Greg Schiano's first regular-season game as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will feature the support of the home crowd, the passion of one of the Bucs' most heated rivalries and the challenge presented by the 2011 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
The Buccaneers will begin the 2012 NFL season at Raymond James Stadium on September 9 against the Carolina Panthers, with kickoff scheduled for 4:15 p.m.
This marks the first time in exactly a decade that Tampa Bay will open its season with a home game against one of its NFC South foes, and perhaps that is a good omen. The last time it happened was in the new division's first year, the 2002 campaign that happened to end with the Buccaneers winning Super Bowl XXXVII.
Other highlights of Tampa Bay's 2012 schedule include a Thursday night game on the NFL Network in Minnesota on October 25; a potentially frigid game in Denver against Peyton Manning and the Broncos on December 2 and final-month home games against two NFC teams that carry previously compelling rivalries ready to be rekindled: the Philadelphia Eagles on December 9 and the St. Louis Rams on December 23.
The Buccaneers will run a gauntlet of NFC East teams in the early going, with consecutive games at the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys and at home against the Washington Redskins from Weeks 2-4. The team's bye falls after that, in Week Five, followed by home games against Kansas City and New Orleans, meaning the Bucs won't have a road trip for over a month from September 23 to October 25.
The season concludes in Atlanta for the second year in a row, this time on the afternoon of December 30. All three of the Buccaneers intra-division road games (also at Carolina, Nov. 18; and at New Orleans, Dec. 16) fall during the final seven weeks of the season.
Here is the Buccaneers' 2012 regular-season game schedule, followed by more notes:
|Sun.||Sept. 9||CAROLINA||4:15 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Sept. 16||at N.Y. Giants||1:00 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Sept. 23||at Dallas||1:00 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Sept. 30||WASHINGTON||4:15 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Oct. 7||Bye Week|
|Sun.||Oct. 14||KANSAS CITY||1:00 PM||CBS|
|Sun.||Oct. 21||NEW ORLEANS||1:00 PM||FOX|
|Thurs.||Oct. 25||at Minnesota||8:30 PM||NFLN|
|Sun.||Nov. 4||at Oakland||4:05 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Nov. 11||SAN DIEGO||1:00 PM||CBS|
|Sun.||Nov. 18||at Carolina||1:00 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Nov. 25||ATLANTA||1:00 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 2||at Denver||4:05 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 9||PHILADELPHIA||1:00 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 16||at New Orleans||1:00 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 23||ST. LOUIS||1:00 PM||FOX|
|Sun.||Dec. 30||at Atlanta||1:00 PM||FOX|
- All times Eastern and subject to change
- All Sunday afternoon games in Weeks 10-17 are subject to time changes as part of NFL's flex scheduling format
The Buccaneers will be opening their season at home for the fourth straight time, the longest such streak in franchise history. Tampa Bay began the 2009 season with a visit from Dallas, hosted Cleveland to start the 2010 campaign and were at home against Detroit in Week One last September. Overall, this will mark the 18th time in 37 seasons that the Buccaneers have opened the regular season at home.
This is the first time, however, that the Carolina Panthers are the first team on the Buccaneers' docket. The two teams have played each other 23 times since the Panthers joined the NFL in 1995, 20 of them since they were paired in the new NFC South in '02, but their earliest previous meeting was in Week Two in 2003.
It is not unusual for the Buccaneers to finish the season against a division opponent, however; in fact, it has essentially been mandated for the past three years. Since 2010, the NFL has chosen to emphasize division matchups in the final week of the season in an attempt to increase the chances that each game is meaningful in the playoff race. On the other hand, it is relatively uncommon for Tampa Bay to have the same opponent for two straight season finales; the only other time it happened was in 1996 and 1997, when the Chicago Bears visited Tampa in Week 17 in consecutive years.
Tampa Bay's matchups with the four NFC East teams are concentrated in the season's first month, as mentioned above, with only the Philadelphia game falling later, in Week 14. On the other hand, its four games against AFC West teams make up a bulk of the middle of the schedule, with Kansas City in Week Six, Oakland in Week Nine, San Diego in Week 10 and Denver in Week 13. The Chiefs will be making their first regular-season visit to Tampa since 2004, a game won by the Buccaneers, 34-31.
The Buccaneers are scheduled to play six games against teams that made the postseason in 2011, including two each against division foes Atlanta and New Orleans. The other 2011 playoff teams on Tampa Bay's schedule are the New York Giants (Week Two) and the Denver Broncos (Week 13). The Giants are the defending league champions, having defeated New England in Super Bowl XLVI in February. This will mark the earliest Tampa Bay has played the defending Super Bowl champs since 1989, when they took on the San Francisco 49ers in Week Two.
Here are some additional notes of interest regarding the Buccaneers' 2012 schedule:
- Some of the Buccaneers' newest players will welcome their former teams to Raymond James Stadium in 2012. The New Orleans Saints, for whom guard Carl Nicks played his first four seasons, are due in town on October 21. The San Diego Chargers, wide receiver Vincent Jackson's team from 2005-11, will visit on November 11.
- The Bucs will be on the road for their season finale for the third year in a row. In addition to the 2011 season-capper in Atlanta, Tampa Bay finished at New Orleans in 2010.
- The Buccaneers' bye falls in Week Five. While later bye weeks are generally considered favorable, given the greater chance for player injury and fatigue, Buccaneer season-ticket holders may appreciate the off week falling in early October, when the temperatures in Tampa can still be quite high. In addition, both of the Buccaneers' first two home games will start at 4:15 p.m., providing cooler late-afternoon and early-evening weather, as well.
- Tampa Bay's Week Eight game at Minnesota will mark just its second appearance on the NFL Network's series of games. Last season, the Bucs played host to the Dallas Cowboys on a Saturday night in Week 15, a game that was technically part of the team's usual Thursday-night lineup. Tampa Bay has played on Thursday night twice before in team history, but not since 2000. The Buccaneers lost to Detroit in a Thursday night game in Week Eight of that season and beat the Los Angeles Rams on a Thursday night in Week Two of the 1980 campaign. The Bucs also played on Thursday afternoon in Dallas in 2006 in the Cowboys' annual Thanksgiving home game.
- Once again, there isn't too much danger of cold weather on the Bucs' schedule, though the trip to Denver on December 2 obviously stands out as a possibility. Otherwise, the teams' final two road trips are to locations with domed stadiums (New Orleans and Atlanta). It's possible the weather could be turning cold in Charlotte when the Buccaneers play at Carolina on November 18.
- Of all the teams on the Buccaneers' 2012 schedule, the opponent that Tampa Bay has gone the longest without beating is the San Diego Chargers. The Bucs' lone win against San Diego occurred in 1996. The Bucs also last beat the Oakland Raiders in regular-season play in '96; however, they subsequently demolished the Raiders, 48-21, in Super Bowl XXXVII in January of 2003. That game, coincidentally, was played in San Diego.
- If the Buccaneers' rivalry with the St. Louis Rams is to heat up again, the timing of this year's game is interesting. The rivalry began with a hard-fought, 11-6 loss in St. Louis in the 1999 NFC Championship Game and continued through several memorable rematches over the next few seasons. The most memorable of those games was surely the late-season shootout in Tampa in 2000, in which the Bucs gained a measure of revenge with a 38-35 victory that clinched a playoff spot. That game fell in Week 16, just like this year's visit from the Rams. During the same era, the Buccaneers and Eagles traded important victories, with Philly knocking the Bucs out of the playoffs in both 2000 and 2001 and Tampa Bay returning the favor in the 2002 NFC Championship Game. Philadelphia comes to Tampa in December of this year, as well, potentially setting up another game that will be important to both teams' playoff hopes.