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2023 Schedule Point-Counterpoint: Toughest Stretch 

Next up in our point-counterpoint debate, Scott and I discuss the most challenging section of the Buccaneers 2023 slate

PCP Toughest Stretch_

The NFL announced its highly-anticipated 2023 schedule for every franchise last week. Calendars are marked in ink for the Bucs' fall itinerary. It starts at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Vikings and concludes in Charlotte versus a divisional foe. There are many storylines that surround the Bucs list of opponents and venues, including many young quarterbacks inside the gauntlet. Tampa Bay could face several quarterbacks with fewer than five career starts (as of now) in Desmond Ridder, C.J. Stroud, Brock Purdy, Anthony Richardson and Bryce Young.

There are a lot of notable takeaways from the schedule, including some we like and dislike. The Bucs will undergo a hellacious stretch from Week Eight to Week 15. During that eight-game span, the Bucs only have two home matchups at Raymond James Stadium. In addition, Tampa Bay has an early bye in Week Five, with 13 contests following the allotted break. Not exactly an ideal 'rest and refresh' scenario.

Following the prime-time Monday Night Football showdown with the defending NFC Champions in Week Three, the Bucs have a quick turnaround, facing their nemesis, the New Orleans Saints, on the road in Week Four. Senior Writer/Editor Scott Smith and I, who have repeatedly stared at the 2023 compilation of opponents, will uncover what we consider to be the 'toughest stretch.' The schedule makers had a multitude of factors to consider when creating the 272-game layout. Through endless deliberations, a new season of matchups took shape. After announcing our messages of gratitude last week, Scott and I will do the opposite today.

This is the second debate in our week-long series of schedule-related topics. Here's the run-down for the whole series:

  • Friday, May 12: What one thing would you most like to thank the NFL schedule makers for this year?
  • Monday, May 15 What is the toughest stretch of games on this year's schedule?
  • Tuesday, May 16 What is your most anticipated game on the Bucs' 2023 schedule?
  • Wednesday, May 17: Who is the top rookie the Buccaneers will face on their 2022 schedule?
  • Thursday, May 18: What is one thing you would change about the Bucs' schedule if you had the power?

Scott and I are not going to duplicate answers, so the order of our debate is vital. Today, my co-worker will go first. Scott, what complaint do you have for the schedule-makers?

Scott Smith: Weeks 3-8

Well, I wouldn't actually call it a complaint, since every schedule is going to have some spots that – at least on paper in the month of May – look more difficult to navigate than others. It's more of an observation of one stretch that should really test the Bucs' mettle, and it arrives pretty quickly.

According to Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Buccaneers have the fifth-hardest schedule among all teams over the first six weeks of the season, based on projected win totals of their opponents. I'm not sure why six weeks was the specific cutoff for this chart but it's not like things immediately get easier for Tampa Bay after that. Week Eight is a stiff Thursday night test in Buffalo.

More specifically, my gaze is drawn to a six-week span that begins with an admittedly very exciting Monday Night Football game in Tampa against the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles. Last year, the Eagles ranked third on offense and second on defense, and I don't think they got particularly worse this offseason. They have a dual-threat quarterback in Jalen Hurts (second in MVP voting last year) and a defense that produced a league-high 70 sacks. Yikes.

It's hard to predict which teams in the NFC South are going to pull away from the pack after a down year for the whole division, but the Saints are a decent bet after they greatly improved their quarterback situation by signing Derek Carr. Plus, last year's game notwithstanding, the Superdome has recently been a house of horrors for the Bucs.

Then comes the bye, and that's nice, but all things considered you'd rather have that land later on the schedule. After the break it's a home game against an ascending Lions team with a load of offensive weapons. I don't know how difficult the Week Seven game against Atlanta will be, but either way the Bills and Josh Allen are waiting on the other side of that game. Put it all together and, to me, that's the most daunting gauntlet of games on this year's schedule.

What say you, Brianna?

Brianna Dix: Weeks 8-15

Scott, I can certainly appreciate the inventive response and there are some tough opponents in the aforementioned stretch, but on paper, the span that is glaringly tumultuous to me is the frenzy of road games placed midway in the schedule. From Week Eight through Week 15, Tampa Bay will be on the road six times in eight weeks, marking the third-such occurrence in team history (1978, 2017). The Bucs will have back-to-back road games with the Bills (Week Eight) and Texans (Week Nine), 49ers (Week 11) and Colts (Week 12) and the Falcons (Week 14) and Packers (Week 15). Those are sandwiched with only two home contests against the Titans (Week 10) and Panthers (Week 13).

It is also worth noting that in that formidable rundown of road contests, the Bucs will face arguably three of their toughest adversaries in the Bills, 49ers and the Packers – all in enemy territory. Josh Allen and co. provide a litmus test for any defense and are repeat contenders in the AFC East. Then there is the 49ers, who dismantled the Bucs 35-7 in Week 14 last season. San Francisco carved a domineering 28-0 lead before halftime, as Brock Purdy shined in his first career debut. Tampa Bay had no answers for Kyle Shanahan's multi-faceted and yards-after-catch weapons: Christian McCaffery, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Kyle Juszczyk. Another 'battle of the bays' will commence in 2023 and to tack onto the compilation, the Bucs will take a trip to the Frozen Tundra in December. The Packers' cornerstone players are not entertaining talk of a rebuild and if Jordan Love meets expectations under center, the Packers will likely remain a strength in the NFC North. Overall, that stretch is the most intimidating of the 2023 bunch.

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