My prediction – albeit optimistic – is 10-6. The schedule isn’t nearly as scary as we all thought when it was released, and it appears the Bucs may catch some teams at opportune times.
As I said in my NFC South predictions piece, the big measuring sticks for the Bucs will be games at home against Seattle and Denver, as well as on the road against Arizona and Carolina. I don’t think the Bucs are quite at the level of the Seahawks or Cardinals yet, but I do believe they can beat Denver at home as well as the Panthers.
Facing the Falcons twice, a Dallas team that will likely be without Romo, the Chargers, 49ers, and Rams all present favorable matchups for the Bucs as they take their next step towards contention.
It all starts at Atlanta, where a fast start is crucial. The Falcons have won eight straight home openers, but the Bucs are going to try and take it to another level for the return of defensive coordinator Mike Smith.
Next: Alan Schechter