Like every team in the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have known since the final weekend of the 2012 season who their opponents would be in 2013. They've even known where all 16 regular-season games will be played. The last piece of information is the "when," and the wait is nearly over.
The NFL hasn't announced a specific release date for the 2013 schedule as of yet, but it's easy to make an educated guess. The last time it came out in the month of March was way back in 2002, and it hasn't even dropped in the first week of April since 2006. In recent years, the schedule release has settled comfortably in the April 11-20 range – just a little bit before the NFL Draft – and it's almost sure to be one of those dates again in 2013. Given that the NFL now likes to make a midweek prime-time show out of the unveiling of each new schedule, one could narrow the guesswork down even further, and in fact a Sports Business Journal reporter cited the specific date of Tuesday, April 16 just two days ago.
And that leaves only a little more time for speculation or trend-spotting when it comes to what the Buccaneers 2013 schedule could look like. Who will the Bucs open and close their upcoming season against? When will the bye week fall? How will the intra-division games fall out? In truth, there's no real formula for predicting these things, but we can look at some recent trends when it comes to such questions as:
- Will the Buccaneers open 2013 at home or on the road?
There has been a definite trend here, and it would be somewhat surprising to see it continue.
Last year, the Buccaneers opened the season against the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium. That was the fourth straight year Tampa Bay had started its schedule at home, the longest such streak in the franchise's 37-season history. Heading into the 2013 season, only the Buccaneers and the Houston Texans are riding streaks of four straight openers played at home. It would seem like a good bet that Tampa Bay and Houston would be sent on the road this time around.
However, it's not a certainty. Since the league went to 32 teams and its division-rotation scheduling format in 2002, there have actually been three different runs of Week One home openers that stretched longer than four years. The Carolina Panthers started five straight seasons at home from 2002-06, while the Washington Redskins had a run of six consecutive seasons from '02-07. The Cleveland Browns top the list with a run that spanned eight years, from 2002-09, and actually expands to 11 in a row if one opens the study to years before 2002. The Browns' streak of 11 straight seasons with Week One home openers began in 1999, the year the team began play again after a three-year hiatus.
- When the Bucs do play their home opener, will it be against a divisional opponent or not?
Seems like a 50-50 shot, or close to it.
Since 2002, Tampa Bay has welcomed an NFC South opponent for its home opener on five occasions, and a team from outside the division on six occasions. If there's an informal rotation of some kind going on here, then Atlanta might be the best bet because the Bucs already have already had two home openers against Carolina (2003, 2012) and New Orleans (2002, 2007) in that span but only one against Atlanta (2008). Given that the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2002 and made their last playoff appearance in 2007, they might be hoping for the good omen of another Saints home opener.
Surprisingly, two of the Bucs' last 11 home openers have been against AFC teams. The odds are against that happening again, given that only two of its eight home games will be against the other conference.
- When will Tampa Bay get its bye week?
If a recent trend holds, it will be relatively late in the schedule, or at least in the rotation of byes from Weeks 4-12. Over the last four seasons, the Bucs have yo-yoed between the middle of that stretch and an early date, meaning something in Weeks 10-12 could be on tap this year. The Bucs haven't had a bye in Week 10 or later since 2008, so they would appear to be due.
Overall, in the 11 seasons under the current scheduling format, the Bucs have had their bye in the Weeks 4-6 range four times, in the Weeks 7-9 range four times and in the 10-12 range three times. They have never been scheduled with a bye in that first third of weeks, so given that they had a Week Five bye in 2012, one can make an educated guess that it will be a little later in 2013.
- Against whom will the Bucs finish their regular season?
This one can actually be narrowed down quite a bit, to just three possibilities in fact.
In 2010, the NFL made one minor tweak to its scheduling format, purposely pitting every team against a division opponent in Week 17. The idea was to try to increase the possibility of games on that final weekend having meaning in the playoff race, thus reducing the instances in which coaches choose to rest their starters.
That will continue in 2013, so the Buccaneers know they'll be finishing against Atlanta, Carolina or New Orleans. Tampa Bay has played in the Georgia Dome in Week 17 each of the last two years, and also had the Falcons at home in Week 17 in 2009. In 2010, it was a trip to New Orleans that finished the regular-season slate, so perhaps this is the year the Bucs will wrap things up against the Panthers. That happened one other time, in 2007 at Raymond James Stadium.
- What are the chances of a cold-weather game?
There's a slightly higher chance the Buccaneers will be braving the elements in 2013.
Three games in particular look like potential weather issues: at New England, at Seattle and at the New York Jets. It can also be fairly cold in Charlotte at the end of the season, so roughly half of the schedule has the potential for cold-weather games if it falls right.
On the other hand, the Bucs other four road games – Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit and St. Louis – will all be played in domes, so there is no weather worry there.