The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't spend much time outside the Eastern Time Zone in 2018.
The end of the 2017 NFL season means the finalization of 2018 opponent lists for all 32 teams. Those are determined by the annual rotation of matchups between divisions, as well as two games per team decided by the standings. The Buccaneers will get a trip to Chicago to play the Bears and a visit from the San Francisco 49ers out of the last part of that formula.
That Chicago trip is almost as far west as Tampa Bay will be asked to travel next fall. The team's longest journey west will be to Dallas, and its only other road game to another time zone will be its annual jaunt to New Orleans. The rest of the Buccaneers' 2018 road slate features five teams in the Eastern Time Zone: Atlanta, Baltimore, Carolina, Cincinnati and the New York Giants.
Tampa Bay's 2018 schedule at Raymond James Stadium will feature the three usual NFC South opponents (Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans) as well as Philadelphia and Washington from the NFC East and Cleveland and Pittsburgh from the AFC North. The 49ers, who won their last five games of 2017 by rising-star quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, round out a compelling home slate featuring five 2017 playoff teams.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 2018 OPPONENTS
|San Francisco||N.Y. Giants|
The NFL has used the rotating-division scheduling format since expanding to 32 teams and realigning into eight four-team divisions in 2002. This matches up divisions in the same conference in a three-year rotation, alternating home and away each time through the list, and does the same thing with divisions in the other conference every four years. This guarantees that every team will visit every other team in its own conference at least once every six years and every team in the other conference once every eight years.
Those games plus the six annual intra-division contests account for 14 of the 16 games on a team's schedule. The final two come from matching up the standings within each division with those of the two divisions in its own conference it is not scheduled to play that season.
Thus there were four separate factors in creating Tampa Bay's 2018 schedule:
- NFC South home and away games: Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans, twice each.
- NFC East rotation: Dallas, N.Y. Giants, Philadelphia and Washington.
- AFC North rotation: Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
- Standings matchup with NFC North and NFC West: Chicago and San Francisco.
Obviously, 37.5% of the Buccaneers' list of opponents is the same every year, and those six intra-division games should be as challenging and intense as ever next fall. The NFC South was the only division to place three teams in the playoffs this year, and it will try to have a representative in the Super Bowl for the third straight season.
The Buccaneers last played the entire NFC East in 2015, when it beat Dallas and Philadelphia but lost to Washington and the New York Giants. The Bucs also played the Cowboys in 2016, losing at Dallas in Week 18, and faced the Giants this past season, defeating New York in Week Four. Tampa Bay's last trip to New York to face the Giants was in Week Two of 2012, a thriller that featured 911 combined yards from scrimmage and ended in a 41-34 New York victory.
The Buccaneers last run through the AFC North rotation was in 2014. Tampa Bay won at Pittsburgh that season but lost at Cleveland dropped home contests against Baltimore and Cincinnati. Tampa Bay will head to Cincinnati for its 2018 matchup with the Bengals, and the franchise has had uncommon success in that city. The Bucs are 5-2 all-time in Cincinnati, with a four-game winning streak; it's last road loss to the Bengals came in 1989.