Are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers ready to return to relevance? The NFL's schedule-makers apparently think so.
The Buccaneers will definitely return to prime time in 2016, as their regular-season schedule is highlighted by a Week Five Monday Night Football game at Carolina and a Week Nine Thursday night Color Rush home game against Atlanta.
Tampa Bay's 2016 slate of game, released Thursday evening along with the NFL's full 256-game schedule, begins with a pair of road trips to Atlanta and Arizona in Weeks One and Two. The Buccaneers home opener will feature one of the NFL's most newsworthy teams, the Rams, who recently moved back to Los Angeles and traded up for the first pick in the 2016 draft. The defending Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos follow with a visit to a newly-renovated Raymond James Stadium in Week Four.
The best players on the Buccaneers' schedule, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Buccaneers' season opener, scheduled for Sunday, September 11, will mark the return to the Georgia Dome of Head Coach Dirk Koetter, Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith and cornerback Brent Grimes. Koetter was the Falcons' offensive coordinator from 2012-14, the last three seasons of Smith's very successful seven-year run as Atlanta's head coach. Smith and Koetter helped guide Atlanta to a 13-3 record and the NFC Championship Game in 2012, the team's most recent postseason appearance. Grimes played his first seven NFL seasons (2007-12) in Atlanta and went to the Pro Bowl in 2010.
The Rams' visit to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, September 26, will mark the first time in over two decades that a Los Angeles-based team has played in Tampa in over two decades. The L.A. Rams last trip to the Bucs' home was in 1994, one year before their move to St. Louis. The Oakland Raiders were based in Los Angeles from 1982-94 but didn't play a road game against the Buccaneers at any point during that run.
The Buccaneers will be part of ESPN's Monday Night Football schedule for the first time since 2013, when they defeated the Miami Dolphins, 22-19, in Week 10 at Raymond James Stadium. Tampa Bay's most recent MNF game on the road came in 2008 and was also at Carolina, a 38-23 loss in Week 14. The Buccaneers were on last year's Thursday Night Football schedule, and they were one of the teams that took part in the Color Rush uniform preview. That tradition will expand to the entire TNF schedule in 2016, meaning the Bucs and Falcons will square off in ultra-bright, specially-designed uniforms at Raymond James Stadium on November 3.
Below is the Buccaneers' 2016 game schedule, followed by more notes (all times Eastern):
All times Eastern and subject to change
- 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' 2016 schedule:
The Buccaneers' bye will fall in Week Six for the second season in a row. Each team gets a weekend off between Weeks 4-11, and later byes are generally considered preferable since there is a greater chance of injury and fatigue as the season rolls on.
Photos of the opponents on the Bucs 2016 schedule.
This marks just the second time in the last eight years that the Buccaneers will open the season on the road. The only other Week One road game for Tampa Bay from 2009-15 was at the New York Jets to begin the 2013 campaign.
This will be the first time since 2001 that the Bucs' slate opens with two road games; the team won at Dallas and lost at Minnesota to kick off that season, en route to a 9-7 record and a Wild Card playoff berth. However, that was not the original schedule for that campaign. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City led to the postponement of the entire Week Two schedule, which would have had the Buccaneers at home against Philadelphia. The last time the original schedule called for two road games to open Tampa Bay's season was in 1998, when the team played seven straight away games (including the preseason) before the grand opening of Raymond James Stadium in Week Three. Overall, this is just the fourth Buc schedule to start off with a pair of road contests (also 1984 and 1995).
Despite those opening weeks on the road, this appears to be a logistically-pleasing schedule for Koetter's Buccaneers. The Monday Night Football appearance in Week Five is immediately followed by the team's bye, meaning they won't have to play on a short week. The Thursday night game in Week Eight is bracketed by an additional pair of home games, so there is no travel to make the short week of the Atlanta game more difficult. Those three home games fall right at the heart of the season, which could be a very advantageous stretch for the Buccaneers as the playoff race begins to heat up. The Buccaneers are on the road on the weekend of Christmas, but the trip home from New Orleans is a relatively short one that will allow players and coaches to enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The team has three long West Coast trips to make (if one includes Arizona) and they are spread out between Weeks Two, Seven and 13. And if the division happens to still be on the line in the final week, the Buccaneers will catch the defending-champ Panthers at home on January 3.
That three-week run at Raymond James Stadium at midseason marks the first time the Buccaneers have drawn three consecutive home games since 2012. Tampa Bay played at home against Washington, Kansas City and New Orleans from Sept. 30-Oct. 21 that season, but the first and second of those games was separated by a bye week. The last time the Buccaneers actually played home games on three consecutive regular-season weekends was the final three contests of the 2001 campaign, and as explained earlier, that included a rescheduled game at the end due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It has been more than two decades since the last time an unaltered Tampa Bay schedule included three home games in a three-week span; the 1995 club played Cincinnati, Minnesota and Atlanta between Oct. 8-22, winning the first two and losing the last one.
The Broncos' visit on October 2 will bring the league's defending champions to Tampa for a regular-season game the first time since 2010. The New Orleans Saints defeated the Buccaneers in Week Six of that season after winning Super Bowl XLIV the previous February, though Tampa Bay did get revenge with a Week 17 win at New Orleans to close out 2010. The last time a defending Super Bowl champ who was not an NFC South division foe came to Tampa was in 2001, when the Buccaneers defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 22-10, in Week 16. In fact, Tampa Bay beat the defending champs at Raymond James Stadium in three straight seasons, taking down Denver in 1999 and St. Louis in 2000.
It appears as if the Buccaneers will largely escape cold-weather games for the second year in a row. The team's last three road trips, all in December, are to San Diego, Dallas and New Orleans. That's SoCal warmth, a retractable roof and a dome, so no fear of snow or falling temperatures. The most likely possibility for the Bucs to run into cold weather is at Kansas City on November 20.