The Buccaneers head into 2019 with a considerably ‘easier’ schedule than 2018, where they had the fourth-toughest according to opponent win percentage totals. Opponents have a .508 win percentage and the Bucs will face six playoff-bound teams in 2019, as denoted with an asterisk below, giving them the 12th-toughest schedule in the league. This next season, the Bucs will take on the entirety of the NFC West along with the AFC South and of course, the NFC South, as is determined by the NFL algorithm that decides each team's schedule.
Below are further summaries of how each opponent fared in the 2018 regular season, along with their regular season record and what Bucs fans could expect come 2019.
Arizona Cardinals (3-13): The Cardinals had another down year in 2018 that resulted in the firing of their head coach, Steve Wilks, just one season after he took over. Arizona does have some good potential talent after drafting quarterback Josh Rosen out of UCLA in 2018. Running back David Johnson also returned from injury this season to start all 16 games, proving his reliability as a back that should only get better under a new offensive system. An encouraging note for next year is how well the Cardinals defense did, tying for the fifth-most sacks in the league with 49.0 in 2018. They also had the most tackles for loss in the NFL with 98 to finish out the year.
Houston Texans (11-5)*: Houston stumbled early in 2018, losing their first three games but apparently not their confidence. Following the skid, the Texans won their next nine, starting with two overtime thrillers over the Colts and Cowboys. The return of the resurgent J.J. Watt gave their defense a boost and before the regular season was over, Watt had amassed 16.0 sacks. The offense played complement with wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, especially. Hopkins led the AFC in the 2018 regular season with 1,572 receiving yards on 115 catches and 11 touchdowns. Houston is now in the AFC playoff picture and with quarterback Deshaun Watson going into just his third year in the league and Hopkins locked up in his current five-year deal, the Texans should be a formidable opponent for years to come.
Indianapolis Colts (10-6)*: If the Texans were a surprise playoff contender, the Colts were even more so. Indianapolis found itself at 1-5 in Week Six, the return of quarterback Andrew Luck not enough to propel them to wins early in the season. Miraculously, the Colts turned their entire season around, winning all but one of their remaining games, finishing 10-6 and earning a playoff berth. The Colts scored the second-most passing touchdowns in the 2018 regular season with 39, a feat aided by a monster offensive line that does as good a job as any in protecting Luck. He was the least-sacked quarterback during the 2018 regular season after the line allowed just 18 sacks in 16 games. The addition of top-five draft pick Quenton Nelson in 2018 helped at guard and the offense should be something to contend with continuing into next season.
San Francisco 49ers (4-12): Prior to the 2018 season, the 49ers seemed primed for a good run after landing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo from the New England Patriots. Unfortunately, three games into the season Garoppolo went down with an ACL injury that took him out for the rest of the year. It then became a season of what could have been in San Francisco. Expect them to be itching for a better year in 2019 and restart Garoppolo’s legacy as a 49er.
New York Giants (5-11): The Giants went 1-7 before their bye week this past season. The week off seemed to resuscitate them to a degree, as they won four of their next five, including a matchup at home against the Bucs in which they squeaked by on a last-minute field goal. They had made offensive improvements over their 2017 campaign with new head coach Pat Shurmer leading the way. They didn’t have the season they wanted in 2018 but with high-caliber weapons like veteran wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and running back Saquon Barkley, who will be entering his sophomore season, the Giants should start putting things together more in 2019.
Carolina Panthers (7-9): After exiting the playoffs in the first round in 2017, the Panthers looked toward 2018 to be the year that pushed them further. They wound up again finishing second in the NFC South behind the New Orleans Saints, but this time with a 7-9 record and missing the postseason. The start of the season made them look every bit the playoff contender they were the year before, coming out of Week Nine, and their first matchup with the Bucs, at 6-2. Four weeks later and the Bucs would force them to an even 6-6 on the season, after winning that contest at home, 24-17. Quarterback Cam Newton battled through injury for what seemed like the better part of the season, perhaps aiding in the team’s struggles. When Newton is healthy, the offense is scary. It’s an offense that includes running back Christian McCaffrey, who rushed for 1,098 yards in 2018 and tallied another 867 yards receiving, a massive uptick in production from his rookie year in 2017. On the other side of the ball, there’s always linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was just elected to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl this year and seems to know the opposition’s plays before they’re even called on the field every game.
Atlanta Falcons (7-9): Another division opponent that is always a challenge for the Bucs, they were the only one to sweep Tampa Bay this past season. The bad taste will undoubtedly still be in the Bucs’ mouths after dropping their last game of the season to the Falcons at home. With the offensive weapons Atlanta has in Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Calvin Ridley and Tevin Coleman, it makes you wonder how the team could have struggled so mightily in 2018. It also makes you think that those struggles won’t last long and they should bounce back again next year.
New Orleans Saints (13-3)*: The Saints won the division. Again. But it wasn’t without some excitement as the Bucs managed a decisive win over New Orleans in Week One at the Superdome. The Saints did not take the loss lightly and won their next 10 straight. They clinched the division in their Week 14 win over the Bucs, evening the season series between the two teams. Quarterback Drew Brees, with the protection of the Saints’ offensive line isn’t going anywhere between now and next season. New Orleans has also built a solid defense completely under the radar. They tied for the fifth-most sacks with 49.0. They were also top-ten in quarterback hits with 98 on the year. Couple that with a potent offense and you’ve got a dangerous team that isn’t showing signs of slowing down.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): One year after a near-Super Bowl berth and the Jaguars couldn’t sustain that success in 2018. Their biggest question-mark still seems to be quarterback Blake Bortles. He finished the season with a 79.8 quarterback rating and was benched in favor of Cody Kessler during the season. Kessler didn’t fair any better in his four games started. The suffocating Jacksonville defense from 2017 failed to reach the top 10 in any major defensive category. It’s anyone’s guess as to if they bounce back in 2019 or continue to falter.
Los Angeles Rams (13-3)*: This may be the Bucs’ scariest opponent outside of their division. Not only have the Rams made the postseason in Head Coach Sean McVay’s first two seasons, but they look built for the long-haul behind his innovative offense and a stifling defense with an extreme amount of talent. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald, fresh off a six-year $134 million contract extension, went out and got himself 20.5 sacks in 2018 to prove he was worth every penny. Quarterback Jared Goff has now been selected to the Pro Bowl the last two years, with a quarterback rating of over 100 each year. With no significant changes on the horizon, the Rams should be another tough team in 2019.
Seattle Seahawks (10-6)*: The Seahawks were middle of the road through the first half of the season before pulling away and earning a Wildcard spot against the Dallas Cowboys in the postseason. They had the top-ranked rushing attack, gaining 2,560 yards on the ground in 2018. That works out to 160.0 rushing yards per game. Raise your hand if you’re not not surprised by that. Running back Chris Carson led the way with 1,151 yards on 247 carries and nine rushing touchdowns. Of course, having a mobile quarterback like Russell Wilson helps. Wilson added 376 yards on the ground on 67 rushing attempts. He’s been able to sustain his mobility for the entirety of his career and it pays off. The fact that the Bucs will have to travel to Seattle won’t help matters in 2019. This should definitely be a tough one next season.
Tennessee Titans (9-7): The Titans just narrowly missed the playoffs after dropping their last game to the Colts, who have turned out to be a bona fide playoff contender down the stretch. The Titans were kind of a hard team to figure out in 2018, beating teams like the New England Patriots but also losing to the Buffalo Bills. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was more efficient this season with his 68.9 completion percentage and overall quarterback rating of 92.3 on the season. Their defense showed life at times, like the one time they registered 11.0 sacks on the Baltimore Ravens… in one game. Ultimately, they seem to be another team trying to put it all together but also seem to be inching closer and could do just that come 2019.
Detroit Lions (6-10): The Lions finished 2018 on a high note, shutting out the division-rival Green Bay Packers 31-0 in their last game of the season. It was a statement that was meant to instill momentum for next season after a disappointing 6-10 season that again, was just as unpredictable as the Titans. The Lions were another team to beat the New England Patriots, but lost to the New York Jets in Week One. Detroit also had what turned out to be a decently tough schedule, especially having to contend with the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings in their division. It was Head Coach Matt Patricia’s first year with the team and with the foundation laid, they’ll be looking for improvement heading into 2019.