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Gary Shelton: Bucs’ schedule hints the team has a chance to be better

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If it is indeed Jameis Winston whom the Bucs covet, he’ll come into the league with a lot to measure up against.

More than anything else, that struck you at first glance of next year’s Tampa Bay Bucs schedule. Boy, does Winston (or whichever quarterback the Bucs draft) need to be good.

And fast.

It’s no surprise, of course, that the schedule seems to focus on the Bucs’ passer. It’s a quarterback’s league. And, throughout its history, the Bucs have been lacking at the position.

But with the No. 1 draft pick, the Bucs have a chance to pick their quarterback of the future. They can finally get someone big, someone strong, someone to lead.

If this year is going to be better than last season’s 2-14 embarrassment, they’ll need all of it.

The NFL released its schedule Thursday, which is always anticipated, although it has long been established just which teams the Bucs will play.

Some initial thoughts?

— At first glance, you might argue that the Bucs have a chance. They play only the 29th-ranked schedule in the NFL (a .425 winning percentage.)

— The troubled Bucs’ offense has more of a chance. Tampa Bay plays against the bottom seven defenses in the league. (Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadelphia, the Giants, Chicago, New Orleans and Atlanta.)

— Barring a flex in the schedule (a switch of game times for TV purposes, there is only one prime-time game, a Thursday night game on Dec. 17 in St. Louis.

— The Bucs’ bye comes early, which is usually true of the weaker teams in the NFL.  The Bucs are off on October 18.

— For all of the reasons for optimism, the Bucs lost their last game to every opponent except Washington and Indianapolis.

Consider this for an opener: The Bucs open their season at home against Tennessee. That could pit Winston against Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who could be the second pick in the draft. Of course, there is the possibility that the Bucs could take Mariota and the Titans take Winston.

After that? The Bucs travel to New Orleans (where Winston would square off against Drew Brees) and then to Houston (where they would play Brian Hoyer, who beat them with Cleveland this year).

Following that, the Bucs are home against Carolina (Cam Newton) and Jacksonville (Blake Bortles). After that, they play four of their next six games on the road against Washington (Robert Griffith III) and Atlanta (Matt Ryan). They return home to play against the Giants (Eli Manning) and the Cowboys (Tony Romo).

After that, they’re on the road against the Eagles (Tim Tebow?) and Colts (Andrew Luck). Then comes two home games against Atlanta (Ryan again) and the Saints (Brees again).

They go to the Rams (Nick Foles) for a Sunday night game next, then play their final home game against the Bears (Jay Cutler) before finishing in Carolina (Newton again).

Yes, it’s a formidable lineup. But they don’t play against Tom Brady (Patriots), Peyton Manning (Broncos), Aaron Rodgers (Packers), Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Russell Wilson (Seattle) or Philip Rivers (Chargers).

In other words, there are a lot of teams who make you think first of their quarterback these days. You could make an argument that’s why Tampa Bay needs a quarterback of its own.

The Bucs did get a break as far as the weather. Three of its five games after December are at home and another one is in the Ed Jones Dome in St. Louis. The lone exception is the final in Carolina, which isn’t traditionally one of the worst places to play.

Gary Shelton is one of the most recognized and honored sportswriters in the history of the state. He has won the APSE's national columnist of the year twice and finished in the top 10 eight times. He was named the Florida Sportswriter of the Year six times. Gary joined SaintPetersBlog in the spring, helping to bring a sports presence to the website. Over his time in sports writing, Gary has covered 29 Super Bowls, 10 Olympics, Final Fours, Masters, Wimbledons and college national championships. He was there when the Bucs won a Super Bowl, when the Lightning won a Stanley Cup and when the Rays went to a World Series. He has seen Florida, FSU and Miami all win national championships, and he covered Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden and Don Shula along the way. He and his wife Janet have four children: Eric, Kevin, K.C. and Tori. To contact, visit

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