I wish I could say it’s not so bad. I wish I could tell you they played a good game and simply came out on the wrong end. I wish they fought valiantly, left it all on the field and lost a heartbreaker. I wish . . .
But reality suggests that, despite the bye, the Buccaneers still found a way to be the biggest losers of the week. With the Titans and Rams winning on Sunday, the Bucs are now the lone winless team in the NFL, and probabilities of an 0-16 campaign are starting to swirl.
The Bucs have nine games left, and as Stephen Holder of The St. Petersburg Times points out, the slate of remaining opponents boast a combined .611 winning percentage, so the tough road continues.
So let’s look at the schedule: The Packers and the Saints are the two toughest tests facing the Bucs. The Packers have a dynamic defense, ranked 5th in the NFL in yards per game allowed. They also allow less than 20 points per game, which does not bode well for a Buccaneer offense averaging just 13 points per game.
I don’t think I need to launch into a discussion about the Saints. But I will say that they have one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL, possibly of all time, and a suddenly Super Bowl-caliber defense. While you can usually throw statistics out the window when it comes to divisional rivalries, the Saints just look too good and the Bucs too bad. Chalk those two games up for the Saints.
So, as I break down the remaining games, I find five opportunities for the Bucs to sneak into the win column.
1) Week 10 @ Miami
The Dolphins are one of the most difficult teams in the NFL to figure out. The Wildcat seems to be working, most of the time. It catches even the best defenses off guard, and forces a team to devote crucial preparation time during the week to stop it. However, injuries have depleted their secondary, and they are forced to start rookies at both cornerback positions.
Disclaimer: The following paragraph will seem like the weakest argument I have ever given, on anything, in my entire life. However, if you really take it in and understand what I’m saying, it will make sense.
The pivotal question in this matchup is how the Bucs will handle the Wildcat. I know, the run defense is awful and the secondary worse at times, but the Wildcat is designed to be a change-up from what the defense is used to seeing. It’s designed to catch the defense out of position and uses misdirection to create running lanes. It is possible that the Bucs’ defense is so disorganized and porous that the Wildcat could be less effective than it has been in recent weeks, forcing second-year quarterback Chad Henne to throw the ball down the field, something he has not yet proven he is capable of. Look for the Bucs to make a solid run at that first win in Miami.
2) Week 13 @ Carolina
The Bucs scored on offense, defense and special teams when they hosted the Panthers in Week 6. It could be argued that the Bucs looked better in that game than in any other this season, with the exception of some offensive miscues and sporadic missed tackles. A rivalry game and divisional battle, look for the Bucs to win in Carolina if they can stop the run and force Jake Delhomme to throw the ball.
3) Week 14 vs. New York Jets
Another difficult team to figure out is the Jets. Mark Sanchez looks like a rookie one week and a potential Pro Bowler the next. The loss of defensive tackle Kris Jenkins for the year is devastating for Rex Ryan’s 3-4 defense. If they continue to struggle against the run without Jenkins in the middle, look for the Bucs to take advantage and ride the running game while the defense handles the 18th-ranked Jets offense.
4) Week 15 @ Seattle
I know what you’re thinking. Seattle is the toughest place to win, and it’ll be mid-December in a frigid northwest. Clearly this guy is crazy.
But hear me out: The Seahawks have been decimated by injuries. Perennial Pro Bowl offensive tackle Walter Jones is out for the season, as is Pro Bowl linebacker Lofa Tatupu. Their running game averages less than 90 yards per game and they average just 19 points offensively. Look for the Bucs secondary - that’s right, secondary - to have a big game against a team that throws almost 40 times a game.
5) Week 17 vs. Atlanta
The Falcons are far-and-away a better team than the Bucs, but the argument here is simple: The Saints will have the division and home-field locked up and the Falcons will be comfortably set as a wild card team. Matt Ryan will get few snaps and Michael Turner will see little playing time as they prepare for the playoffs. Falcons head coach Mike Smith will approach it as a preseason game, so look for the Bucs to give it everything they have and squeak out a victory against the Falcons’ backup squad.
And that’s as positive of a spin as I can put on it. In an era in which the first overall pick in the draft is more of an inconvenience than it is an opportunity, the Bucs (and the Glazers) hope to rattle off a couple of wins to drop back to 3rd or 4th overall, where it would be more reasonable to address their greatest needs: Wide receiver, defensive line and secondary.
I wish I could say it’s not that bad, and I wish I could tell you everything is going to be alright. But for now, all I can say is the Bucs have a shot at not being one of the worst teams in the history of the NFL, and that’s all I can give you. Only time will tell.