Tampa Bay Buccaneers

On Deck in '06

Though the Bucs hope there’s another month left in their 2005 season, they already know who they’ll be playing in 2006 thanks the league’s new scheduling format

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Two visits in '05 wasn't enough for the Redskins...they'll come back to Raymond James in '06, too

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will have to beat the Washington Redskins on Saturday afternoon to earn a trip to Chicago the following weekend. Their trip to the Windy City next fall is already on the itinerary, however.

A road game against the NFC North Champion Bears is one of the Bucs' spoils for capturing the NFC South crown. In addition, they'll get a visit from the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks as a reward for coming in first.

The National Football League will spend the next few months devising their 2006 playing schedule, which is generally announced in early April. The Bucs, thus, will have no way of knowing when they're going where next fall until sometime this spring. However, they do know who they will be playing. The final pieces of the Bucs' 2006 list of opponents fell into place with Sunday's results.

At the same time the league realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002, it also revamped its scheduling format. Whereas the old method depended very heavily on "strength of schedule" concerns – that is, teams with poor records were matched up with other teams with poor records – the new system is more of a simple rotation.

One of the benefits of the new system is that each team knows years in advance where it will be playing most of its games in coming seasons. Only two of the 16 games for each team are still determined by the records from the previous year; in this case, the Bucs were destined to play a home game against the team in the NFC West that matched its place in the standings, and a road game against the team in the NFC North that met that criteria. For instance, had the Bucs lost on Sunday and slipped into second place in the South, they would have drawn a home game against St. Louis and a road game at Minnesota.

Of course, six of the Bucs' 16 games were obvious – their home and away games within the division against Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans. The other eight are determined by interdivision matchups in each conference that rotate every season. In 2005, for instance, all the teams in the NFC South played all the teams in the NFC North and the AFC East.

Next year, the Bucs' division will be paired up against the NFC East and the AFC North. For the Buccaneers, that means home games against Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore and Cincinnati and road games at Dallas, New York, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

Those divisional matchups flip the next time they come around in the rotation. In other words, when the NFC South and East are matched up again in 2009, it will lead to home games against Dallas and the Giants and trips to Philly and Washington.

Put it all together, and here's what you have for the Buccaneers' 16 opponents in 2006:

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