Game-by-game predictions: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay will go 8-8. The Buccaneers have the nucleus to have a very good defense, led by defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David. If they can get some offensive production from a rookie quarterback (Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota), they should be much more competitive than last year and be one of the league’s most improved teams.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 13, Tennessee, 4:25 p.m.

Circle this game because it could be special. Many experts are predicting the Bucs will draft Winston and the Titans will take Mariota. The two quarterbacks could be making their debuts against one another. I’ll take the Bucs because they have the better defense. Bucs 20, Titans 10. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 20, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.

The Bucs have struggled in the NFC South in recent years and it’s tough to imagine that changing in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints have a lot of new personnel, but they still have Drew Brees at quarterback. Saints 28, Bucs 14. Record: 1-1

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 27, at Houston, 1 p.m.

The Bucs never have won in Houston. But there is a first time for everything and the Bucs will match their win total for the 2014 season. Bucs 20, Texans 17. Record: 2-1

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 4, Carolina, 1 p.m.

Have we mentioned the Bucs’ recent struggles in the NFC South? They will continue against the division’s defending champions. Panthers 21, Bucs 13. Record: 2-2

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 11, Jacksonville, 1 p.m.

The Bucs will have a chance to be above .500 in October, which is a relatively new concept for this franchise. They’ll take advantage of it. Bucs 24, Jaguars 14. Record: 3-2

Week 6: BYE

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 25, at Washington, 1 p.m.

The Redskins are one team the Bucs have had success against in recent years. Tampa Bay has won at Washington the last two times it has played there (2010 and 2014). The streak will continue. Bucs 17, Redskins 13. Record: 4-2

Week 8: Sunday, Nov. 1, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.

The Falcons have a new coach in Dan Quinn and there likely will be some growing pains. But Atlanta still has a high-powered offense with Matt Ryan, Roddy White and Julio Jones. Falcons 31, Bucs 14. Record: 4-3

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 8, New York Giants, 4:05 p.m.

The Bucs will make it into November with a winning record. But that’s when they’ll hit the toughest part of their schedule. Giants 24, Bucs 10. Record: 4-4

Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 15, Dallas, 1 p.m.

Defensive tackle Henry Melton, cornerback Sterling Moore and linebacker Bruce Carter will get to play against their former team. But their inside information won’t be enough. Cowboys 27, Bucs 17. Record: 4-5

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 22, at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier. The Eagles have a lot of new personnel on offense, but their fast pace will be too much for the Bucs to handle. Eagles 24, Bucs 13. Record: 4-6

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 29, at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.

Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis offense should be in midseason form. The Bucs won’t be able to break their losing streak. Colts 35, Bucs 17. Record: 4-7

Week 13: Dec. 6, Atlanta, 1 p.m.

Finally, it’s time for the Bucs to get a division win. They might even get a chance to put themselves back in the playoff race. Bucs 24, Falcons 20. Record: 5-7

Week 14: Dec. 13, New Orleans, 1 p.m.

Is it too much to ask for back-to-back division victories? I say no. Bucs 17, Saints 16. Record: 6-7

Week 15: Dec. 17, at St. Louis, 8:25 p.m.

The Bucs will carry some momentum into this one. That might be all they need. Bucs 24, Rams 17. Record: 7-7

Week 16: Dec. 27, Chicago, 1 p.m.

A four-game winning streak in December? Hey, it’s possible. This one carries extra meaning for coach Lovie Smith, who used to coach the Bears. Bucs 21, Bears 17. Record: 8-7

Week 17: Jan. 3, at Carolina, 1 p.m.

This game could have playoff implications for the Bucs. But it also could be a big game for Carolina. Panthers 28, Bucs 17. Record: 8-8