Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2nd Half of the Season
Quarterback Josh Freeman (pictured above) became the first Buccaneers quarterback to throw three touchdowns in three consecutive games, as he threw for 262 yards and three scores versus Minnesota, bringing his season total to 1,800 yards and 14 touchdowns.
And while Freeman has continued to improve from his early-season struggles, running back Doug Martin easily stole the show on Thursday night, rushing for a career-high 135 yards and a touchdown, as well as 79 yards receiving and a touchdown.
The win improved the Bucs to 3-4 as they set to begin the second half of the NFL season this week.
With that in mind, let's take a look at their second-half schedule and break down their remaining matchups. How will they fare? How many can they win?
More importantly, how many will they win?
Week 9 at Oakland
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The traditionally hapless Raiders still present plenty of challenges for the young and West Coast-challenged Bucs.
With cornerback Aqib Talib already suspended four games for his use of Adderall, the Bucs were delivered a further blow with news that their other starting corner, Eric Wright, is now also facing a four-game suspension for reportedly taking the same substance, according to Fox NFL analyst Jay Glazer (h/t Tampa Bay Times).
Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer will try to exploit the suddenly inexperienced Tampa Bay secondary by looking for speedy wide receivers Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, as well as tight end Brandon Myers.
Oh, and then there's Darren McFadden. I almost forgot about him.
As for the Bucs, they will look to continue their recent offensive outburst, having averaged 34 points per game over the past three outings.
Oakland has the NFL's 22nd-ranked pass defense, so look for Bucs receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams to continue to stretch the field in search of quick strikes.
Doug Martin, fresh on the heels of his 214 all-purpose-yards performance against Minnesota, will try to replicate his outing against Oakland's 12th-ranked rush defense.
For what it's worth, the Bucs are 3-8 since 2004 when playing in the Pacific time zone, including a 30-20 loss in Oakland that season.
Prediction: Bucs 27 Raiders 20
Week 10 vs. San Diego
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While Oakland was unable to fully exploit the young Bucs secondary, veteran quarterback Philip Rivers will have no problem finding holes and putting up big numbers.
Antonio Gates, Robert Meachem and Malcolm Floyd present challenges for veteran defenses, let alone one as young and inexperienced as Tampa Bay's.
Even with the suspended Talib scheduled to return against San Diego, I'm not sure it makes nearly enough of a difference to slow down the explosive Chargers offense.
Freeman and the searing-hot Bucs offense will keep things interesting, particularly former Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, who will have another eye-popping game.
But just as they already have on four occasions this season, they lose another close one.
Prediction: Chargers 28 Bucs 24
Week 11 at Carolina
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The Panthers and Buccaneers have played in some of the more dramatic games in the NFC South over the past few seasons, with each team sweeping the other in alternating fashion since 2009.
All told, the Bucs have won just four of 10 meetings versus Carolina since 2007.
With the surprisingly stagnant Panthers offense continuing to struggle, look for the Bucs to put Cam Newton under constant pressure, much like they did in their 16-10 opening-week win in Tampa.
Doug Martin will put together another video game-like performance and carry the Bucs to their fifth win of the season, topping last year's four-win mark.
Prediction: Bucs 30 Panthers 20
Week 12 vs. Atlanta
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Though the Bucs will be beaming with confidence following their dominating win the weekend prior, the high-flying Falcons have shown themselves to be on another level than any other team.
Matt Ryan is having an MVP-like season, using the receiving quartet of Roddy White, Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez to continue to put up points by the bushel.
With the Falcons up early, the Bucs will become one-dimensional, and as a result, will be humbled by division foe Atlanta.
Prediction: Falcons 34 Bucs 20
Week 13 at Denver
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The Manning-led Broncos are scoring 28.3 points per game and playing in the unfriendly, mile-high confines of Sports Authority Field only further complicate matters for visiting Tampa Bay.
The Bucs offense will be much more balanced than their one-dimensional outing versus Atlanta the previous week, but all is for naught as Manning will outshine Josh Freeman and the scrappy Bucs.
Prediction: Broncos 24 Bucs 16
Week 14 vs. Philadelphia
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The struggling Philadelphia Eagles will travel to the much warmer Tampa Bay area in search of a remedy for all that ails them.
Unfortunately for them, they will run into a motivated Bucs team who will use the added emotional boost of honoring the Super Bowl-winning Bucs team from a decade ago.
With legends Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Mike Alstott (among others) on hand, the Bucs will conjure up a little something extra and deal a serious blow to the playoff-hopeful Eagles by delivering one of their most physical performances of the season.
Using a steady dose of Martin and LeGarrette Blount, Tampa Bay's offense will dominate possession and use a defensively inspired unit to shut down Michael Vick and the Eagles, logging one of their best wins of the season.
Prediction: Bucs 31 Eagles 13
Week 15 at New Orleans
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Having already lost a heartbreaking game to New Orleans at home, the Bucs travel to the Big Easy and have a difficult time against the surging Saints.
With Tampa Bay's suspect secondary under constant assault all season, Drew Brees will pick up right where he left off the last time these teams faced, leading the Saints to another high-scoring game against the Bucs.
Much like their previous contest, Freeman will put up big numbers and keep things interesting, but this time, the defense will allow a late touchdown drive, and the Saints will escape with another thrilling victory.
Prediction: Saints 38 Bucs 35
Week 16 vs. St. Louis
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Behind receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson, the Rams will hook up on several big plays, sprinkling in running backs Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson to draw down the Bucs safeties.
The Rams, who haven't given up a lot of big plays defensively, will uncharacteristically allow several against the vertical duo of Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, which will ultimately lead to their undoing.
Prediction: Bucs 24 Rams 16
Week 17 at Atlanta
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With the playoff-bound Falcons resting their starters for the season finale, the Bucs will essentially be playing Atlanta's second-team unit on the afternoon.
That unit includes running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who is certainly nothing to sneeze at when it comes to dangerous playmakers.
That said, the Bucs will take control of the game early and should have it all but wrapped up by the end of the third quarter.
Prediction: Bucs 27-Falcons 13
With the win, the Bucs will finish the season 8-8, a vast improvement from their disastrous 4-12 season of 2011.
Looking back, the Bucs are sure to regret the ones that "got away" early in the season. The close losses to the Giants, Cowboys, Redskins and Saints, in particular, will haunt them throughout the offseason.