2017 Tampa Bay Buccaneers game-by-game predictions

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to build off their 9-7 finish in 2016 and win the NFC South, whose last two division winners (Atlanta and Carolina) have reached the Super Bowl. Considering the Bucs beat both of them last season, they believe they've got a real chance to contend.

Here's a game-by-game prediction of how the chips may fall:

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m. ET

For the second-straight year, the Bucs open the season on the road. The Dolphins finished 10-6 last year and advanced to the playoffs under then first-year head coach Adam Gase. With a promising young quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, and an improving defense, this is a pretty even match-up. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, vs. Chicago Bears, 1 p.m. ET

This marks the third-straight season that the Bucs have faced the Bears at home. Last year, the Bucs' 36-10 win over the Bears marked the beginning of a five-game win streak. The Bears gave former Bucs backup quarterback Mike Glennon $18.5 million in guaranteed money. Glennon hasn’t started a game since Nov. 2, 2014, and has lost four straight starts. Record: 2-0

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, at Minnesota Vikings, 1 p.m. ET

The Bucs have won their last three contests in Minnesota, but this is a Vikings squad that still managed to go 8-8 last year without quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson. The Vikings allowed the third fewest yards on defense per game last year (314.9). They also had 41 sacks last season, the fifth-most in the NFL, which will pose a big challenge for quarterback Jameis Winston. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, vs. New York Giants, 4:05 p.m. ET

Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul combined for 15.5 sacks last season and will face a Bucs' offensive line that surrendered 109 quarterback hits last year, fifth-most in the league, while the Giants allowed opponents to convert just 35.3 percent of third downs, third-best in the NFL. Odell Beckham Jr. will provide an early challenge to a vastly improved Bucs secondary that allowed a 49.1 percent completion percentage on passes of 15-plus yards last year, third-most in the NFL. Record: 2-2

Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 5 vs. New England Patriots, 8:25 p.m. ET

The Bucs have the luxury of being at home on a short week, but the Patriots' multiple defensive fronts and exceptional quarterback play give them the edge in their first regular-season trip to Raymond James Stadium. Might the Bucs benefit from catching a team like the Patriots early in the season? Nope. In the last five years, the Patriots have averaged nearly 30 points a game, while allowing the third-fewest points in Weeks 1-5. Record: 2-3

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, at Arizona Cardinals, 4:05 p.m. ET

After beating the Falcons on the road in Week 1 last year, the Bucs were humiliated 40-7 in Week 2 when they traveled to Glendale to take on the Cardinals. Winston turned the ball over a whopping five times, with four interceptions, while the defense was carved up by Carson Palmer, who threw three touchdowns in that game. That's not happening again. Record: 3-3

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m., ET

This will be just the second time in team history that the Bucs will travel to Buffalo for a regular-season game. The Bucs hold a 7-3 lead in this series, but they face a Sean McDermott-led defense. "He was always going to try to exploit your weaknesses," head coach Dirk Koetter said of McDermott at the NFL owners meetings. "He did a great job of attacking your protections with his blitzes. Very, very sound defense. Rarely out of position. Tough to get big plays on." Record: 4-3

Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29 vs. Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET

The Bucs won't face a single NFC South team until Week 8, creating an unusual schedule quirk. DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans will both pose a big challenge to a Panthers' secondary still feeling the effects of Josh Norman's departure. Record: 5-3

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5 at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET

After a thrilling 16-11 victory over the Saints on Dec. 11 last year, the Bucs were knocked out of the playoffs with a 31-24 loss at New Orleans on Christmas Eve. Ask anyone in the Bucs' locker room -- the bitterness of that loss hasn't gone away. Still, New Orleans is just a flat-out tough place to play. Record: 5-4

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12 vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

The Jets may have finished 5-11 last year and the Bucs could very well face a rookie quarterback here. The Jets' defense allowed 30 touchdowns and had only eight interceptions last season, a 3.75 touchdown-to-interception ratio that was the worst in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which could mean a big game and confidence-booster for Winston. Record: 6-4

Week 11: Bye

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26 at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET

The first of two meetings against the defending NFC champions, who will have a new look on offense under new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, but they'll have ample time to prepare and a bye to rest up. These two teams are 24-23 all-time and split last season, so this one could go either way. We'll give the Falcons the edge at home, even though the opposite happened last year, when the Bucs beat them 31-24 in Week 1. Record: 6-5

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3 at Green Bay Packers, 1 p.m. ET

The Packers' success at home in the month of December is well-documented. Since Mike McCarthy became the head coach in 2006, the Packers are a staggering 21-3 (.875) at Lambeau Field in the month of December, tied with the Patriots for the best December home record during that span. Record: 6-6

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, vs. Detroit Lions, 1 p.m. ET

The Lions allowed the worst completion percentage in NFL history last season (72.7 percent). They also generated pressure on just 21 percent of opponent dropbacks last season -- the worst in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info. This is the third of four straight games the Bucs will have against opponents who reached the playoffs last year. Record: 7-6

Week 15: Monday, Dec. 18, vs. Atlanta Falcons, 8:30 p.m. ET

For the second-straight year, the Bucs get the Falcons at home on prime-time television, although this time, it's on Monday Night Football. Of course, they're hoping to avenge that 43-28 annihilation from last season, which ended up being a catalyst for a major defensive turnaround. Record: 8-6

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24, at Carolina Panthers, 1 p.m. ET.

The Bucs swept the Panthers last season for just the fourth time in franchise history, and both games were won by three points or less. The Bucs' defense will continue the momentum it built last season when it picked off Cam Newton three times in their season finale. Will it be enough? It's hard to see them sweeping Carolina two years in a row. Record: 8-7

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, vs. New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. ET

Last year's Dec. 11 win at Raymond James Stadium was the Bucs' first home win against the Saints since 2011, suggesting the Bucs don't necessarily have a home-field advantage with this team. They close out the season with three straight games against division rivals, meaning fans may have to wait until the very end to find out who wins the division. Record: 9-7