The old saw about the weather in the month of March – 'in like a lion, out like a lamb' – also seems to apply to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2022 schedule.
Of course, the weather is not really that predictable from year to year, and for that matter, neither is the list of the NFL's best teams. That said, Tampa Bay may be facing the toughest first month of any team in the league this year, but if they can remain in the thick of the race into December they might catch a bit of a break.
All of this is based on the overall idea that the teams that were very good last year will be again this year, and the teams that struggled in 2021 will struggle again. We know that won't be the case across the board – over the past five years, an average of almost exactly seven teams per season have made the playoffs after not making it the year before – but a schedule that features 11 opponents who have been in the postseason in at least one of the last two years is definitely going to have its fair share of challenges.
For the Buccaneers, they look to be facing the Lion in Weeks One through Four, when they start with consecutive road trips to Dallas and New Orleans and return home to find the Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers waiting. All but New Orleans were in the playoffs last year…and if we're counting the Saints as the easy game here, we must be forgetting the seven-game regular-season winning streak New Orleans has in its head-to-head series with Tampa Bay.
Overall, those four opponents combined for a win percentage of .676 last year, going 46-22 as a group. That is by far the highest strength-of-schedule number (SOS) over the first four games for any team this season. Next is Kansas City – which obviously has the Bucs on their first month schedule – at .618. Only those two teams and the Buffalo Bills are over .600.
The Buccaneers also have the fourth most difficult first half of the season (defined as the first eight games), with an SOS of .555. Only Kansas City, Buffalo and the Rams have it tougher. However, things ease up in the season's second half and final month. The Bucs' SOS in the final nine games is .516, which is only the 12th-hardest in the league. And their last four contests generate a .485 SOS, which the 18th most difficult. Even then, those final four weeks include a matchup with the defending AFC Champion Bengals and 2021 playoff team Arizona.
In another way, the Buccaneers got fortunate with how the 2022 schedule lays out. Every team in the NFL gets a bye week, obviously, but a curiosity of Tampa Bay's schedule is that it won't face a single team coming off its bye week all season. In addition, the Bucs won't play against a team coming off what is commonly called a 'mini-bye,' which is the long weekend that follows a Thursday night game.
It all adds up to a 'rest disparity of plus-eight days for the Buccaneers in 2022, which is tied for the fourth-highest total in the league. Buffalo sports a rest days disparity of plus-12 to top the list, followed by Detroit at plus-11 and Denver at plus-nine. Both the Bucs and Cowboys are at plus eight.
The Buccaneers get 10 days of rest on the plus side ledger due to their Thursday night game in Week Eight and their bye in Week 11. Tampa Bay will play the Rams in Week Nine on 10 days rest, compared to the typical seven for L.A., which will have played San Francisco at home the previous Sunday. When the Bucs come off their bye in Week 12, they'll be playing a Cleveland team that will have been in action the previous Sunday at Buffalo.
The only two days of rest lost to their opponents for the Buccaneers come after their Monday night matchup with New Orleans in Week 13 and their Sunday night game in Arizona on Christmas. The Bucs will play at San Francisco on six days rest, compared to seven for the 49ers, who will have been at home against Miami the previous Sunday. And with the majority of the league playing on Saturday on Christmas weekend, the Bucs' normal seven days of rest for Week 17 will be one less than what Carolina gets after their Week 16 home game against Detroit.