We have now examined our 3 division rivals, and have an idea where Bucs fans believe they will land in the standings. Let's wrap this up with just a bit more analysis.
Before I get into the poll results of the other teams, I'd like to look at a couple more things that may affect the outcome of the season for all 4 teams. If you missed the polls, the links are Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans.
Schedule: Anybody that follows the NFL schedules knows that all 4 teams will face mostly the exact same teams. Division foes at home and away, then (this year) the AFC and NFC North divisions. The only real difference will be facing opponents in the NFC East and West that were the same finish position. So, Carolina will face the Seahawks and Eagles. The Saints will face the Niners and Cowboys. The Falcons will face the Giants and Cardinals. And we will face the Redskins and Rams.
Strength of Schedule: I want to bring up a couple things about strength of schedule. First, basing it entirely off last season records is not what I would consider a good indicator of schedule strength. Second, I think including division games in that calculation further hinders accuracy when determining strength. So, each team plays against it's division rivals and 8 common opponents. That just leaves us comparing 2 opponents on the schedule for each team (shown in schedule above). SOS in order (win% of 2 opp): Carolina (.718), Saints (.625), Falcons (.531), Bucs (.313). So, basically, 8 games are equal opponents, 6 games are division rivals and 2 games determine schedule strength.
Home vs Away: Another factor not considered in SOS is Home vs Away. So, let's look. Atlanta plays both AFC & NFC North division winners on the road. Carolina also travels to Cincy and Green Bay, but get the Seahawks at home. The Saints 3 toughest games are all at home against both North division winners and the 49ers The Bucs also get home games against both North winners. Our toughest road game outside the division will probably be the Steelers or Bears.
Polls: Early results suggest most Bucs fans think the Saints will win the division. Add in my SOS and HvA, and this makes perfect sense. Their schedule isn't much tougher than the Falcons, but they get their toughest opponents at home. The Panthers seem doomed to the bottom of the division according to polling. Either 3rd or 4th, but we're putting them in 4th, based on other results as well. Combine that with the toughest schedule, including several on the road, and it could spell doom for the Panthers. The Falcons were the wild-card and got votes ranging from 1st to 4th, with the most votes in the middle 2 spots.
My Conclusion: If the Saints are first, and the Panthers are 4th (maybe 3rd), that leaves the Falcons and Bucs fighting it out for 2nd/3rd. I am personally going to give the edge to the Bucs, not because I'm a homer, but because we have a significantly easier "other 2 games" and better Home/Away matchups than the Falcons. Although, I think it's gonna be a dog-fight the entire way. What say you Bucs Nation?