The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have legitimate reasons to be optimistic about their future. They went 9-7 and were one win away from making the postseason for the first time since 2007. Jameis Winston and Mike Evans look like keepers on offense and they have an underrated defense consisting of Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and the possible defensive rookie of the year in Kwon Alexander. With teams like Green Bay, New England, New Orleans and the New York Giants on the schedule and an intriguing character in Winston, they could be on prime time television frequently in 2017.
Previewing the 2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule
Atlanta Falcons (Home and Away)
The Falcons won the NFC South and made the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They are one of four new teams to make the NFC playoffs that didn’t make it last year. Coincidentally, the coach of that team was Mike Smith, who is now the Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator. Along with winning the Super Bowl, the Falcons could earn three postseason awards. Matt Ryan could be the NFL’s MVP, Dan Quinn could be the coach of the year and Vic Beasley could be the defensive player of the year. The Buccaneers split the series by winning in the Georgia Dome and losing at home. The major change for the Falcons in ’17 will be a new stadium.
New Orleans Saints (Home and Away)
The Saints finished 2016 with their third consecutive 7-9 season and they haven’t made the postseason since 2013. Sean Payton will never be fired and rightly so for uniting a sports team and a fan base in an unprecedented way. However, many rumors are swirling that Payton could get a job coaching a team like the Los Angeles Rams or the Indianapolis Colts. It’s strange to imagine Payton coaching anywhere else, but at the right price anything could happen. Unless it’s New England or Green Bay, Payton will not find a better quarterback than Drew Brees, who surpassed 5,000 passing yards for the fifth time in his career. The Buccaneers beat the Saints at home in the first game and they occupied a wild card spot and it looked like they were going to the postseason. They went to the Superdome two weeks later and lost and were essentially eliminated. As long as Payton and Brees are with the Saints, they are still the scariest team in the NFC South. The Buccaneers and the Saints are the only two teams in the division to win a Super Bowl.
Carolina Panthers (Home and Away)
Contrary to the 2015 season, which saw them go 15-1 and reach the Super Bowl, the Panthers could not gain the same kind of traction in ’16. They will not win the Super Bowl, they didn’t make the postseason, they finished with a losing record at 6-10 and they finished in last place in the NFC South. Cam Newton won the MVP in ’15 but he seemed to have a pass rusher in his face all season. He missed Monday Night Football when Derek Anderson was the quarterback. The Buccaneers took advantage and won the game. They also won the last game of the season to go 2-0 against the Panthers. The Panthers are an inconsistent team and how they perform will determine whether the Buccaneers make the postseason or miss it in ’17.
New York Giants (Home)
The Giants are in the playoffs for the first time since they won the Super Bowl in 2011. They are a wild card team and they have to play their first game on the road against the Green Bay Packers, but they look like a team that is gelling at the right time. It would not be surprising to see them win the Super Bowl. Tom Coughlin is not the coach, but Ben McAdoo is more suited to this team that relies on Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. They have the best defense in the postseason and the player who should be the defensive player of the year in Landon Collins. Manning and Beckham have the kind of chemistry that Winston and Evans are beginning to develop.
Arizona Cardinals (Away)
The Cardinals may have reached their peak in ’15 when they got blown out in the NFC Championship. They finished this season 7-8-1 after three straight winning seasons. This is one team that could be completely different next year with Bruce Arians having a few health issues. Carson Palmer looks like an old 37 and Larry Fitzgerald could also retire after his fourth season of at least 100 catches. One player who won’t leave is David Johnson, who was the best player in the NFL that nobody watched. He led the league in rushing and receiving touchdowns and yards from scrimmage. Johnson is a better player than any that the Buccaneers currently have.
Green Bay Packers (Away)
The Buccaneers go to legendary Lambeau Field to face the Packers. It will be Winston’s first chance to play against Aaron Rodgers and his first trip to Lambeau Field. The Packers should still have Mike McCarthy as their head coach after the Packers were 4-6 in late November and then reeled off six straight wins to win the NFC North. They have been in the postseason eight straight times. It’s the Packers’ longest streak of making the playoffs. They are playing for their second Super Bowl in the Rodgers’ era.
Detroit Lions (Home)
The Lions have made the postseason for the second time in three years under Jim Caldwell. The last time it happened it was one year after Barry Sanders retired. Ironically this time it is one year after Calvin Johnson retired. The Lions’ offense did seem to suffer without Megatron, but it did enough. They have a realistic chance to upset the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card round. The Lions should improve next season and the Buccaneers could be one of the teams they challenge for a playoff spot. This feels like the game that will determine if the Buccaneers make the postseason or not.
Minnesota Vikings (Away)
Minneapolis is the home of Super Bowl LII. The Vikings were one of the more confusing teams. They lost Teddy Bridgewater to an ACL injury and then traded for Sam Bradford. Then they lost Adrian Peterson after two games but still started the season 5-0. Peterson didn’t play again until week 15 and the Vikings finished the season on a 3-8 slide. The Vikings will have to decide if Bridgewater or Bradford is their quarterback, if Peterson has anything left and if Mike Zimmer is the right coach. The Buccaneers appear to be coming together while the Vikings could be falling apart.
Chicago Bears (Home)
The Bears aren’t used to 3-13. The last time the Bears won three games in a season was the abbreviated season of 1982. Jay Cutler likely won’t be back and John Fox might not be back either although it was just his second season. They do have a running back who is already one of the five best in the NFL in Jordan Howard. He piled 1,313 rushing yards in 15 games, which wound up second best. At first glance the Buccaneers should be a better team, but adding somebody like Tony Romo to Chicago could change that.
New England Patriots (Home)
The Patriots finished 14-2 for the fourth time under Bill Belichick. They have won the Super Bowl twice when they win 14 games. It was a vintage season for the Patriots. Tom Brady missed four games and Rob Gronkowski missed eight games. However, this team resembles the ones with Ty Law and Lawyer Milloy. They run the ball with physicality and play controlled defense. The only change that will matter for the Patriots in ’17 is if Brady or Belichick walk away. It will be Winston’s first game against Brady and Belichick. The last time the Patriots played in Tampa Bay was 2009.
Miami Dolphins (Away)
The Buccaneers travel to South Beach for bragging rights. The two teams have played 10 times and the series is even at five wins. However, the Dolphins are 3-1 when the Buccaneers play in Miami. This could be one of the most anticipated games. The Buccaneers and Dolphins have combined for four playoff appearances in the last 13 seasons. The last time they had a winning record in the same season was 2008. Both teams could be relevant for a long time as they have young offensive building blocks in Winston and Evans for the Buccaneers and Jay Ajayi for the Dolphins.
Buffalo Bills (Away)
Surprisingly, this will be just the second time since the Bucs were formed in 1976 that the they will play a road game at New Era Field (Ralph Wilson Stadium) in Orchard Park, New York. So it’s not surprising that the Buccaneers have the advantage at 7-3. The Bills won the home game. The two road wins were in ’76 against the 0-14 Buccaneers and in 1991, which was Buffalo’s second Super Bowl team with Marv Levy, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed. The Bills don’t look ready to compete in ’17 after firing Rex Ryan after just two seasons.
New York Jets (Home)
The Jets went 5-11 this season and seem as far away from playoff contention as any team. Their best players are on the defensive line in Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson and that’s about it. Their best option might be to rebuild completely since they have aged and haven’t made the postseason since 2010. The Buccaneers are much closer to playoff contention. In a bold early prediction, this game looks like the easiest win on the Buccaneers’ schedule.