If I had a crystal ball right now, it would be murky.
If I had a magic 8-ball, it would ask me to check back later.
If I had Miss Cleo on speed dial, she'd be stumped.
I honestly don't know what to expect from this Tampa Bay Buccaneers team in 2007.
I like to-do lists. So as I set out to try and put together my prediction for 2007 by putting together a list of pros and cons.
The quarterback should be better with Jeff Garcia at quarterback. This is the deepest set of wide receivers the Bucs have had in years. Michael Pittman will see a greater role in the offense. Cadillac Williams is healthy. The Bucs spent plenty of draft picks and free-agent money on defense. Brian Kelly is healthy. The returning safeties look better. They still have Derrick Brooks, and now they have Jeremiah Trotter. Plus, it can't be worse than last year.
Garcia is 37 and hasn't been the same since he left San Francisco. None of that wide receiver depth stepped up take the No. 2 receiver job. Williams has never made it through a full season. The offensive line has four new opening-day starters and three starters with one year's experience or less. LT Luke Petitgout missed a week of training camp with back spasms. For all its free agent spending on defense, much of it was for aging vets like Kevin Carter. In fact, the starting defense is not much younger than last year's unit. Simeon Rice is gone, and he didn't need to go. It can't be worse than last year, but it could be just as bad.
In the parity-driven world of the NFL, it can go either way for a team like Tampa Bay. In their karmically-driven NFC South title season in 2005, they seemed to get every break. Last year, they paid the price for that good luck in nearly every way.
So how will it all shake out? Here's my take:
Yes, they have the fifth-easiest schedule in the NFL. Yes Atlanta won't be much to contend with. But there's only one team on this schedule that is truly wretched, and that's Houston. And even the Texans appear to be clawing out of their hole.
Garcia will make a difference in a couple of games. Cadillac will have a couple of big games. Even first-round pick Gaines Adams will have a couple of big games. But the fact is this team isn't going to be consistent enough to contend for the playoffs. One week they'll play great, one week they'll stink on ice. There's too much inexperience, coupled with too many aging players with little experienced depth behind them.
Here's my game-by-game breakdown of the schedule for this season:
at Seattle, Sept. 9: Loss. Seattle will dominate this game on the ground.
New Orleans, Sept. 16: Loss. Saints offense has too much firepower.
St. Louis, Sept. 23: Loss. Rams have a better team than you think.
at Carolina, Sept. 30: Win. Yes, a win, even in Tampa Bay's house of horrors.
at Indianapolis, Oct. 7: Loss. You try stopping Peyton Manning and Co.
Tennessee, Oct. 14: Win. Vince Young has no weapons on offense.
at Detroit, Oct. 21: Loss. This team will put up huge numbers for a 6-10 team.
Jacksonville, Oct. 28: Win. Del Rio and Co. will suffer with Garrard.
Arizona, Nov. 4: Win. Cards will need another year under Whisenhunt.
at Atlanta, Nov. 18: Loss. Because that's usually about right in this rivalry.
Washington, Nov. 25: Win. For some reason Bucs have their number in regular season.
at New Orleans, Dec. 2: Loss. Reggie Bush will star in this one.
at Houston, Dec. 9: Win. Texans won't be that improved.
Atlanta, Dec. 16: Loss. This sounds ridiculous, which is why it will happen.
at San Francisco, Dec. 23: Loss. No one's interested at this point.
Carolina, Dec. 30: Loss. Bucs ring in new year by beginning coaching search.
Expect it go much like 2004, when they started slow, picked it up in the middle of the season and then slid to the finish. That team went 5-11. I'll give them a little more credit. Garcia will help them to 6-10.
But that won't be enough to save Jon Gruden's job. And he knows it.
Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for BucsBlitz.com and the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Fla. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association and has won national awards for his Buccaneers coverage from the PFWA, the National Newspaper Association and the Associated Press Sports Editors. He is also a contributor to the Scot Brantley Show from 4-7 p.m. weekdays on WHBO 1490-AM in Tampa-Clearwater.