Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Data Crunch: Looking at Season Opener Trends

With the Buccaneers set to open their 2018 season in New Orleans on Sunday, we break down some opening-day trends and records and highlight an unusual opportunity for the visiting team

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers open their 2018 regular season on Sunday in New Orleans. Thanks to a stunning play by Chris Godwin and the work of the NFL schedule-makers, that trip to the Superdome gives the Buccaneers a chance to pull off an unusual and – at least in their own history – unprecedented feat.

Tampa Bay finished its 2017 on a high note, defeating the playoff-bound New Orleans Saints, 31-24. The winning points came on a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to Chris Godwin on what would prove to be the Bucs' last offensive play of the entire season. The Bucs-Saints rematch was nine months in the making but, in terms of consecutive regular-season games, there was no break at all.

This marks just the third time in team history that the Buccaneers will open a season against the same opponent they faced in the previous year's regular-season finale. On the other two occasions – a 1990-91 double-dip with the New York Jets and a 2006-07 home-and-away series with the Seattle Seahawks – the Buccaneers had lost the first of the two games. In fact, it was the Jets and Seahawks that ended up with sweeps in both cases.

These kinds of opportunities are relatively rare across the NFL as a whole. Since the 1970 merger, there have been 37 instances in 48 seasons of two teams meeting in their respective season finale one year and season opener the next. Surprisingly, one team has swept the other in 27 of those instances, most recently Pittsburgh against Cleveland in the last two seasons.

The Buccaneers got the first half of a potential two-game sweep under these circumstances at home last New Year's Eve day. Given the final standings from 2017, they will be considered underdogs when they go to the Superdome for the rematch on Sunday. If they can pull off the second win, they would become just the 12th team since the merger to win at home against a specific opponent to finish one season then open the next one on the road with a win against that same club. The Bucs could be the first to pull off the feat in a decade, and only the third in the last 20 years.

Table inside Article
Team Opponent Season Finale Outcome Season Opener Outcome
St. Louis Philadelphia 1972 W, 24-23 1973 W, 34-23
Baltimore New England 1975 W, 34-21 1976 W, 27-13
Dallas Washington 1979 W, 35-34 1976 W, 17-3
New England Miami 1986 W, 34-27 1987 W, 28-21
Washington Philadelphia 1986 W, 41-14 1987 W, 34-24
Detroit Atlanta 1987 W, 30-13 1988 W, 31-17
N.Y. Jets Tampa Bay 1990 W, 16-14 1991 W, 16-13
Dallas Washington 1998 W, 23-7 1999 W, 41-35
Seattle Tampa Bay 2006 W, 23-7 2007 W, 20-6
New England Buffalo 2008 W, 13-0 2009 W, 25-24

View photos of the Buccaneers' 53-man roster.

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FAST STARTS: Two seasons ago, Jameis Winston led the Buccaneers to a 31-24 season-opening win at Atlanta, throwing four touchdown passes and earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. It was a great start for Winston and the Buccaneers but not the team record for most touchdown passes thrown on opening day. That one belongs to Steve DeBerg, though it also happened to be against the Falcons.

Winston won't play in this Sunday's game as he begins a three-game NFL suspension, but there are plenty of other Buccaneers who can chase franchise opening-game records this year. Here are the single best individual Game One performances in Bucs history in a variety of categories:

Table inside Article
Category Record Player Opp. Date
TD Passes 5 Steve Deberg vs. ATL 9/13/87
Passing Yards 333 Steve Deberg vs. ATL 9/13/87
Completions 28 Josh Freeman vs. DET 9/11/11
Rushing Yards 166 James Wilder at CHI 9/8/85
Receptions 9 James Wilder vs. DET 9/4/83
Receiving Yards 157 Bruce Hill vs. PHI 9/4/88
Yards from Scrimmage 171 James Wilder at CHI 9/8/85
Touchdowns 2 7 tied*
Field Goals Made 4 4 tied**
Sacks 2.5 3 tied***
Interceptions 2 4 tied**

* Austin Seferian-Jenkins, vs. TEN, 9/13/15; Alex Smith, at MIN, 9/11/05; Joe Jurevicius, at PHI, 9/8/03: Mike Alstott, at NE, 9/3/00; Lars Tate, at GB, 9/10/89; Gerald Carter, vs. ATL, 9/13/87; Jimmie Giles, at CIN, 9/7/80

** Nick Folk, vs. CHI, 9/17/17; Connor Barth, vs. CAR, 9/9/12; Michael Husted, at CHI, 9/4/94; Ken Willis, vs. PHO, 9/6/92

*** Warren Sapp, vs. SF, 8/31/97; Ervin Randle, at DET, 9/9/90; Kevin Kellin, vs. ATL, 9/13/87

**** Brian Kelly, at MIN, 9/11/05; Wayne Haddix, at DET, 9/9/90; Mark Robinson, at GB, 9/10/85; Neal Colzie, vs. MIN, 9/5/81

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WEEK-ONE BOOST: The Buccaneers will try to win their season opener for the third straight year, having opened both of Dirk Koetter's first two campaigns as head coach with a victory. After the aforementioned win in Atlanta in Week One of 2016, the Buccaneers kicked off last year's slate with a home win against the Chicago Bears after Hurricane Irma had caused the postponement of their originally-scheduled opener in Miami.

Tampa Bay has only won three straight openers one time, from 1979-81, a span that included two playoff seasons. In that stretch, the Bucs started the '79 and '81 seasons with wins at home, and the '80 season with a win on the road. If the Buccaneers can down New Orleans on Sunday, they would match that team record, but with two of the three wins coming on the road.

Obviously, the Buccaneers won't be in the playoffs if they win that one game, and they won't be eliminated from them if they lose it. Still, it certainly wouldn't hurt to get that early boost, especially against a division foe on their home turf. In all, Tampa Bay has opened 17 of its previous 42 seasons with a victory, and in those years they have a combined .476 winning percentage (129-141-1). In the 25 seasons that have started with a loss, the Buccaneers went on to compile a combined .324 winning percentage (126-263-0).

In fact, winning a game on the road has been the best harbinger of success for the Buccaneers, if only by a small margin. The Bucs have only one tie in team history and it didn't occur on opening day, so there are four possible outcomes for the 42 Game Ones the team has played, Win at Home (WH), Win Away (WA), Lose at Home (LH) and Lose Away (LA). Here's how the team has fared in the seasons that started with each of those outcomes:

Table inside Article
First Game Outcome No. of Seasons Combined Record Win Pct.
Win at Home 8 60-67-0 .472
Win Away 9 69-74-1 .483
Lose at Home 13 67-141-0 .322
Lose Away 12 59-122-0 .326

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