The National Football League revealed its 2020 schedule last Thursday and, from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' perspective, it was nothing short of remarkable. The Buccaneers already knew who their 16 opponents would be, but they didn't know the dates and times of any of the matchups, and they certainly didn't know they would be featured on a franchise-record five nationally-televised prime-time games. Thank you, Tom Brady.
There's a lot to like about Tampa Bay's 2020 schedule, including a nice run of home games at the end, the lack of any road trips more than two weeks long and a juicy opener in New Orleans that will pit the two leading passers in NFL history against each other. That said, every schedule has its ups and downs, and there are plenty of challenges as well as opportunities on the Bucs' fall slate. Let's take a look at some Pros & Cons from Tampa Bay's 2020 regular-season schedule.
View pictures of all the Buccaneers' 2020 opponents.
Pro: So Much Prime-Time Exposure
The 2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the league's defending champions, and they were given four nationally-televised night games. The 2020 Bucs have five. The difference is a Thursday Night Football, which wasn't a thing in 2003. Tampa Bay will have a game in that series at Chicago in Week _ and will also be featured twice each on the ESPN Monday Night Football and NBC Sunday Night Football stages. That's Weeks Eight and 11 on Monday at the New York Giants and at home against the Los Angeles Rams, and Weeks Seven and Nine on Sunday at the Las Vegas Raiders and at home against the New Orleans Saints. The Thursday night contest is at Chicago in Week Five.
You may have noticed that all of those games fall in a span of seven weeks. Without a doubt, the Buccaneers will be the NFL's premier prime-time team in the middle of the season, hopefully as they are building towards a late-season playoff run. But that's not all. Tampa Bay's Week One game at New Orleans, Week Three game at Denver, Week Six game against Green Bay and Week 12 game against Kansas City are all in the late-afternoon slot on those Sundays. Those games include such anticipated QB matchups as Brady-Patrick Mahomes, Brady-Drew Brees and Brady-Aaron Rodgers.
As Buccaneers tackle Donovan Smith said last week, all that national exposure is going to shine a spotlight on not only Brady but some seriously under-appreciated Tampa Bay players.
Con: Three of Those Prime-Time Games Are on the Road
Yeah, this definitely falls into the category of "be careful what you wish for." The Buccaneers are definitely thrilled to have those five prime-time games, no matter when and where they are. That is unequivocally good news for the franchise.
Still, that doesn't change the fact that all of those night games can put a little bit of a strain on the players and coaches. Three of the Buccaneers' five prime-time games are on the road, and while the Thursday-nighter in Chicago leads into a sort of "mini-bye" over that weekend, the consecutive trips to Las Vegas and New York at midseason will be taxing.
The game against the Raiders starts at 8:20 p.m. ET, which means it will likely end around 11:30, assuming no overtime. By the time the Buccaneers change, pack up, get to the airport, board the plane and take a four-plus-hour trip home, the sun might be close to rising in Tampa on Monday morning. The following week, the Bucs play at MetLife Stadium on Monday night, in a game kicking off at 8:15 p.m. ET. It's not quite as long of a flight back as it is from Vegas, but this is going to be another very long night for the players and coaches. And in this case they'll be getting back on Tuesday, setting up a short week before playing the rival Saints the following Sunday. New Orleans plays on Sunday in Chicago before coming to Tampa.
Again, this is a small complaint and well worth all the wonderful national exposure, but it is a hurdle to clear.
Pro: Four of the Bucs' Last Six Games Are at Home
Tampa Bay hopes to be in the thick of the NFC playoff race in late-November and December. If it is, the schedule lays out pretty favorably.
After a road game at Carolina on November 15, the Buccaneers only have to make two more trips the rest of the way. They get the Rams and Chiefs at home before a bye week and another home game against Minnesota. Including a home-and-away set with the Falcons in the last three weeks, the Buccaneers get four of their last six at Raymond James Stadium. That's a potential advantage, particularly if fans are allowed in the stands. That seems more likely at the end of the year, which only increases the advantage of a schedule backloaded on home games.
Con: Three Straight Opponents Will Be Coming Off Bye Weeks
Credit this NFL analytics guy (and apparent Bears fan, boo) with calculating the "net rest days" for every team in the NFL this season"
Basically, the idea is that a team that has a bye week before playing a team that isn't coming off a bye gets seven extra days for rest for that contest compared to their opponent. There's a give-and-take to this, because every team gets a bye, but the schedule can still favor some teams in this calculation. Monday and Thursday games also play into the equation.
This isn't a great category for the Buccaneers in 2020, even though the team was fortunate to get a Week 13 bye, it's latest in any season since 1990, when they bye was introduced. That will give them a potential advantage over the visiting Minnesota Vikings in Week 14, as the Vikes will be coming off a home game against Jacksonville the Week before.
The problem is, the Buccaneers will play three straight games in the season's first half against teams that are coming off byes or Thursday-game-related mini-byes. That stretch includes the Week Six game against Green Bay, the Week Seven game in Las Vegas and the Week Eight Monday-nighter in New York. The Buccaneers have a Thursday night game of their own in Week Five but get no extra rest-day benefit compared to their opponent because the Packers have a complete bye that same week.
Pro: Possible Week 15 Saturday Game Means Even More Exposure
For a second straight year, the NFL has identified a handful of late-season games as potential Saturday showcases. And, for a second straight year, a Buccaneers game is in that group.
The league had one Saturday-Sunday flex weekend in 2019 but they've expanded that to two in 2020, with a list of five possible games each to move in Weeks 15 and 16. Tampa Bay's contest at Detroit in Week 15 is currently set for either Saturday, December 26 or Sunday, December 27. The other four to-be-determined games from that weekend are 49ers at Cardinals, Broncos at Chargers, Dolphins at Raiders and Browns at Jets. The NFL will eventually put either two or three of those five games on Saturday, based on the standings and the most attractive matchups.
Given the clear draw that is Tom Brady, if the Buccaneers are in the playoff race in late December there's a good chance they'll get one of those Sunday slots. Two of those three games will be carried on NFL Network and the third will be streamed by Amazon, though all three will also be shown on Fox in the teams' local markets. Thus the Buccaneers could end up with a sixth regular-season game in front of a national audience.
Con: A Saturday Game in Week 16 Would Mean Holiday Travel
This is a relatively minor concern, but any players or coaches hoping to celebrate Christmas Day with their families would need to get up early that morning. If the Buccaneers have a game in Detroit on December 26 that means they will need to make the flight to Michigan on the 25th. Buccaneer road trips typically begin early in the afternoon of the day before the game.
Pro: No Cold Weather Concerns
Before the NFL released its schedule last week, there remained the possibility that the Buccaneers could find themselves playing up to half their road schedule in wintry (or at least cold) conditions. Now, not so much.
The away games that had the best chance of exposing the Bucs to cold weather were Denver, Chicago and Carolina. In addition, while Las Vegas is generally pleasant during the day even in November and December the desert temperatures can fall into the 20s or 30s at night. And the Buccaneers and Raiders are in fact scheduled to play a night game.
Well, the Denver trip is in September and Chicago shouldn't be too bad on November 8, even in a night game. The Giants game is November 2, and it is a night game so this one could get a little chilly but probably won't be too bad. The last and maybe best chance for the Bucs to play in cold weather will be at Carolina on November 15, but Charlotte will likely not be too cold in Week 10. The Buccaneers last two road games, at Atlanta and Detroit, will be played in domed stadiums.
Con: Late-Season Turf Games for Tired Legs
The Buccaneers went to Detroit last December and came back two receivers down. Both Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller suffered season-ending hamstring injuries in that contest. The Bucs head back to Motown this coming December and hope to avoid a repeat of the injury bug.
There's no reason to believe that playing on artificial turf in Ford Field had anything to do with the injuries to Godwin or Miller. Just the week before, Mike Evans ended his season with a hamstring injury playing on the grass at Raymond James Stadium. That said, turf is generally considered to be more taxing on players' legs than grass. The Buccaneers last two road games – as noted above, a trip to Atlanta comes right before the one to Detroit – will both be on turf. If there are players with tired legs near the end of the season, those trips won't be ideal. Again, though, this is a very minor concern overall.
Pro: Significantly Fewer Travel Miles and the Latest Possible Bye
With trips to London, Los Angeles, Seattle and Detroit last year, the Buccaneers logged more than 20,000 air miles during the regular season in 2019. Thanks to the contest in London against Carolina being considered a home game for Tampa Bay, the Bucs also had a stretch of 49 straight days in which they did not play a game in Tampa.
The Buccaneers' total travel mileage drops to closer to 15,000 in 2020. The trips to Las Vegas and Denver will still be in the range of four-hour flights but there are no West Coast or international games on the schedule.
Oh, and the Bucs' bye falls in Week 13, the latest it possibly could in 2020. All 32 teams will be playing in Weeks 14-17. As noted above, Tampa Bay has four home games, that bye and just two road trips in the last seven weeks of the season. One of those trips is the team's shortest of the year, to Atlanta. This should help keep Bucs players a little more fresh in the stretch drive.
Con: Those Final Six Games Only Include One NFC South Opponent
That's a bit misleading because two of Tampa Bay's last three contests are against the Atlanta Falcons, and that could be very useful if the Buccaneers are vying with Atlanta for the division title. However, the Buccaneers will be done with both the New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers by Week 10. There will be no head-to-head opportunities to make up ground or widen a lead against the Saints or the Panthers after Thanksgiving. The Saints have won the division the last three years and will likely be considered favorites heading into 2020 but they will have played both of their games against the Bucs by Week Nine.
This is exactly the second year in a row in which the Bucs will have crossed off two of their three division opponents within the season's first 10 games. In fact, the Buccaneers only had one intra-division game in the final six games last year, finishing at home against Atlanta. It's not a common schedule feature, though; before last year it had most recently happened to Tampa Bay in 2006.