Earlier in the week, we took a look at the first half of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers schedule. Today, the second half is in focus. Can the Bucs make it to the playoffs for the first time since 2007?
Week 9: vs. New Orleans Saints
Both teams should have found their identities by now, although it likely will take Tampa Bay slightly longer. I expect these two teams to be battling atop the NFC South all season long so the significance of this game goes without saying. This will be Jameis Winston’s long-awaited return to Tampa, although he will be standing on the sideline with a clipboard. Nothing would make me happier than to see the Bucs beat his new team in a pivotal divisional matchup and that is exactly what I see happening here to split the series.
Week 10: at Carolina Panthers
The Panthers should be a better team here than they were in Week Two in their new system. This Carolina team strikes me as one that will be competitive in a lot of games but are unable to pull them out late. I could see this being one of those games on the road for the Bucs where perhaps it comes down to a late turnover or a game-winning Matt Gay FG
Week 11: vs. Los Angeles Rams
Another prime time spot for the Bucs, their first at home should have them ready to go. The Rams are a unique team this season as they find themselves in arguably the best division in the NFL. With the departure of Todd Gurley, it will be interesting to see how that affects Sean McVay’s game plan if at all. This is the game for me where the completeness of this Tampa team on both sides of the ball is on full display in a fifth straight win.
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Week 12: vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Well, I posed the question earlier if it gets any better than Brady v. Rodgers, but a strong case could be made here for Tom Brady v. Patrick Mahomes and his new half a billion(!) dollar contract. The Bucs come in red hot and I would expect the reigning Super Bowl champs to be rolling by now as well. This should be a back and forth affair where Tampa Bay shows they are legit contenders who can play with the best. However, I think it will come down to the final possession or even play that goes KC’s way. How about a rematch come February?
Week 14: vs. Minnesota Vikings
Following a much needed and well-deserved bye week, the Bucs host another tough opponent in the Vikings. This roster once again should be among the NFL’s elite, even with the loss of Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhoades and the uncertainty surrounding Dalvin Cook. The Brady bunch should get another nice test from Mike Zimmer’s defense which should demand some balance from the Buccaneer offense. My guess is they find that and get another strong win in front of the Buc fans against a likely playoff time in Minnesota.
Week 15: at Atlanta Falcons
It’s not very often you don’t play a divisional rival until week 15 but that’s the case this season for the Bucs and Falcons. Atlanta’s big move off the offseason was the acquisition of Todd Gurley who will replace Devonta Freeman. This offense led once again by Matt Ryan should have some firepower that could cause Todd Bowles fits. The loss of Austin Hooper should hurt, but Julio Jones has been known for big games against the Bucs. The guy to watch for me is Calvin Ridley who could have a similar season to Chris Godwin’s a season ago. I like the home team Falcons to beat the Bucs in these two teams’ first matchup.
Week 16: at Detroit Lions
Back to back road games for the Bucs against two teams who may not have the best records, but both should be able to score some points on a weekly basis. I expect a similar situation in Detroit with Matthew Stafford and this Lion offense. Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones form a legit receiving tandem as do Kerryon Johnson and rookie Deandre Swift in the backfield. If TJ Hockenson has a breakout year like many think he can, watch out for this offense. With all of that said, I think Brady finds a way to pull this one out to avoid back to back defeats and the Bucs get to double-digit wins for the first time in a long time.
Week 17: vs. Atlanta Falcons
After not seeing each other the first fourteen weeks of the year, the Bucs and Falcons see each other for the second time in three weeks to close the season. This should be another game where points are aplenty, but I expect Todd Bowles to have made some adjustments from there loss two weeks ago. The Bucs season ended on a pick-six a year ago, it wouldn’t shock me if they punch their postseason ticket with one of their own off of “Matty Ice”.