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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Roundtable: Best Game on the Schedule

With training camp just around the corner, contributors Joe Kania, Andrew Norton and Scott Smith peruse the 2017 schedule and pick the Bucs' most intriguing matchups.

Take a look at our 2017 opponents in order of our schedule.

After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wrapped up a 10-week offseason program on Thursday, Head Coach Dirk Koetter was asked about the state of his team. He said the Buccaneers were on the right track, were following a process and were hungry to improve – exactly what one would expect an NFL head coach to say in mid-June.

The last four words of Koetter's answer were "…building towards September 10th." Koetter also referenced that date on Wednesday, in the middle of the Bucs' three-day mandatory mini-camp. He was asked if his players were prepared to handle the raised expectations of an expected playoff contender.

"Now, the fact that people are talking about us – hey, you want to be talked about," said Koetter. "It beats the alternative. There's going to come a day where we have to back it up. That day's going to come on September 10th, the first time it's going to really count. We're aware of it. Is it in the back of our mind? Yes. But that still comes back to controlling the things that we have control of, don't worry about the things we don't."

When Koetter and his coaching staff put together the offseason and training camp schedule this winter, they created a path that leads directly to the 10th day of September. That's when the Buccaneers will begin that potential playoff run with a season-opening game at Miami. It's one of 16 contests on the regular-season schedule, but for Tampa Bay players and coaches, it's the only game that matters right now.

A look at the best players on the Buccaneers' schedule, according to their Pro Football Focus grade.

To be sure, it's an intriguing matchup. The Buccaneers have only played their closest NFL rival, geographically speaking, 10 times in more than four decades. The Dolphins are coming off a 10-6 campaign and a playoff appearance; the Bucs finished 9-7 last year and only missed the postseason on a third-level tiebreaker. This is the first time in nearly a decade that both Miami and Tampa Bay are coming off winning seasons. There are exciting young stars on both offenses, and each team added several key defensive players in free agency.

But is it the most intriguing game on Tampa Bay's 2017 regular-season schedule? Koetter may be singularly focused on Week One, but we have the luxury of taking a wider view. That "we" is me and contributors Joe Kania and Andrew Norton, who I've gathered for another Roundtable discussion. (Earlier this year we debated the best target position for the Bucs' first-round draft pick, free agency priorities and a hypothetical Buccaneers Mount Rushmore.)

So that's the assignment, guys. Pick the game on the Buccaneers' 2017 regular-season schedule to which you are most looking forward. Let's just take this alphabetically – Joe, you're up.

Joe Kania: New York Giants, October 1

This was a game that I had circled on my calendar for a few reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that it's an opportunity to take on my former team. I spent two years with the Giants organization (2013 and 2014) and joined the Buccaneers near the end of the 2014 season.

That being said, I believe a victory over the Giants could have a significant impact on how the first half of the season shapes out. The Bucs will take on three playoff teams in their first five games, with the Giants being one of them. If Tampa Bay can beat New York, they will head into a Week 5 matchup with the defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots with a full head of steam. I'm not sure there is any game on the schedule this year that could have a bigger impact in terms of momentum, besides perhaps that Patriots game itself. If I could pick a two-week stretch, it would be Week 4 and 5, but I can only pick one game so I'm going with Week 4.

This game also presents an opportunity to square off against one of the NFL's top defenses. The Buccaneers are expected to have one of the league's most dangerous offenses this year and the matchup with the Giants will allow Tampa Bay an opportunity to test themselves against a defense that finished No. 2 in the league in terms of points allowed a year ago.

A victory over New York means that the Buccaneers were able to put points up on one of the NFL's top defenses while limiting a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback and one of the league's top receivers. That sounds good to me.

Andrew Norton: Atlanta Falcons, December 18

Hey Scott! Thanks for those links that make me look awesome, as I was the one who got tight end, Will Gholston and Jacquizz Rodgers correct! I'm pretty excited to be correct on this as well, considering that there are really no wrong answers with this schedule.

Seems obvious to take one of the primetime games, but that Monday Nighter against the Falcons is just too good to pass up. It hits every single checkpoint for what should be an incredible matchup.

  • Home game – You know the crowd is going to be loud for this one.
  • Division rival – And the defending NFC Champs at that.
  • Primetime – Gotta love those big boards lit up at night!
  • Revenge game – The Falcons rolled into Raymond James Stadium last year for a primetime matchup and got the best of the Bucs.
  • Week 15 – Right in the sweet spot for a playoff run, and if the pundits are right, the Bucs and Falcons could be in a heated fight for the South in December.

Scott Smith: at Green Bay, December 3

Ah, yes, what a Roundtable performance  history, Andrew. You got tight end "correct" after first picking defensive end. You had the first pick in the free agency roundtable and took the obvious answer in Will Gholston, so…great job? (Some might say that pales in comparison to correctly identifying Josh Robinson with the last pick, but I'm not going to go there.)  

Anyway, I'm glad neither of you took my first choice here. I am thoroughly looking forward to that December Green Bay trip, and not because I'm nostalgic about the Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton. This discussion is obviously colored by the idea that the Buccaneers will indeed by prime playoff contenders in 2017, and in that scenario a late-season trip to Lambeau is pure (green and) gold.

I would be shocked if the Packers are not one of those NFC contenders as the season hits its stretch run, simply due to the presence of Aaron Rodgers. Even in his supposedly "down" years, the Packers always contend; they've made the playoffs every year since 2009. The Buccaneers will be headed to Wisconsin in Week 13, right about the time the contenders start separating from the pretenders. Moreover, this is Green Bay's only home game in a four-week stretch from late-November to late-December, following a road trip to always-dangerous Pittsburgh. There's a good chance this will feel like a must-win for the Packers.

If the Buccaneers have emerged as real contenders by this point, what better way to prove themselves on the road against a perennial NFC powerhouse…maybe even in wintry weather? Team captain Gerald McCoy frequently talks about his desire to play against the best, and this will be one of the top challenges of the whole season for a Tampa Bay defense that seems to be on the rise.

And again, we're talking about Lambeau Field here. This just feels like one of those NFL pilgrimages you should make at least once in your life/playing career. New England at home on a Thursday night is a doozy, both Bucs-Falcons games should be fever-pitched excitement and a Week 17 game against the Saints could be for all the NFC South marbles. For my money, however, the most intriguing game on the entire Bucs' 2017 schedule will be played in Green Bay in December.

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