Tampa Bay just finished a disappointing 4-12 season in which they started 4-2. Head coach Raheem Morris was just fired and the search for the next one is on. The Buccaneers have many holes on both offense and defense that have to be filled in free agency and the draft, but this is a team that may be just one or two years away from being a real contender.
The 2012 schedule for the Buccaneers seems to be one that will favor Tampa Bay.
The schedule, of course, consists of both a home and away game against division opponents Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. The NFC South is a very competitive division and all three of these teams will be tough to beat next year.
New Orleans and Atlanta finished 2011 at 13-3 and 10-6, respectively, and are now hoping to make a run to the Super Bowl. Carolina finished at 6-10, but is more than likely going to improve greatly between now and next year.
Divisional games are always tough games whether played on the road or at home, and Tampa Bay will be lucky to split their divisional games next year. If they can do that and finish 3-3 in the division then they will be set up to win some easy games against other opponents.
The rest of the Buccaneers away schedule consists of the Cowboys, Giants, Vikings, Broncos and Raiders. All of these teams have the potential to be good next year, but Tampa Bay is also talented enough to beat each team.
The Cowboys and Raiders are both teams that narrowly missed the playoffs in 2011 and will likely improve in the offseason. The Buccaneers should be able to split these two games, which would put their record at 4-4.
On the other hand, the Giants and Broncos are both teams that barely made the playoffs this year. Tampa Bay may not be good enough to handle the Giants at the Meadowlands next year, but they could go into Mile High and beat the Broncos, again splitting these games.
That would leave the Buccaneers at 5-5 and going up against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are a team that could go either way. They may have a very successful 2012 campaign, or a dreadful one. It really depends on the heath of Adrian Peterson, the development of Christian Ponder and the holes filled on defense. Either way, I see the Bucs taking this game and improving to 6-5.
Now let's look at the Buccaneers home schedule for 2012 minus division opponents. At home, Tampa Bay will play against Philadelphia, Washington, St. Louis, Kansas City and San Diego.
Tampa Bay should be able to take care of the Redskins, Rams and Chiefs at home, but the Eagles and Chargers pose a bigger problem. If the Buccaneers are able to get wins against Washington, St. Louis and Kansas City, then that would put them at 9-5 for 2012, but losses to both Philadelphia and San Diego would place Tampa Bay at 9-7 for the year.
I honestly believe that a 9-7 record in 2012 is wishful thinking for the Buccaneers. While it definitely remains possible, it would take a complete turn around. I believe that the talent is in Tampa Bay to make this happen, but the morale and attitude in the locker room would need a one-eighty.
I think a more realistic record is around the 7-9 or 8-8 range. However, we have seen plenty of first-year coaches come in and take their teams to the playoffs.
I would go into 2012 expecting close to a .500 season for the Buccaneers, but I would not be surprised to see anywhere from a 6-10 record to a 9-7 record.