This is beginning to look really bad, folks. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have lost six straight games. With four games to go in the season, the playoffs are last month's dream. No game moving forward can be considered a guaranteed win. If our loss to the Carolina Panthers at home has taught us anything, it's that no game left on our schedule should even be considered a probable win. Our defense is atrocious, both against the run and in the secondary. Our offense is sporadic, and the playcalling often sabotages our chances by playing against what strengths we possess. And every game, the Bucs can be counted to reliably start slowly and cut their own throats with inopportune penalties.
The deeper we get into this season, the more it seems that the players are beginning to lose faith in their coaches. There seemed to be reason to hope after that heartbreakingly close loss to the Packers. We played tough, our offense fired on all cylinders, and if our defense wasn't stellar, the blame could at least be placed on a few players who were out of their weight class against Green Bay's receivers. Now? We've lost another two in a row against much less impressive opponents and the team seems stuck in neutral, incapable of making the adjustments necessary to succeed moving forward.
So will we win again this season? Let's have a look at the remaining schedule.
Sunday, December 11
@ Jacksonville Jaguars, current record of 3-8 (2-3 at home)
Bucs fans have a good reason to watch Monday Night Football this week, even if it's a likely meaningless match between two AFC basement dwellers: it will give us a better sense of how well Jacksonville is playing at home for their interim head coach.
Pros: The Jaguars have a ridiculously ineffective passing game, ranking 32nd in the NFL. Blaine Gabbert has really struggled in his rookie season, managing only a 62.2 rating with 6 TDs and 6 INTs. If Tampa can get their offense going, the Jaguars will struggle to keep up if they need to take to the air. Jacksonville will be playing on a short week after the MNF game.
Cons: With Maurice Jones-Drew as their featured back, will the Jaguars need to resort to the passing game? MJD already has 230 attempts for 1,040 yards this season (and that's before Monday's game). Look for him to put up gaudy stats against the Bucs' porous run defense. The Bucs will have to overcome a lot to get their offense going: Jacksonville is a very impressive #4 in opposing passing yards and #14 in opposing running yards. The Jaguars have already shocked better teams than the Bucs this year, beating the Titans 16-14 in week one and the Ravens 12-7 in week seven.
Outlook: This is probably our best chance to win one. Having said that, I'm still not very optimistic. They have a good defense and run offense, and a terrible pass offense. We have a decent-at-times offense and a terrible defense. I wouldn't wager on the Bucs, but I can see us eking out a win if Freeman is healthy, Blount gets his game going, and the team is playing with energy. Odds of a Bucs win: 4 in 10.
Saturday, December 17
Dallas Cowboys, current record of 7-5 (2-4 away)
Tony Romo's December letdowns are a running gag, but the Cowboys have a very soft schedule to close out the year. Although the Bucs have the nominal home game, expect a good portion of the crowd at RayJay to be cheering for Dallas.
Pros: The Bucs play the Cowboys in between two critical divsisional games for Dallas (vs. Giants and vs. Eagles); it's very possible that the Cowboys will overlook the Bucs considering our play of late, leading to a trap game situation. Most of the Cowboy's wins lately have been close ones against ostensibly lower quality opponents, with an OT win by a field goal over Washington and a one point victory over Miami at home on Thanksgiving. This is the Bucs' home finale, and a loss here would sting- the team should be motivated.
Cons: Statistically, the Cowboys are solid both offensively and defensively. DeMarco Murray has emerged as a feature back, and Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are dangers to score whenever they touch the ball. The Cowboys, especially if they lose the Giants in week 14, will be playing for a playoff spot, while the Bucs will be playing for (sigh) pride.
Outlook: If the Bucs come out playing hard, there's no reason why they can't hang in there. That's a huge if, though. If Dallas builds a lead, there's probably no way back for Tampa. Odds of a Bucs win: 3 in 10.
Saturday, December 24
@ Carolina Panthers, current record of 4-8 (2-4 at home)
The Buccaneers Building & Loan travels to Panthersville, hoping for a Christmas miracle. Unfortunately, even if Santa brings Raheem Morris the winning game plan he's begging for, it will arrive a day too late for this game.
Pros: Historically, NFC South teams split their series with each other 1-1. Josh Freeman will hopefully be starting and might prove the difference. The Panthers' run defense looked impressive today, but it's possible that the coaches will find means to adjust for it with some planning. Carolina will be playing on a short week.
Cons: We saw ample evidence today that the Bucs' defense can't stop this Panthers' offense. We also saw ample evidence that the Bucs' offense can't keep up with Carolina in a shooting match. Also, playing for pride actually seems to mean something for the Panthers.
Outlook: If we couldn't get it done at RayJay, I doubt we'll get it done at Bank of America Stadium. Odds of a Bucs win: 3 in 10.
Sunday, January 1
@ Atlanta Falcons, current record of 7-5 (4-2 at home)
Let's face it: even before our meltdown, most of us probably had this one penciled in as a likely loss.
Pros: Ummmm......we beat them once before? They might already have a playoff spot locked up, and therefore will rest their starters? It's always any given Sunday? I'm kind of running on fumes here.
Cons: Hoo-boy. OK. Only two teams have beat the Falcons in the Georgia Dome this year, the Packers and the Saints; these Bucs aren't playing anywhere near the level of either of those teams. Chances are much more likely that the NFC wildcard will still be a very open race, and the Falcons will need this victory to avoid missing the playoffs one year after winning the division. The Falcons have made a lot of adjustments since playing at RayJay in week three and have largely addressed the issues that we exploited in winning that one. The Falcons are better than us in every meaningful statistical category (much as that fills my throat with bile). I'll stop now.
Outlook: Almost certainly a bloodbath. Odds of a Bucs win: 1 in 10 (and I'm probably being far too generous).