Here's my game by game look at the Bucs' 2010 schedule. I projected a 3-13 finish last year, so Raheem had better hope I’m not right for the second season in a row.
1 – vs. Cleveland Browns
Having this game at home gives the Bucs a nice chance to start the year 1-0, but I don’t think it’s going to be easy. Jake Delhomme is one of the worst starting QBs in the league, but he’s 5-1 at Ray Jay. I see Cleveland’s OL handling our defensive front, especially on the outside. Expect to see Jerome Harrison attack the edges with the run and for Delhomme to work the short areas in the passing game. Missing Aqib Talib in this one won’t help the Bucs. Expect Cleveland to take a few shots deep against EJ Biggers. Is Josh Freeman healthy? Will we be able to block their 3-4 in order to open up lanes for Cadillac? The Browns will be without ILB D’Qwell Jackson, but I’m nervous about Freeman matching up with this secondary. Look for CB Eric Wright and FS TJ Ward to be difference makers for the Browns. If the Bucs OL can fend off an unimpressive Cleveland pass rush, Freeman might have enough time to consistently find Mike Williams, Kellen Winslow, and Sammie Stroughter. I hope I’m wrong, but I see the Bucs lose a low scoring contest at home to open the season.
2 - @ Carolina Panthers
From Jake Delhomme’s current team to his former one. Matt Moore answered the bell at the end of last season, but the Panthers sputtered through the entire preseason without an offensive TD. They travel to New York to face the Giants in week one, so this will be their home opener. A standout effort against Cleveland might change my opinion, but I don’t like the prospective matchup against DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. The duo combined for 382 yards and 4 TDs in their two matchups last year, and that’s with Williams sitting out the second contest. Steve Smith is still a factor on offense, and Jon Beason and an underrated secondary should give Freeman and the Bucs’ offense trouble. The Panthers win their home opener.
3 – vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Good news for the Bucs is that Ben Roethlisberger will be serving the third of his four game suspension during this matchup. The bad news is that the rest of the Steelers will be showing up. Expect Mike Wallace’s big play ability to be a factor in this one and for Rashard Mendenhall to wear down the Bucs defense. When Tampa Bay has the ball will they be able to move it against that defense, especially those dangerous linebackers? Freeman should have success working their weak corners, so look for the pass to be featured heavily for the Bucs in this one. In the end, I think the Bucs are still winless after this matchup.
4 – BYE
A disappointing 0-3 start with losses to three teams not expected to make the playoffs could turn up the heat on Raheem Morris early. I don’t foresee the Glazers making an in-season change, at least this soon, but I’m sure being winless heading into the bye would get the whispers going.
5 - @ Cincinnati Bengals
Barring a huge upset, the Bucs aren’t going to win this game on the road. I expect Carson Palmer and company to win their division, so losing to the Bucs isn’t in their plans. Freeman should struggle quite a bit against the solid tandem of Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph at corner. 0-4 isn’t pretty, and look who they get the next week.
6 – vs. New Orleans Saints
That’s right, the defending Super Bowl champs. Sure the Bucs are 4-2 against the Saints over the last three seasons, but I don’t see Drew Brees and company losing this one.
7 – vs. St. Louis Rams
Here’s where I see the Bucs’ best chance to win a game since the matchup vs. Cleveland. Sam Bradford should have a bit of NFL experience under his belt, and I like the potential of his young receivers. Steven Jackson shouldn’t be too terribly banged up at this point, and, if healthy, he’s an obvious factor. The Rams host San Diego the week prior to this contest, so hopefully that will work in the Bucs favor. I’m calling for the Bucs to be 1-5 after this contest.
8 - @ Arizona Cardinals
We haven’t been historically prosperous travelers, and despite the QB mess that’s evolved since Kurt Warner’s retirement, I don’t like the Bucs’ chances in this one. Arizona will be coming off a trip to Seattle, so they should be on some sort of win streak coming home to face Tampa. I don’t think Arizona wins their division, but they win this game. That said, if the Bucs were to pull off a road upset, this might be the one that sets up best for that to happen. Still, I’ve got it as a loss.
9 - @ Atlanta Falcons
I’m expecting big things from this Falcons team in ’10, so no, I’m not picking the Bucs to pull off the upset. Michael Turner has quite a game, and the Bucs are off to a 1-7 start.
10 – vs. Carolina Panthers
Here’s the one home game sandwiched between four tough road contests. If Raheem has any hope of coaching this team next season, he has to win this game. I’m predicting they will, but a 2-7 start may have sealed his fate.
11 - @ San Francisco 49ers
No, not happening. Patrick Willis and the 49ers defense should be in fine form at this point which won’t be good news for Freeman and company.
12 - @ Baltimore Ravens
Here’s another likely playoff bound team that should be clicking on all cylinders in this one. Are the Bucs going to go west to east and win at Baltimore against Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Ray Lewis, and Haloti Ngata? Unlikely. Bucs slide to 2-9.
13 – vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons will be coming off what is sure to be a tough home matchup against the Packers. If the Bucs can catch Atlanta a little stunned, maybe they can pull off the home upset. I’m not holding my breath. The Bucs fall to 2-10.
14 - @ Washington Redskins
The Bucs were 2-6 on the road last year, and I don’t have them winning one yet through six chances this year. The Redskins could be primed for a loss at this point, especially if Joey Galloway is still a starter. The Bucs win!
15 – vs. Detroit Lions
Here’s a team I’m going to enjoy watching this season. I’m huge fan of both Jahvid Best and Calvin Johnson, and I believe Matthew Stafford will make positive strides this season. This one should set up to be a really nice matchup, but unfortunately, I have the Bucs losing it and slipping to 3-11.
16 – vs. Seattle Seahawks
I think Seattle is going to be a bad team and one that the Bucs should beat at home. Who knows what the injury situation will be at this point, but in early September, this one smells like a victory for the good guys.
17 - @ New Orleans Saints
I’m expecting this game to matter to the Saints, so I don’t see us winning at their house late in the season for a second year in a row. The Bucs close out a disappointing season with another road loss.
The Bucs end up 4-12, or a one game improvement from last season. They go 1-7 on the road and 3-5 at home. This should not be enough to save Raheem Morris’ job, and unless the Glazers are just going to literally spit in the faces of Bucs fans, it won’t.
Expect the Bucs to draft in the top 5 again, this time in the company of Buffalo, Jacksonville, St. Louis, and Seattle. Adrian Clayborn (Iowa) and Robert Quinn (UNC) are two elite DE talents who are my primary targets/candidates for the Bucs’ first selection.