle Earl Mitchell. The Dolphins shored up their defense with the addition of defensive end Charles Harris, linebacker Raekwon McMillan, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and defensive tackles Davon Godchaux and Vincent Taylor. The Bucs will have a formidable foe on their hands to start the 2017 season in Miami, which won 10 games a year ago and made the playoffs.

7. Detroit Lions – Week 14 at Tampa Bay
The Lions started the 2016 season with a 9-4 record, but a three-game skid at the end showed up in a Wild Card playoff loss at Seattle. Detroit has one of the best quarterbacks in the game in Matthew Stafford, who has some capable weapons in receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, in addition to tight end Eric Ebron. The team added some beef upfront along the offensive line by signing tackles Ricky Wagner and Cyrus Kouandjio and guard T.J. Lang, in addition trading for Greg Robinson. The Lions had a defensive-minded draft with linebackers Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin and cornerback Teez Tabor, but failed to address their underwhelming ground game. That could play in Tampa Bay’s hands if the Bucs’ pass rush improves and the secondary continues to pick off passes.

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Getty Images

Bucs WR Mike Evans – Photo by: Getty Images

8. New Orleans Saints – Week 8 at New Orleans, Week 17 at Tampa Bay
The Saints are trying to break out of a three-year cycle in which they have gone 7-9. The big news this offseason in New Orleans was the signing of running back Adrian Peterson to a backfield that already consists of 1,000-yard rusher Mark Ingram, who averaged 5.1 yards per carry last year. Throw in pass-catching running back Alvin Kamara and the Saints offense, which is led by Drew Brees, remains loaded despite trading away speedy receiver Brandin Cooks. Michael Thomas is coming off a 1,000-yard rookie season, and the Saints offensive line was beefed up with the acquisition of tackle Ryan Ramczyk. However, New Orleams’ shaky defense received a blow when defensive tackle Nick Fairly was placed on the non-football injury list with a heart condition that could jeopardize his career. The Saints secondary, which only recorded six interceptions, did receive a boost in the draft with the selection of cornerback Marshon Lattimore and safety Marcus Williams, while the pass rush was aided with the drafting of defensive end Trey Hendrickson. With Brees, New Orleans is still a tough team to beat, evidenced by the fact that the Bucs and Saints split their series last year. Look for that to happen again.

9. Carolina Panthers – Week 8 at Tampa Bay, Week 16 at Carolina
After a disastrous 1-5 start that began with a crushing, last-minute loss in the Super Bowl XL rematch with Denver, the Panthers never got on track en route to a 6-10 finish. Carolina’s offensive line was in disarray after Michael Oher’s concussion, which put his 2017 season in jeopardy, and the defense missed linebacker Luke Kuechly, who missed the last six games of the year with a concussion. While Greg Olsen and Kelvin Benjamin proved to be big-play targets for the Panthers, Devin Funchess and Cam Newton were disappointments. Newton, the 2016 NFL MVP, threw 19 touchdowns and 14 interceptions and completed just 52.9 percent of his throws. Will draft pick Taylor Moton help the offensive tackle position, while running back Christian McCaffery and wide receiver Chris Samuel add speed to the weapons Newton has to throw to? The Panthers cornerback situation remains dire, and while the team re-signed defensive end Mario Addison and defensive tackle Kawann Short to contract extensions, the team also re-signed aging edge rushers Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson, who may not have much left in the tank. The Bucs swept the Panthers last year in two close games, and could do so again this season.

Winnable Games For The Bucs

10. Minnesota Vikings – Week 3 at Minnesota
The Sam Bradford trade worked out as the Vikings started off the season with five straight wins – even without Peterson, who was injured and missed most of the season. But Minnesota finished the season 3-8 with its final two wins against lowly Jacksonville and Chicago. Rookie Dalvin Cook, the team’s first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, will attempt to give the Vikings offense the balance it lacked last year as the Vikings scored only six rushing touchdowns last year. Latavius Murray was signed in free agency to provide a veteran presence in the backfield. Minnesota’s defense was bolstered with the signing of cornerback Terence Newman, and the drafting of defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson. The Vikings are beatable and the scariest part of this contest for the Buccaneers is that the game is being played in Minnesota’s new stadium, which figures to make for a loud environment.

11. Buffalo Bills – Week 7 at Buffalo
The Bills have a new head coach in former Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott, who has lots of familiarity with the Buccaneers. But the Bills aren’t a very talented team, especially on defense where Buffalo allowed 27.5 points per game over the final 10 games in which the team went 3-7. Cornerback Tre’Davious White was drafted in the first round to help a secondary that only recorded 10 interceptions with five of them coming from cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who left for New England in free agency along with running back Mike Gillislee. Outside of star running back LeSean McCoy, the offense lacks the firepower necessary for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who was re-signed in the offseason, to shine. Leading receiver Robert Woods signed with the Los Angeles Rams in free agency. Stop McCoy and the Bucs can stop the Bills up in Buffalo and claim a win there for the first time in franchise history.

Bucs QB Jameis Winston - Photo by Cliff Welch/PR

Bucs QB Jameis Winston – Photo by Cliff Welch/PR

12. Chicago Bears – Week 2 at Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay trounced Chicago last year at Raymond James Stadium, 36-10, and figures to do the same in the 2017 home opener in Week 2. After cutting long-time starter Jay Cutler, the Bucs will face former backup quarterback Mike Glennon, who will have two rookie weapons in tight end Adam Shaheen and running back Tarik Cohen at his disposal. The Bears traded up to get quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick, but he won’t likely be the starter by Week 2. Outside of running back Jordan Howard, there isn’t much firepower on offense, especially with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery moving on to Philadelphia. Chicago’s defense is even worse, registering only 11 takeaways last year (eight interceptions, three fumble recoveries). If the Bucs don’t beat the Bears in their home opener it could be a long season.

13. New York Jets – Week 10 at Tampa Bay
The fact that the Jets are on the Bucs’ schedule certainly ensures that Tampa Bay won’t go winless in 2017. After going 5-11 last year, New York actually got worse in the offseason with head coach Todd Bowles firing half of his coaching staff and seeing offensive coordinator Chan Gailey retire. The Jets cut several notable veterans, including quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, center Nick Mangold, tackle Breno Giacomini, kicker Nick Folk, cornerback Darrelle Revis, wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker and linebacker David Harris. NFL retread Josh McCown takes over at quarterback with Bilal Powell and an aging Matt Forte at running back. The Jets defense got worse with the exception of safety where the team drafted Jamaal Adams and Marcus Maye in the first two rounds. The Bucs get the Jets in November before the bye week and should get a home victory before a much needed week off.

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About the Author: Scott Reynolds

Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: sr@pewterreport.com
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sunshineben
4 years ago

Why is Mr.Wilder name NOT listed with the other greats in stadium? He is most deserving of the honor!

Horse
Reply to  sunshineben
4 years ago

Been saying that for years.

Horse
4 years ago

I’m comfortable our Offense has improved by moving Marpet to Center, obtaining Desean Jackson, drafting Howard and Goodwin. I’m not sure we have improved on Defense enough to compensate for the offensive teams wewe’re going against. Scott Pewter Report, no question the Interior DL has improved, but where’s the proof the DE’s are better and the Safety positions have improved?

a-bomb
4 years ago

James Wilder was “the” Bucs offense in the mid 80s. He was every bit the running back of Eric Dickerson and a better team player. If he had played for a team with a winning tradition he would have been a national icon. It is an embarrassment to the legacy of this team that he is not in the Ring of Honor.

martinii
4 years ago

I’ll never forget that Jets game, unbelievable. I worked for Barnett Bank in those days and had taken some clients to the Barnett Skybox. We sat, stunned as the Buc’s let New York score unchallenged in order to get the ball back in Wilders hands with less than a minute to go. Then when he fell short of Dickerson’s record we were really pissed. I think everyone from both teams was mad. Never saw a game like that before, hope to never see another one in the future, but sure glad I didn’t miss that small piece of football history.

niko521
Reply to  martinii
4 years ago

call me crazy, but I think what Gruden did at the end of the Steelers game was worse. Maybe not, IDK, but at best its a dead even tie. In case anyone doesnt know/remember, Bucs went into Pittsburgh near end of 2006 with a terrible record and the Bruce Gradkowski experiment a near failure. But Pitt,PA was a homecoming for him. Not really his fault the game was blowout, M. Clayton dropped a SURE TD pass, but in the end,Bucs only good drive was last drive of the game, down 20-0. 3rd n goal, incomplete, time for one more throw… Read more »

surferdudes
4 years ago

Brantley would’ve been fined, and suspended for that hit today.

chetthevette
4 years ago

1984… what an ominous year. I remember sitting in the stands, baking my brains out at the old Sombrero. Wilder right. Wilde left. Wilder up the middle. ALL DAY LONG. ALL SEASON LONG. Right, left, middle. And they still had trouble stopping the Wild Man. Every defense knew it was coming, but he racked up 2000 total yards. I always thought that was one of the best seasons by a running back ever. That running game for the BUCS was transparent as hell and still potent. Of course Barry Sanders did that every year he ever played. Jim Brown and… Read more »

Horse
Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

Who was the RG then; was his first name Sean?

scubog
Reply to  Horse
4 years ago

You’re thinking of Sean Farrell from Penn State who replaced Greg Roberts at RG. Remember, he was actually drafted by mistake since the team wanted to draft Booker Reese in the first round.

Horse
Reply to  scubog
4 years ago

Thanks Scubog,. Your memory sure is a lot better than mine. I forgot all about the event.

chetthevette
Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

Glad scubog is on the ball. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast.
Oh yeah, oatmeal.
Wish I still had teeth.
GO BUCS

niko521
Reply to  chetthevette
4 years ago

…and every 2 minutes the loudspeaker ” Baby we were born to run” springsteen

jb™
4 years ago

Scott, call me crazy, but I’m positive Ricky Bell ran for over 1200 yards in 1979 and topped it off with over 14 yards in our first playoff game ever.

jb™
4 years ago

over 140 yards against Dick Vermeil & the Eagles.

scubog
Reply to  johnnybuc1
4 years ago

Ricky Bell ran for 1263 yards in 1979 then rushed for 142 yards and 2 TD’s in that great win over the shocked Eagles. A lot of dust in that memory bank.

drdneast
4 years ago

Why Wilder’s name isn’t on that eall while Doug Wiliams’ is befuddles me.
Williams doesnt even consider himseld a Buc, he considers himself a Redskin.
Your memory is perfect Scubog. Favorite story about the reknowned Booket Reeseduts when someone asked him why he wasnt getting in the hot tub for rehab. He told the other player another player had told him not to get in it unless a life guard was on duty.

niko521
Reply to  drdneast
4 years ago

IF the Bucs did to you (TwiCe) what they did to Williams, how do you think you’d feel? Give me a break. And Ive talked to Doug Williams many times, he loved it here… but the Bucs took a dodo on him twice, so I don’t blame him. and were talking wall of fame, Doug Williams LED the Bucs from 5-11 to 4 of 6 playoff years, and hasn’t been replaced since, until finally two years ago. What were seeing with Jameis, is exactly the way the Bucs as a team were around Doug. I hate seeing him as a… Read more »

niko521
4 years ago

for starters, Videos courtesy of Bucstop.com’s video vault who donated them for Free to Bucpower.com including some very rare masters. 2ndly, While I loved the days of Wilder, sadly, he was only a factor for 2.5 years. Sure he played from 81-89, but truth is he was worn down by the 1986 season, a shell of himself. 3rd the thing that was so special about James Wilder, was how much of the offense he was. In 1984 his first year as full time starter, he caught 25% of the passes received! 1/4 of the catches, and he was a running… Read more »

bueller
4 years ago

Wilder is the best Bucs RB of all time. If he had played for Bill Walsh or a better team he would be Hall of Fame.

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