With the regular season right around the corner, now is the perfect time to take a look at the five most pivotal games on the Buccaneers schedule.
Throughout the grueling NFL season, a handful of games stand out among the rest. Longtime rivalries and key home stands could be the difference as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers seek to break a playoff drought which has lasted over a decade.
The Buccaneers schedule will be treated much differently than any other team in the league. Due to Jameis Winston’s suspension, the beginning of the team’s season will be looked at through a different lens.
Without their starting quarterback, the first three weeks of the season become even more important. Facing New Orleans, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is already a challenge, but without Winston, the Bucs may face an even bigger hole.
The potential 0-3 start makes every other contest even more important. There’s no room for error if Tampa wants to compete in the daunting NFC South.
It will be tough sledding for the Buccaneers next season as their schedule won’t do them any favors. Tampa Bay has the fourth toughest strength of schedule in the league. The Buccaneers opponents combined for a .531 winning percentage.
If the Bucs are able to shock the rest of the league, they will need to perform well in these pivotal matchups.
Week 1 @ New Orleans Saints
Obviously, Week one is a huge day for the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay will head into New Orleans with Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the offense. It will be the first chance for fans to see how the Bucs matchup against one of the league’s best.
Odds are, Tampa will be a heavy underdog, but if Fitzpatrick can play mistake-free football and the defense can shut down the dynamic Alvin Kamara, the game could be close. Week one is typically full of surprises, so perhaps the Bucs have one up their sleeves.
On the other hand, Tampa could fall flat on their face and get crushed by an angry Saints team. No matter how the game goes, first impressions are always important.
Week 4 @ Chicago Bears
Winston’s return. In all likelihood, the Buccaneers will be facing a big hole to start the season. If the Buccaneers want to remain in contention, they must beat a mediocre Bears team.
Tampa could slip way behind with a loss to Chicago and essentially destroy their postseason hopes right as the season begins. Losing hope this early would quickly put the nail in head coach Dirk Koetter’s coffin.
A lame duck coach could mean a mess in the locker room and create another long depressing Buccaneers season.
Week 7 v. Cleveland Browns
Really? The Browns?
Yes, the Cleveland Browns are likely going to end up in the cellar, but the Browns game begins a stretch of winnable games for Tampa Bay. Even if the season gets off to a rough start, Tampa can gain ground and it all will start with a win against Cleveland.
The Buccaneers will stay in Ohio to play Cincinnati, another winnable game. They will then face Carolina in a divisional matchup where anything can happen. The next three games should also be tightly contested as Tampa faces the Redskins, Giants and 49ers.
Week 13 v. Carolina Panthers
As Tampa will head into the final stretch, a familiar foe will try to crush whatever playoff hopes may still remain. At this point in the season, it will be clear what the Buccaneers are. Hopefully, they are in contention and need a victory over the Panthers.
Cam Newton and company had a strong 2017 season and are primed to compete for the division title for another year. A win this week could propel Tampa during a grueling final stretch. Just a week later the Saints will head to Raymond James Stadium.
Week 17 v. Atlanta Falcons
The final game of the season. The Buccaneers will be playing for draft position or the playoffs. Assuming the season is lost, there will be plenty of fans hoping the Bucs mail it in in hopes of a better Draft pick.
Miracles do happen and if Tampa could find themselves in the hunt during Week 17, beating the rival Falcons in front of the home fans would be satisfying.
What games have you circled on the Buccaneers schedule? Let’s discuss on Twitter @ThePewterPlank