The NFL's two reigning Super Bowl teams have something in common: They will be playing a prime-time, nationally-televised game in Tampa this fall.
The full 2017 NFL schedule was released on Thursday night, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 16-game slate is highlighted by a Thursday night visit from the New England Patriots and a Monday Night Football matchup with the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots beat the Falcons in thrilling comeback fashion in Super Bowl LI this past February.
This pair of premier prime-time games at Raymond James Stadium is the latest indication that the Buccaneers are considered an entertaining team on the rise. The schedule release comes just one day after the announcement that the Buccaneers would be the featured team on this summer's addition of the hugely popular HBO series Hard Knocks.
Tampa Bay had two prime-time games in 2016 as well, but their Monday night booking came at Carolina. After finishing the '16 campaign with a 9-7 record and barely missing the playoffs on a third-level tiebreaker, the Buccaneers are ready for much more national exposure in 2017. It's easy to see why the schedule-makers found a way to feature the Buccaneers more prominently. The team features an offense led by 23-year-old quarterback Jameis Winston and Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans, a defense that was among the league's best turnover producers and the 2017 free agency additions of DeSean Jackson and Chris Baker.
The Buccaneers last played a home Monday Night Football game in 2013, defeating the Indianapolis Colts, 22-19, in Week 10. That was also the most recent season in which Raymond James Stadium was the site of two prime-time games, as the Buccaneers also played host to the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night in Week Eight. The potentially critical Falcons-at-Bucs affair in Week 15 is the latest Monday Night Football game to feature the Buccaneers since their 2002 Super Bowl season.
The Buccaneers' 2017 regular season begins at Miami, marking the first time Tampa Bay has opened a campaign against their downstate rivals. The Bucs and Dolphins have met in the regular season only 10 times overall, each team winning five of them. The '17 schedule also features the latest bye week Tampa Bay has enjoyed in almost 30 years, a return to Lambeau Field in potentially frigid weather and a three-game run against division foes to close it out. The Buccaneers' first home game of 2017 will come against the Chicago Bears in Week Two and will feature the return of quarterback Mike Glennon to Raymond James Stadium.
Below is the Buccaneers' 2017 game schedule, followed by more notes (all times Eastern):
All Sunday afternoon games in Weeks 5-17 are subject to time changes as part of NFL's flex scheduling format. Flex scheduling will not be applied to games airing on Thursday, Saturday or Monday nights. From Weeks 5-10 games can only be moved in a total of two of those weeks.
Here are some additional notes regarding the Buccaneers' 2017 schedule:
Though it's impossible to predict when a bye week will be most welcome for a given team, later byes are considered advantageous given that there is a greater possibility of injured players. As noted above, the Buccaneers' Week 11 down time is their latest bye since 1990, which was the first year the NFL added byes to the schedule. Tampa Bay had its bye in Week 14 that year but has been slated for a week off no later than Week 10 since. Beginning with 2016 and proceeding in reverse chronological order, here are the Buccaneers' bye weeks since 2008, the last time they were off in the 10th week or later: 6, 6, 7, 5, 5, 8, 4, 8, 10. Both of those Week Eight byes followed trips to London. Tampa Bay was also given Week 10 byes in 2007, 2002 and 1995.
Also noted above is the run of matchups with Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans to close out the season. The NFL now schedules all intra-division games for Week 17, but this will mark the first time since 1995 that the Buccaneers will end their season with three straight games against division foes. The '95 Buccaneers, then a part of the five-team NFC Central, actually played five consecutive division games at the end of the season. There was a greater chance of this occurring, of course, in a five-team grouping that created eight intra-division matchups per year, as opposed to the six the Buccaneers currently play annually against the Falcons, Panthers and Saints.
In fact, the entire second half of the Buccaneers' 2017 season will be dominated by NFC South matchups. Tampa Bay doesn't play a single division foe until Week Eight, when the Panthers come to town on October 29. That equals the longest the Bucs have ever gone into a season before playing a division game; the 2005 team also played seven non-division foes before finally meeting up with the Panthers in Week Eight. Six of Tampa Bay's last nine games will be against the Falcons, Panthers and Saints.
The Buccaneers will open on the road for the second year in a row, but that comes on the heels of a run of six Week One home games in a seven-year span. The last time Tampa Bay opened consecutive campaigns away from home was 2007-08, heading to Seattle in 2007 and New Orleans the next year. However, for the second time in a row the divisional matchup of the NFC South against the AFC East has produced an interconference road opener for Tampa Bay. The Bucs opened the 2013 season at the New York Jets.
The Bucs will head back to Lambeau Field – a place they frequented during their 25 years in the NFC Central – for the first time since 2011. The last time they had the pleasure of visiting Green Bay in December was in 2000, when they closed out the season with a road game against the Packers on Christmas Eve day. Green Bay won, 17-14, in overtime, denying the Buccaneers a division title and forcing them to head to Philadelphia the next week as a Wild Card team. The kickoff temperature of that 2000 season finale at Lambeau was 15 degrees Fahrenheit, with a wind chill factor of -15. This year's game falls on December 3; last year on December 3 in Green Bay the high temperature was 35 degrees and the low was 32.
A look at the best players on the Buccaneers' schedule, according to their Pro Football Focus grade.
The other game on Tampa Bay's schedule that had the greatest possibility of offering frigid weather was Buffalo, but the Bucs will make that trip on October 22**. Buffalo enjoyed a high of 47 and a low of 40 on that date in 2016. The actual cold-weather concern on this year's schedule may come in Week 16 at Carolina, another Christmas Eve day game; however, it was an unseasonably warm day on that date last year in Charlotte, with a high of 64 and a low of 46. The more relevant note about the Buccaneers' October trip to upstate New York is that it will be just their second regular-season road game in Buffalo in their 42-season history. The Bucs and Bills have just 10 previous regular-season meetings, and the first eight (from 1976-2005) were played in Tampa. The Buccaneers' first regular-season game in Buffalo came in 2009, a 33-20 victory for the home team. Overall, Tampa Bay has a 7-3 record all-time against the Bills, capped by a 27-6 win at Raymond James Stadium in 2013. The Buccaneers' .700 winning percentage against Buffalo is their best against any NFL team.
The Buccaneers' home opener against Chicago will kick off at 1:00 p.m. ET on September 17. The NFL has frequently given Tampa Bay late-afternoon starts in September in an effort to avoid the oppressive heat and humidity often accompanying a 1:00 p.m. start. However, the Buccaneers and their opponents featured lengthy weather delays late in their Week Three and Week Four games at Raymond James Stadium last year. The Buccaneers' Week Four home, against the New York Giants, will kick off at 4:05 p.m. ET.
The Bucs will get their first exposure to several new stadiums this fall. The Minnesota Vikings began play at the U.S. Bank Stadium in 2016; Tampa Bay's last road game against the Vikings was a preseason affair in 2015, which was conducted at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium. The Buccaneers will visit the Vikings new home in Week Three, on September 24. In Week 11, on November 26, the Bucs will get their first look at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The Falcons are moving into a new home after 25 years at the Georgia Dome.