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Buccaneers have one of the toughest schedules of 2017

Good offenses and bad defenses suggest a lot of shootouts.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Minicamp Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of optimism surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but also a lot of skepticism. Most of that skepticism comes from the analytics community, whose statistical models don’t look particularly favorable on the Bucs.

There are many reasons for that, but one of them is that they’re projected to have a really tough schedule this season. It’s hard to accurately project strength of schedule, but people still try—like Rotoworld’s Warren Sharp, who used Las Vegas win total odds to project every team’s schedule.

Turns out the Bucs have the ninth-toughest schedule in the NFL.

The Buccaneers’ offense needs to be running at full potential leaving their bye, because they play the 4th most difficult schedule from Weeks 12 through 17. They play four top-10 opponents in a five-week span, and their entire schedule is filled with offensive firepower (Falcons twice, Packers, Saints, Lions and Panthers). This bodes well for late-season production from Jameis Winston, who faces the 7th easiest schedule of pass defenses this year.

Annoying, but more or less consistent with the team’s schedule in 2016: according to Football Outsiders, the Bucs had the seventh-toughest schedule last season. They still managed to get to 9-7, though not to the playoffs. They should do better this season, or at least that’s the goal.

But with a schedule like that, that could be pretty difficult. The Bucs already got somewhat lucky to get that 9-7 record last year, and they’re going to need more luck to do better this year. That’s not unique to the Bucs, of course: every successful team needs luck, in terms of injuries, schedule, referee decisions or just the bounce of the ball.

The tough schedule will be particularly harsh on the Bucs’ pass defense, which is in flux. The Bucs need a lot of things to go right there: Brent Grimes to keep playing well, young players to develop and step in to starting roles, and Jacquies Smith and Noah Spence turning into the pass rushers the team thinks they can be. And even all of that won’t necessarily be enough against Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.

On the flip side, the offense should take a massive step forward, both in terms of quality and in terms of strength of schedule. We could see a whole lot of massive shootouts this season. That’d make for a nice change of pace to the low-scoring affairs of past Bucs teams, at least.