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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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: email@example.com
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