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Predicting the Bucs, game by game

 
Dirk Koetter and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their season with a bye, their scheduled opener at Miami having been moved to Nov. 11 due to Hurricane Irma. The Bucs will open the season at home Sept. 17 against the Chicago Bears. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Dirk Koetter and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their season with a bye, their scheduled opener at Miami having been moved to Nov. 11 due to Hurricane Irma. The Bucs will open the season at home Sept. 17 against the Chicago Bears. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Published Oct. 3, 2018

Times columnist Tom Jones gives his Two Cents on the 2017 Bucs season

Sept. 10 at Dolphins

Season opener. Jameis vs. Cutler. McCoy vs. Suh. Jay Ajayi vs. Not Doug Martin. Bucs will be missing their best running back for the first three games because of suspension. But come on. No way the Bucs lose to a team quarterbacked by Jay Cutler, right? Right? Bucs, 30-17. Record: 1-0.

Sept. 17 vs. Bears

Mike Glennon makes his return to Tampa, but that's not the return we're waiting for. Just how delicious would it be if Glennon puts together a 60-yard drive in the final minute and the game came down to Robert Aguayo lining up for a 38-yard field goal. Here's the snap. The hold. The kick is up and it's … ha, you know how this one ends. Bucs, 23-21. Record: 2-0.

Sept. 24 at Vikings

Roberto Aguayo is Chicago's problem. But will Nick Folk be the Bucs' problem? A tough road test against the Vikings could come down to a last-second kick. Folk lining up from 38 yards. Here's the snap. The hold. The kick is up and it's … you know how this ends. Vikings, 23-21. Record 2-1.

Oct. 1 vs. Giants

Here comes what might be the toughest six-day stretch in franchise history. Two games that surely made a sadistic NFL schedule-maker chuckle when it was put it together. At least both games are at Raymond James Stadium. The first game goes well. Bucs, 27-20. Record 3-1.

Oct. 5 vs. Patriots

The second does not. Playing the defending-champion Patriots on a Thursday night might be the biggest game the Bucs play in the regular season. But they will need to play perfect football. And, to keep Tom Brady off the field, the Bucs will need to take the air out of the ball. Then again, the Pats are perfectly comfortable with that, too. Patriots, 33-20. Record 3-2.

Oct. 15 at Cardinals

The Bucs traveled to Arizona last season and got creamed as coach Dirk Koetter left Jameis Winston in too long to get knocked around. He's lucky Winston walked away from that game in one piece. Winston will walk away from this game with no problem. Bucs, 31-17. Record 4-2.

Oct. 22 at Bills

What happened to this franchise? The Bills, that is. They haven't made the playoffs in 17 seasons; it soon will be 18. As old coach Lou Saban used to say, "They're killing me, Whitey! They're killing me!" If it wasn't for the wings, there wouldn't be much reason to live in Buffalo these days. Bucs, 40-16. Record 5-2.

Oct. 29 vs. Panthers

Carolina has good players. Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly, for example. They were in the Super Bowl just two seasons ago. It's a good franchise. Yet, here goes: The Panthers are one of the more boring, nondescript teams in football. I don't know if it's the uniforms. Or the city. Or what. Despite their success, they still feel like an expansion team to me. Bucs, 23-17. Record 6-2.

Nov. 5 at Saints

The Bucs are better than the Saints this year. But they were better than them a season ago, too, and they still split the season series. And the loss at New Orleans last season killed the Bucs' playoff hopes. Drew Brees always has one game a season against the Bucs when he can't be stopped. This will be that game. Saints, 30-24. Record 6-3.

Nov. 12 vs. Jets

J-E-T-S. A-W-F-U-L. This could be the worst team in the league, and this could be the worst team the Jets have ever had, and they went 1-15 once. If the Bucs lose this game, Koetter might be fired on the spot and the Glazers might put the team up for sale out of embarrassment. Bucs, 62-28. Record 7-3.

Nov. 26 at Falcons

Don't forget that the Bucs went up to Atlanta for last year's season opener and beat the eventual NFC champions in Tampa Bay's last game in the old Georgia Dome. The Bucs won't have the same success in their first game in Atlanta's new stadium. Falcons, 28-20. Record 7-4.

Dec. 3 at Packers

Green Bay in December? The Packers are 178-2 all time in December at Lambeau Field. Okay, that's not a real stat, but the point is, the Packers are really good on the frozen tundra. And, oh, maybe their quarterback has something to do with it, too. Packers, 31-10. Record 7-5.

Dec. 10 vs. Lions

Every year, the Bucs lose a game they shouldn't. They lose a game you can't help but think will throw a wrench into their playoff chances. This feels like one of those games. Lions, 34-31. Record 7-6.

Dec. 18 vs. Falcons

So the playoff race comes down to three games against three NFC South opponents. A Falcons team expected to win the division isn't how you want to start that stretch. And spotting the Falcons a 28-3 on this Monday night is not the smart thing either. Speaking of which, let's not forget that the Bucs trolled the Birds in the offseason with that 28-3, too. That was actually kind of funny. Bucs, 34-28. Record 8-6

Dec. 24 at Panthers

Hard to beat a team twice in one season. So, the Bucs get a lump of coal (and a big heaping of Cam) in their Christmas stocking. Panthers, 24-20. Record 8-7.

Dec. 31 vs. Saints

Will it be a Happy New Year? With a playoff berth on the line, the Bucs host Drew Brees and the Saints. That gets me thinking: If your season is on the line, I would think one of the last guys you'd ever want to face is Brees. But this will be a rockin' New Year's Eve as the Bucs qualify for the playoffs when Roberto Aguayo, picked up after being waived by the Bears to replace a struggling Nick Folk, nails an NFL-record 65-yarder at the buzzer. Bucs, 30-28. Record 9-7.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones