1. Bucs

Breaking down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' schedule

Published Sep. 8, 2012

Chances of winning ranked from least likely (one football) to most likely (four footballs).

Key stat


Rushing yards per game last season, last in the NFL


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Passing yards allowed per game by the Chiefs last season, sixth in the NFL


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Points per game last season, most in the NFL


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Rushing yards allowed per game last season, best in the NFL


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Points per game last season, seventh in the NFL



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Sacks for outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware last season



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Forced fumbles last season, most in the NFL

at Broncos, Dec. 2 Last year: 8-8

Coach: John Fox (2nd season, 8-8; 11th overall, 81-79)

Skinny: The Broncos go from Tebow Mania to Manning Mania, putting their offense on the shoulders of superstar QB Peyton Manning, above, There have been questions how much Manning, 36 and coming off neck surgery, has left. But he impressed late in the preseason. Like last season, when offensive coordinator Mike McCoy rewrote his playbook for Tim Tebow, he's replacing his system with the one Manning ran in Indianapolis. But other than Tebow's heroics, the defense got Denver to the playoffs last season. It will give Manning time to acclimate.


Key stat


Yards of total offense for Robert Griffin III at Baylor last season


Key stat


Rushing yards per game last season, fifth in the NFL


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Turnover margin last season, second-worst in the NFL.

vs. Eagles, Dec. 9 Last year: 8-8

Coach: Andy Reid (14th season, 126-81)

Skinny: Adversity came early with Reid, above, having to mourn the death of son Garrett. The team seemed to rally around Reid, who is tasked with getting the most out of his talented roster. While QB Vince Young's "Dream Team" proclamation fell flat a year ago, there's still promise as long as QB Michael Vick stays healthy. Vick has plenty of help with all-around RB LeSean McCoy and WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin leading an offense that averaged nearly 400 yards a year ago. The defense, solid last season, should be even better.


Key stat


Rushing yards per game last season for Carolina, third in the NFL


Panthers, vs. today, at Nov. 18 Last year: 6-10

at Giants, Sept. 16 Last year: 9-7

Coach: Tom Coughlin (9th season, 74-54; 17th overall, 142-114)

Skinny: The Giants, winners of two of the past five Super Bowls, have flown under the radar (thanks to the other New York team and QB Tim Tebow). But QB Eli Manning, above, could grab the headlines again in February. His offense has WRs Hakeem Nix and Victor Cruz and RB David Wilson, a first-round pick. The defense boasts a fearsome front that includes Osi Umenyiora, USF's Jason Pierre-Paul (161/2 sacks in 2011) and Justin Tuck. The Giants have a tough schedule, including Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the NFC South.

vs. Chiefs, Oct. 14 Last year: 7-9

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Coach: Romeo Crennel (2nd season, 2-1; 6th overall, 26-41)

Skinny: The Chiefs showed signs of life late last season, when Crennel took over for the fired Todd Haley. They went 2-1, beating the Packers and Broncos. Defense was the strength and will be again with All-Pro LBs Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson and S Eric Berry, above, who missed almost all of last season with a torn ACL. QB Matt Cassel is also back, having missed seven games with a broken hand, as is RB Jamaal Charles (missed 14 with a torn ACL). WR Dwayne Bowe, with a contract dispute over, is Cassel's go-to-option.

at Cowboys, Sept. 23 Last year: 8-8

Coach: Jason Garrett (3rd season, 13-11)

Skinny: QB Tony Romo, above, and the Cowboys have a lot of pressure on them, considering their collapse last season - losing four of their last five games, including the division title in the finale against the Giants. But Dallas looked good in getting payback against the defending Super Bowl champions in Wednesday's opener, winning 24-17 in New York. As many offensive weapons as the Cowboys have, the key for them will be on defense. That unit is improved, including a secondary that added LSU star CB Morris Claiborne in the draft.

vs. Redskins, Sept. 30 Last year: 5-11

Coach: Mike Shanahan (3rd season, 11-21; 19th overall, 157-119)

Skinny: The RG3 era begins with QB Robert Griffin III — the electric Heisman Trophy winner — energizing a franchise that has won 15 games over the past three seasons. Griffin, above, the No. 2 overall pick, takes over an offense that ranked 26th in the league in scoring (18 points per game) last season. But Shanahan has mentored talented quarterbacks (see: John Elway) and is likely on the hot seat if he can't get closer to the playoffs. The defense is led by the linebackers: Brian Orakpo (nine sacks in 2011), Ryan Kerrigan (71/2) and London Fletcher (league-high 166 tackles).

Saints, vs. Oct. 21, at Dec. 16 Last year: 13-3

Coach: Aaron Kromer (1st season)

Skinny: The ramifications of the bounty scandal hit hard with year-long suspensions of coach Sean Payton and LB Jonathan Vilma. But New Orleans still is loaded. QB Drew Brees has WRs Marques Colston, above, and Lance Moore, versatile RB Darren Sproles and dynamic TE Jimmy Graham. Losing Payton's crafty play-calling might have an impact, but Brees — and his new $100 million deal — should overcome it. LB Curtis Lofton fills in for Vilma, and Brodrick Bunkley, a graduate of Tampa's Chamberlain High, should help the pass rush.

vs. Chargers, Nov. 11 Last year: 8-8

Coach: Norv Turner (6th season, 49-31; 16th overall, 107-113-1)

Skinny: The Chargers have fallen off the playoff map the past two seasons — making coach Turner's seat hotter — but have the pieces to take the AFC West. QB Philip Rivers is coming off a down season (20 interceptions, 88.7 rating) and lost WR Vincent Jackson. But the Chargers added WRs Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and Roscoe Parrish, who combine with Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates, above, for a potentially prolific passing game. With RB Ryan Mathews likely sidelined early with a broken collarbone, Ronnie Brown might have to step in.

at Vikings, Oct. 25 Last year: 3-13

Coach: Leslie Frazier (3rd season, 6-13)

Skinny: The Vikings have cleaned house with 41 new players at the start of camp. But a key will be how some incumbents respond, QB Christian Ponder, above, trying to improve on his rocky rookie season and RB Adrian Peterson trying to stay healthy. Ponder, the former FSU standout, showed flashes, including throwing for 381 yards against Denver. He'll have help with free agent acquisitions WR Jerome Simpson and TE John Carlson and first-round pick T Matt Kalil. But even with the secondary improved, the defense will be outmatched.

Falcons, vs. Nov. 25, at Dec. 30 Last year: 10-6

Coach: Mike Smith (5th season, 43-21)

Skinny: The Falcons have finished first or second in the NFC South each of the past four seasons. But they have lost their first playoff game three times in that span. Part of that falls on Matt Ryan, above, one of the better young quarterbacks who hasn't surpassed 200 passing yards in the losses. Ryan will put up big numbers again with WR Julio Jones, WR Roddy White, ageless TE Tony Gonzalez and RB Michael Turner. The defense, led by new coordinator Mike Nolan, should be better, buoyed by the acquisition of CB Asante Samuel.

vs. Rams, Dec. 23 Last year: 2-14

Coach: Jeff Fisher (1st season; 18th overall, 142-120)

Skinny: The Rams are seemingly in a never-ending state of rebuilding with Fisher their third coach over the past six years. Franchise QB Sam Bradford, the offensive rookie of the year in 2010, dropped off last season and is working with his third offensive coordinator in as many years. He'll have to lean on RB Steven Jackson, above, as the Rams lack a dynamic receiving threat (gone is Brandon Lloyd). The defense struggled a year ago but got a makeover with the acquisitions of CB Cortland Finnegan, DT Kendall Langford and first-round pick and DT Michael Brockers.

Coach: Ron Rivera (2nd season, 6-10)

Skinny: The Panthers have high hopes, as evidenced by C Ryan Kalil's full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer predicting a Super Bowl victory. They still have a ways to go, though they're on the right track. Dynamic QB Cam Newton, left, is coming off a sensational rookie season in which he led the Panthers to wins in four of their last six games. The offense has weapons, including WR Steve Smith and the running back combo of Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. But the defense is suspect. It ranked 27th (26.8 points per game) in the league last season.

at Raiders, Nov. 4 Last year: 8-8

Coach: Dennis Allen (1st season)

Skinny: Long-time owner Al Davis died last year, but his motto, "Just Win, Baby," hasn't fit for a decade. The Raiders are 29-83 since losing to the Bucs in the Super Bowl, and they've cleaned house again. There is a new GM (Reggie McKenzie), new coach (Allen) and new coordinators. Veteran QB Carson Palmer believes they can make the playoffs in the open AFC West, but he'll need to pick up his play from last season (2,753 yards, 13 touchdowns, 16 interceptions). RB Darren McFadden, above, can be explosive but has missed 19 games since 2008.

Key stat


Total points last season, fewest in the NFL since the Raiders' 168 in 2006.

Key stat


Points per game allowed by Minnesota's defense last season, 31st in the NFL


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