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Tampa Bay Bucs' schedule gives them a chance

TAMPA — Now that you finally have a 2010 Buccaneers schedule in front of you, I think there is one thing we can all agree on:

Roger Goodell needs to throw the book at Ben Roethlisberger.

Say, perhaps, three weeks' worth?

Personally, I think a three-game suspension would send a positive statement about the league's image. It would show NFL players that this commissioner means business.

And, if it happens to give the Bucs a chance for a winning record in September, well I guess that would be okay, too.

Jokes aside, the newly released NFL schedule gives more hope for an early turnaround in Tampa Bay than anything else we've seen so far in a largely quiet offseason. We already knew the Bucs had a weak set of opponents in 2010, and now we know the first month of the schedule seems to break in their favor, too.

Tampa Bay's first three opponents all missed the playoffs last season, and all three could potentially have new or replacement quarterbacks in the huddle. And two of the three games are at Raymond James Stadium.

Apparently, even the NFL schedule makers felt sorry for Raheem Morris.

Starting at home with Cleveland is about as close as it gets to a sure bet. The Browns have not won a season opener since 2004 and will probably be running retread quarterback Jake Delhomme out for his Cleveland debut.

After a road game with the Panthers — and Delhomme's Carolina successor Matt Moore — the Bucs will get the Steelers at home in Week 3. And, suddenly, Goodell's decision on Roethlisberger's punishment becomes nearly as important in Tampa Bay as it is in Pittsburgh.

Since 2004, the Steelers are 60-26 when Roethlisberger starts and 5-5 without him.

Just to add an element of karma, or maybe comedy, the Bucs traded Byron Leftwich back to Pittsburgh on Tuesday for a seventh-round draft pick. It was Week 3 last season when Leftwich lost his job as the Bucs starting quarterback.

The Bucs had better take advantage of those first three games, because the schedule is not as accommodating after that. Tampa Bay has the earliest bye week possible, and a brutal stretch in the middle of the schedule.

From the end of October to the end of November, the Bucs have four out of five games on the road including cross-country trips to Phoenix and San Francisco. But before you start hatching conspiracy plots, you might want to look around the rest of the league. At least eight other teams also have a stretch with four out of five on the road, including Atlanta and New Orleans.

So is there an early indicator of how Tampa Bay's season will go?

There is if you believe in charting strength of schedule.

Since 2002, when the Bucs moved to the NFC South and the NFL adopted the current schedule formula, the strength of schedule has been a pretty reliable barometer of Tampa Bay's fortunes.

In three seasons with a strength of schedule above .500, the Bucs had an average record of 5-11. In five seasons with a strength of schedule below .500, the Bucs had an average record of 9-7.

Is that coincidence or trend?

Probably a little bit of both.

Chris Simms' ruptured spleen had a little to do with Tampa Bay's record in 2006. And the decision to wipe most of the veterans off the books might have played a wee role in 2009.

Still, it would be wrong to completely discount the impact of the schedule. If all teams were created equal, the oddsmakers in Vegas would be out of jobs. Now, it's true teams can change from season to season, but stories usually don't drift too far from the plotline.

And, in this case, strength of schedule may be one of Tampa Bay's greatest advantages in 2010. The Bucs have the 25th most difficult schedule in the league, based on the 2009 records of opponents. And they got there mostly by luck of the draw.

There are three factors that determine a team's schedule:

No. 1: You play six games against the three teams in your own division. That never changes.

No. 2: You play two games against teams from other divisions in your conference that finished in the same place you did. The Bucs get a bittersweet break here because they finished last in 2009, and that means they get Detroit and Washington in 2010.

No. 3: Half of the schedule is determined by a rotation of divisions. In 2010, the Bucs have drawn the AFC North and the NFC West. And this, apparently, is where heaven took pity on Tampa Bay.

The Bucs have caught the NFC West at a perfect time. Not only it was the worst group of teams in the NFL last season — a pitiful 12-28 record outside of the division — but most of the teams remain in transition this season.

You have a team (Seattle) starting over with a new coach, a team (Arizona) saying goodbye to a franchise quarterback, a team (St. Louis) expecting to draft a quarterback at No. 1 and a team (San Francisco) still unsure about its long-term quarterback.

None of this guarantees success in 2010. Realistically, the Bucs will probably still lose more than they will win. But this schedule at least gives them a chance.

Which is more than they had last season.

John Romano can be reached at romano@sptimes.com.

Printable schedules

Find printable schedules featuring Bucs players, including quarterback, Josh Freeman, at bucs.tampabay.com.

Bucs on clock

Check out bucs.tampabay.com to join Bucs beat reporter Rick Stroud for a live chat from 3-4 p.m. on Thursday.

2010 Bucs schedule

Preseason
Saturday, Aug. 14 at Miami Dolphins 7 p.m. Ch. 13
Saturday, Aug. 21 Kansas City Chiefs 7:30 p.m. Ch. 13
Saturday, Aug. 28 Jacksonville Jaguars 7:30 p.m. Ch. 13
Thursday, Sept. 2 at HoustonTexans 8 p.m. Ch. 13
Regular season
Sunday, Sept. 12 Cleveland Browns 1 p.m. Ch. 10
Sunday, Sept. 19 at Carolina Panthers 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Sept. 26 Pittsburgh Steelers 1 p.m. Ch. 10
Bye week
Sunday, Oct. 10 at Cincinnati Bengals 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Oct. 17 New Orleans Saints 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Oct. 24 St. Louis Rams 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Oct. 31 at Arizona Cardinals 4:15 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Nov. 7 at Atlanta Falcons 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Nov. 14 Carolina Panthers 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Nov. 21 at San Francisco 49ers 4:05 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Nov. 28 at Baltimore Ravens 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Dec. 5 Atlanta Falcons 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Dec. 12 at Washington Redskins 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Dec. 19 Detroit Lions 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Dec. 26 Seattle Seahawks 1 p.m. Ch. 13
Sunday, Jan. 2 at New Orleans Saints 1 p.m. Ch. 13

Strength of schedule: 25th (opponents 123-133 in '09)

All games in weeks 11-17 are subject to a time change because of the NFL's flex scheduling

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Strength of schedules

Since the NFL realigned divisions and adjusted its schedule formula in 2002, Tampa Bay's record has pretty closely mirrored its strength of schedule. When the opposing teams' record for the previous season has been above .500, the Bucs have had a losing season. When the strength of schedule has been below .500, the Bucs have almost always had a winning season. The only aberration was 2004 when the Bucs went 5-11 with a, theoretically, easy schedule. Tampa Bay's strength of schedule this season is .480.

Difficult schedule

Year SOS Record

2009 .580 3-13

2006 .539 4-12

2003 .539 7-9

Easy schedule

Year SOS Record

2008 .469 9-7

2007 .473 9-7

2002 .480 12-4

2004 .484 5-11

2005 .492 11-5

Tampa Bay Bucs' schedule gives them a chance 04/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 8:34am]
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