Like a modern day John Wayne, Coach Gruden has stormed into town to save the day. Proudly stomping out of the tunnelway leading his men (can't you just imagine an NFL films open like this) onto the battlefield against the Saints. Martha Stewarts stock portfolio looks peachy compared to what happened to New Orleans at the end of last year. New RB in Deuce Mccalister, new fat deal for coach Jim Haslett, but you can't change the past. The Bucs o-line is a work in progress, but it's good enough to run roughshod over a Joe Johnson/Laroi Gloverless Saint defense. Then it's on to Baltimore where Brian Billicks club is a shell of their former self. The Ravens will actually be a little better than people think, but it's later in the season when they jell. It won't be easy, but the Bucs are 2-0.
Now, the Rams. Monday night. The Bucs own the Rams right? St Louis goes to Denver and San Fran in addition to this game, all in the first 5 weeks. It could go either way but the Bucs won't be undefeated so they have to lose sometime. The next two are at perennial doormats Cincinnati and then Atlanta. The Bengal game is irritating because these aren't the Bengals of old. It's a team with a lot of talent albeit with Gus Frerrote at QB. Let's give the Bucs a win on a short week and then a pummeling of the Falcons the following Sunday. 4-1 and loads of fun. If you're taking notes at home, please keep up, it can get confusing.
The Bucs are due for a stinker and Butch Davis brings his revved up Brown team to town. Cleveland's defense actually matches up very well with Grudens offense, but it's the Browns third road game in four weeks. Next up is one of those games where everyone uses the old cliché, "if you can't get fired up for this one, you shouldn't be playing." The Bucs will be ready and are much better equipped to handle the physical Iggle defense than they were in the last two playoff meltdowns. Despite that, Philly has a week off before this contest and Mcnabb will make one too many plays. On then to Carolina where Chris Weinke should have supplanted Rodney Peete as the starting QB. The Panthers are simply the worst team in football and Grudens gang could quaff some Carolina moonshine before the game and still come out on top. 6-2 at the halfway point.
Quick, name one other Viking offensive player besides Randy Moss or Daunte Culpepper. Times up. At least the "D" in Minny will be better with the promotion of Willie Shaw to defensive coordinator. Won't matter, it's a win. After the bye week and a lot of grueling film work breaking down Deshaun Foster, Brad Hoover and the rest of the Panthers, the Bucs exhale and grab another W. Don't you love the NFC South. I would say the Bucs are like Moe and the other three squads are Larry, Curly and Shemp, but even that doesn't do it justice. Here come the hated Packers. Hey, if Ronde Barber's got a chance to break the INT record will Brett Favre throw him a pick. Ahman Green will be a handful and the Pack gets out of RJS with a win.
Ah, the Big Easy. Bourbon Street. The Saints will have caused Jim Haslett's scowl to become permanent at this point of the season. Something tells me that this could be one of those games. You know what I mean, one of THOSE games. 12-9 slopfest, Bucs offense sputters, John Carney wins it late and the Bucs are 8-4. Some relief is in sight though as the Michael Vick led Falcons come crawling in. Hey, great run by that RB. What a catch out of the backfield. This kid's awesome. And by the way, that Warrick Dunn also looks good shouting encouragement to the aforementioned TJ Duckett. At 9-4, the Bucs head to Detroit to face either one of the Lion peach fuzz QB's. It likely will be Joey Harrington, and it definitely won't matter as your hometown heroes are back to the rarified air of double digit wins.
The Steelers on a Monday night. We once had an announcerless game. How about a game in which you don't show the game. A gameless game. Just shots of Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden contorting and gyrating. This will be equal to the Rams game of 2000 and the Ravens game of last season. I know, the Steelers aren't the defending champs, but the Bucs simply won't lose this one. They will however fall in Chicago the last week of the season. Why? Well, I can't really tell you but I pledged to myself and the good people at The Pewter Report that I would have no weather mentions in this column and I'm a man of my word.
So, there you have it. 11-5. It looks like, it smells like, it feels like 11-5.
You can listen to Sandy Penner on 620 WDAE Monday through Friday, 6:00-8:00 AM. If you're not in the Tampa Bay area, you can listen to Penner live by logging onto 620WDAE.com.
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