We knew who the Bucs were playing in 2018, we just didn’t know when. The season will kick-off on Sunday, September 9th at 1pm at the New Orleans Saints. The home opener will be September 16th against the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. For Tampa Bay, it’s crucial the Bucs get off to a good start to 2018 and with the specter of the NFL Uber investigation hanging over them, it’s could be harder than you think, especially with Tampa Bay facing four 2017 playoff teams in their first six weeks.
The Full Schedule
All Times Eastern
WK 1 Sept. 9 – @ New Orleans 1pm
WK 2 Sept. 16 – vs. Philadelphia 1pm
WK 3 Sept. 24 – vs. Pittsburgh (MNF) 8:15pm
WK 4 Sept. 30 – @ Chicago 1pm
WK 5 Oct. 7- BYE
WK 6 Oct. 14 – @ Atlanta 1pm
WK 7 Oct. 21 – vs. Cleveland 1pm
WK 8 Oct. 28 – @ Cincinnati 1pm
WK 9 Nov. 4 – @ Carolina 1pm
WK 10 Nov. 11 – vs. Washington 1pm
WK 11 Nov. 18 – @ New York Giants 1pm
WK 12 Nov. 25 – vs. San Francisco 1pm
WK 13 Dec. 2 – vs. Carolina 1pm
WK 14 Dec. 9 – vs. New Orleans 1pm
WK 15 Dec. 16 – @ Baltimore 1pm
WK 16 Dec. 23 – @ Dallas 1pm
WK 17 Dec. 30 – vs. Atlanta 1pm
All Eyes on the Bucs
This year the Bucs have just one nationally televised game. Tampa Bay will host the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football on September 24th. Obviously, it will be a tough one for the Bucs as the Steelers advanced to the AFC Divisional Playoffs before falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a huge upset.
The Steelers boast some of the best players in the league in Antonio Brown, Leveon Bell and of course Big Ben Rothlisberger.
On the bright side, the Bucs avoid the dreaded Thursday Night game that has been so awful the last few years.
Of course, there’s still the potential if the Bucs are in contention down the stretch that they could potentially have a game flexed to Sunday Night Football, as they did in 2016 at Dallas.
The NFL basically has stacked the deck against Tampa Bay to start the season. The Bucs open the 2018 campaign against three 2017 playoff teams and face four playoff teams in their first six games. If Jameis Winston is suspended for the same amount of time as Ezekiel Elliot (6 games) to start the season, it might be over before it begins, folks.
Needless to say, Tampa Bay’s going to need to have their big boy pads on from the start. Of course, what better way to make a statement in the league than to come out firing against three teams you’ll be heavy underdogs against?
A fast start by the Bucs, with their toughest games (according to last year’s records, which rarely if ever carry over to the next season) out of the way early, could potentially set the stage for a big-time playoff run.
The Bye Week
For the Bucs, the Bye week falls on Week 5, which is a little earlier than you’d want it to be. Typically, the Bucs like their bye week somewhere in the Week 8 to 9 range, right in the middle of the season.
All sixteen are crucial in a season, but as we mentioned, the start of the season is going to really tell the tale for Tampa Bay. Opening on the road against the Saints will be huge. Jameis and the Bucs have won there before, but recent history has had that dome be a house of horrors for the Bucs. You take on the champs at home (who will have an extra three days to prepare since they open with the Falcons for the Thursday Night kickoff), followed by the Steelers in front of a National audience on Monday Night Football.
Imagine it, Bucs fans. Tampa Bay comes out firing at 2-0 and the entire world comes to check out these crazy Bucs who stunned last year’s division champ and the defending Super Bowl champs.
It would be a great thing to see. They say if you’re going be the best, you got to beat the best. Tampa Bay will get that test as soon as the season starts. Of course, if Winston isn’t there then, well, the task becomes that much more challenging.
Wrapping up the season with 4 of the last 5 games at home with three of those being divisional games could also be a huge stretch for this team and set up for the Bucs to finish 2018 strong.
Under Winston, the Bucs have struggled at the end of the season, posting a 5-10 record in December/January games. Tampa Bay will need to better that finish if they hope to play meaningful football beyond December 30th.
December won’t be easy for Tampa Bay. It opens with home games against Carolina and New Orleans, then the Bucs head out for two weeks to Baltimore and Dallas, two teams that are expected to rebound after missing the playoffs in 2017. They wrap up the season at home against the Falcons which the Bucs very much hope will be a battle for a division title.
Protect This House
The last time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers qualified for the playoffs, they posted a 6-2 record at Raymond James Stadium. Since 2008, they haven’t come close to being that good on home turf, managing just a 4-4 record as the high water mark and going 0-8 in 2014 as the low point.
In the past three seasons, only one playoff team (2017 LA Rams) didn’t have at least a 5-3 record on their home turf. Most had 6 or more. Bottom line, you protect your house, you stand a good chance of playing into January.
Under Koetter, the Bucs are 8-8 at Ray Jay. Better, but not good enough. In 2018, Tampa Bay has 5 of their 8 home games against 2017 playoff teams (their three divisional foes, the Super Bowl Champion Eagles, and the Pittsburgh Steelers) and open their 2018 home slate against those Super Bowl champion Eagles.
In addition, a much improved San Francisco team, a pesky Washington team, and the Browns will not be pushovers.
Bucs fans better pray to whatever deity they worship that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t suspend Jameis Winston for the Uber incident. A loss of Winston would be utterly devastating to the Bucs chances in 2018, considering the stacked deck the NFL delivered to the Bucs.
With that said, provided Winston is available, the opportunity is there for this young team to prove itself, to their fans and to the rest of the league that fluke was last season, not 2016.
If the Bucs can win September with a 3-1 start, it sets the stage for an easier October and November before the final push at the end of the season. With four of the last six games at home, including 3 against divisional opponents, the fortunes of the Bucs may rise or fall down the stretch if they can survive that brutal September.