11 Wins It Is

September 5 - BucMag.com, the Web site of Buccaneer Magazine, welcomes the first column by contributing writing Sandy Penner, morning host (6:00 - 8:00 a.m.) on 620 AM WDAE The Sports Animal. Penner will contribute a weekly column to BucMag.com, and predicts the Bucs' 2001 record in his debut.

Faced with the daunting task of predicting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers season game-by-game, I tried to come up with the perfect analogy for the chore.

At first, I thought it was like being married. Nah, marriage is too tedious.

I got it.

Doing a game-by-game breakdown is like going to the dentist. On the surface, everything looks and feels great, but then things like cavities and molars start to get in the way. There's no possible formula for accurately forecasting an entire season because there are too many intangibles. Injuries, team chemistry, weather and the general unpredictable nature of the NFL are all factors that you can't account for in September.

Usually my method of madness is to gauge what I think a team's final record will be and then fill in the blanks. The 2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to me, feel like an 11-win team. Now, like the aforementioned marriage, I just have to make it work.

The Super Bowl expectations begin in Dallas where the Cowboys have shriveled quicker than Bob Hope. Gut feeling tells me the Bucs will be caught up in an ugly muckfest, but will manufacture enough points against a wretched Dallas defense to get a win. Next is the Iggles at RJS. Sure, the Bucs are at home and they want revenge, but this will be a physical encounter won by turnovers. Donovan McNabb makes some plays, but Philly doesn't have enough, 2-0.

At this point, anyone who uses the old joke of "the Bucs should easily beat the bye week," should be given a stiff chair shot to the head.

Week 3 brings Tampa to Minnesota where the Vikings are supposedly in for a down year. I'm not buying it. Perhaps the only team with the exception of the Rams who can match the Bucs speed is the Vikings. Maybe it's close, but it's a loss and the hometown heroes head home to play the Packers. Sapp and Favre have their usual lovefest but the Pack won't win in Tampa.

The Titans in Nashville is a tall order and the Bucs, as usual, will play up to the level of competition. But Tennessee will have been hammered by Baltimore six days earlier and will be angry and at 3-2, Tony Dungy's crew enters a critical stretch.

Two consecutive home games should yield two wins. Pittsburgh isn't a gimme though as they won at Jacksonville, the Jets and Baltimore last season. The Bucs however need it, and they'll get it plus another win against the Vikings the following week. Don't get me started with Game 8 in November at Lambeau. No truth to the rumor that ESPN and Fox have already taped their The Bucs haven't won in 40 degrees or less features already. I don't know what the weather will be, but Tampa gets the "W" and finishes the first half at 6-2.

There's no real reason for me to believe that the Lions will beat the Bucs in Game 9. There was also no real reason for me to believe that I'd be bald at 22, but it happened. Charlie Batch will, of course, be hurt, but it won't matter. Ty Detmer will have a big game and the Pewter and Red will fall to 6-3.

Who will be QB'ing Chicago when they come to town the following week? Shane Matthews? Jim Miller? My god, it might be Danny Wuerffel. Doesn't matter, nothing matters when you play the Bears. Win.

Game 11 against the Rams needs no buildup or cliched football monikers. Rams-Bucs on the carpet on a Monday night. In a perfect world, they'll meet again in the NFC Title game. On this night though, it's the Rams show and Tampa slips to 7-4.

More weather-related stories leading into Cincinnati the following week. If the lame meaningless stat still exists, there will have to be a new one created as the Bucs pummel the Bangles. No way the Bucs lose to Matt Millen's Lions the following week as Detroit will likely be playing out the string at that point. Ditto for the Bears in Soldier Field as the Bucs learn from their loss last season. By the way, after games in Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago, if the 40-degree stat still is standing, I'll shave my head. Clean shave, too.

At 10-4 with the last two games at home, the Bucs will be in good shape to win the NFC Central and maybe get homefield throughout the playoffs. No, I haven't done game-by-game on all the NFC teams, it's just a guess. The Saints present some matchup problems for the home team, but I look for the Bucs to make a big special teams play on New Orleans' lousy return units and win a hard-fought game. Then, it's the defending champion Ravens, who are coming into this Saturday night contest with a three-week stretch of being off and then playing Pittsburgh and Cincinnati at home. If Trent Dilfer was QB'ing, I'd like the Bucs chances. With the more potent Elvis Grbac, Baltimore quiets a jacked up crowd and sends Tampa into the playoffs on a losing note.

11-5. That's what it looks like. That's what it feels like. It's 7-1 at home and a split of the eight road games. I stand by my prediction, but in the immortal words of Bud Fox in the movie Wall Street, "Don't quote me on it."

Want more edgy commentary on the Bucs and sports in general? Listen to the Hard Core With Sandy Penner Show each weekday from 6:00 - 8:00 a.m. on 620 AM WDAE The Sports Animal.
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