The Bucs traveled to Seattle in 2007 but will welcome the Seahawks to Tampa in 2008
Although what will hopefully be an extended playoff run still lies ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, fans can now look ahead to next year's schedule, as the conclusion of the 2007 regular season has finalized the team's 2008 slate of games.
In the past, NFL schedules relied heavily on the "strength of schedule" factor – winning teams would face similarly-successful squads the next year, and vice versa for teams that fared worse.
Since the NFL's realignment in 2002, however, future schedules have been based on a rotation system. Each year, teams match up against squads from two other divisions, one from each conference, assuring that each team will eventually visit every NFL stadium.
The 2008 season will see the Bucs squaring off against the NFC North and the AFC West as part of the rotation system. The Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers will pay visits to Raymond James Stadium, while the Bucs will hit the road to battle the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs.
In addition to the standard rotation system, two games on the schedule are determined by each team's position in its division at the end of the 2007 season. Since the Bucs won the 2007 NFC South title, they will play the NFC West-champion Seattle Seahawks at home and the NFC East-champion Dallas Cowboys on the road in 2008.
And, of course, the Bucs will play a set of home and away games against each of their three NFC South foes, rounding out the team's 16-game schedule. The exact dates and times of the Bucs' 2008 games will be determined later, usually in late March or early April.
Here are the Buccaneers' 16 opponents in 2008:
HOME * Atlanta * Carolina * New Orleans * Green Bay * Minnesota * Seattle * Oakland * San Diego
AWAY * Atlanta * Carolina * New Orleans * Chicago * Detroit * Dallas * Denver * Kansas City
The Bucs' 2008 schedule will offer several opportunities for the team to reverse historical trends, especially in games played on the road.
Not counting the other NFC South teams, the Bucs are a combined 19-45 all-time in away games against the five non-division opponents the team will face on the road in 2008, including a 5-20 mark in Chicago and a 1-6 record in Dallas.
In addition, the team will get the chance to notch its first home victories against both Seattle and San Diego, as the Bucs are 0-4 at home all-time against each of those two clubs.
Forget history. The future looks bright for many of the teams on the Bucs' 2008 schedule. Two of the top picks in the 2007 draft will pay visits to Raymond James Stadium, including Rookie of the Year front-runner Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. First overall pick JaMarcus Russell will also come to Tampa, and he may have nailed down the starting job in Oakland by the time the Raiders come to town.
Tampa Bay's second-ranked defense will also be in for a test next year, as a handful of high-powered offenses will take aim at the Buccaneers in 2008.
The Bucs will square off against three of the top 10 offenses in total yards in 2007 – Green Bay (No. 2), Dallas (No. 3) and New Orleans (No. 4) – as well as two teams just outside of the top 10 in Denver (No. 11) and Minnesota (No. 13).
It will be a variety of offense headed the Bucs' way, as some of the top clubs in terms of both rushing and passing are on the schedule. In terms of aerial attacks, Green Bay (No. 2), New Orleans (No. 3) and Dallas (No. 4) are all on tap, and the Bucs will face the No. 1-ranked rushing offense in Minnesota as well as matchups against the sixth-ranked Oakland and ninth-ranked Denver ground attacks.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Bucs fans will get to enjoy watching some of the most talented individual performers on offense next season. Three of the top four quarterbacks in passing yards this season will play against the Bucs next year along with the league's top two running backs. New Orleans' Drew Brees (No. 2), Dallas' Tony Romo (No. 3) and Green Bay's Brett Favre (No. 4) will all test the Buccaneers secondary, assuming Favre plays another year.
In addition, Peterson and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson were the top two running backs in 2007 in terms of rushing yards.
In any event, what will hopefully be an extended playoff run should give the Bucs some valuable big-game experience that will pay dividends next year as the team seeks to repeat as the NFC South Champions.