I’ve already assessed the five best opportunities for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to win in 2014, which you can find here.
However, what are the five toughest games for the Bucs this season? Again, these are in no particular order.
Week 3 @ Atlanta Falcons (September 18)
This is the Bucs only primetime game of the season and it comes on Thursday Night Football which translates into a quick turnaround following the game against the St. Louis Rams four days earlier. For that reason alone this will be a tough game and with it coming so early into the season it could spell trouble. Add in that the Bucs don’t tend to play well in the Georgia Dome and this could very well be a trap game for the Bucs. With this being the only nationally televised game for the Bucs they don’t want to embarrass themselves in front of a national audience.
Week 16 vs. Green Bay Packers (December 21)
The Packers make a rare trip to RJS in 2014 and as one of the premier teams in the NFL. The Bucs have won seven of the last eight versus Green Bay in Tampa but that doesn’t make the task at hand any easier. What makes this game more challenging though is when the game takes place – week 16. I anticipate that this game could have a dramatic effect on the standings and potential playoff berths for both teams so this game will likely mean a great deal. That aside, this is still an Aaron Rodgers led football team and that in itself will be a difficult challenge for Lovie Smith and his defense.
Week 12 @ Chicago Bears (November 23)
This is thankfully the only cold weather game for the Bucs in 2014 but it’s going to be the most emotional game of the season as Lovie Smith makes his return to Chicago, the team he coached for nine years. While I’m sure Smith will keep his emotions in tact, teams have a tendency to overhype themselves for games where their head coach revisits their old stomping ground and the Bucs must make sure they don’t fall into that trap. The Bucs defense will in for a tough afternoon against Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, but if they can contain those three then the Bucs will have a shot here. This game also marks the return to Chicago for Josh McCown, who must stick to his own game plan rather than trying to do too much to beat his former team.
Week 5 @ New Orleans Saints (October 5)
This is the third straight road game for the Bucs early in the season after stops in Atlanta and Pittsburgh so the team will likely be weary of playing on the road again. However, they are going up against Drew Brees and the electric Saints offense, an offense the Bucs have struggled to stop in recent years. This will also be the third NFC South matchup of the season already for the Bucs so they can’t afford to drop games early to their divisional rivals so that will add pressure to this game.
Week 14 @ Detroit Lions (December 7)
The Bucs tend to play well in Detroit (they’ve won five of their last six including last season) but this game is tough for a few reasons. First of all, it’s the first of a two-game road trip (Tampa play in Carolina the week after) so it’s imperative the Bucs set the stage for a big NFC South matchup a week later. Second of all, they’re going up against Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Detroit are wildly inconsistent still, but they can score in a flash, so the Bucs can’t afford to be sloppy otherwise this game will get away from them quickly, and with the game coming late in the season, that could potentially damage their playoff hopes.