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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Starting Point: Potential Week One Matchups for Buccaneers in 2024

The NFL schedule drops on Wednesday night and we're continuing our annual tradition of trying to guess which team the Bucs will face to get the season started


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' season opener in 2023 was a thriller, a 20-17 road victory over the Minnesota Vikings in which Baker Mayfield threw two touchdowns in his Buccaneer debut and Chase McLaughlin drilled a 57-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to win it. That set the stage for a rousing 3-1 start to the season for Tampa Bay and, eventually, a third straight NFC South title.

A team's Week One results can set the tone for an entire season, and though the Buccaneers had to overcome a midseason dip to storm back into first place, the road win over a Vikings team coming off a 13-4 season in 2022 was a great sign. The 2024 Bucs, with Mayfield and a number of other key players back on brand-new contracts (most recently Antoine Winfield Jr.), have high hopes for another playoff chase and would love to get off to another fast start.

Where might that happen? And against which team? That's what we're here to predict today, as the 2024 NFL schedule is set to drop on Wednesday night. (Here's how to watch.) It's our annual attempt to narrow down the Buccaneers' Week One matchup to three possibilities, using as much logic and available information as possible and then throwing a trio of darts.

First off, here are the choices.

Home: 49ers, Broncos, Commanders, Eagles, Falcons, Panthers, Raiders, Ravens, Saints

Away: Chargers, Chiefs, Cowboys, Falcons, Giants, Lions, Panthers, Saints

The first step in this exercise is to eliminate as many options as possible. It's a good year for that, as we can already cross five teams off the list due to select games the NFL has already announced ahead of the full schedule reveal. One game in particular pulls double duty for us, as the Chiefs will play host to the Ravens in the NFL's annual Kickoff Game on Thursday night in Week One. So the Bucs will definitely not be heading to Kansas City or playing at home against Baltimore that week.

We also already know that Green Bay is opening the season in São Paulo, Brazil in Week One, and since their opponent is the Eagles that means there will be no visit from Philadelphia to Raymond James Stadium to kick things off. In addition, the league has already announced two other Week One matchups in the Jets at 49ers and the Cowboys at Browns. Both the 49ers and Cowboys are on the list of Bucs opponents above, but they won't be facing the Bucs on opening weekend.

So we're now down to 12 options, and I'm going to apply some guesswork to narrow it down a little further. The Bears and Commanders started off the 2024 NFL draft by selecting quarterbacks Caleb Williams and Jayden Daniels with the first two picks, and both young passers are widely expected to be opening-day starters. Chicago and Washington do play each other in 2024, and I'm thinking the league will pair them up in Week One, much like they did when the Buccaneers and Titans drafted Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, respectively, with the first two picks in 2015. So I'm scratching Washington off this list.

This next one is probably more wishful thinking than solid logic, but with both Dallas and Detroit on the Bucs' list of road trips this year, I'm hoping Tampa Bay will be invited back to the Thanksgiving table in 2024. Tampa Bay has only played on Thanksgiving once, at Dallas in 2006, and given the Bucs' three straight division titles and four straight playoff appearances, they seem like an attractive option to put back in that spotlight. We've already eliminated Dallas; let's cross off Detroit, too. That would be a nice rematch of a very good Divisional Playoff game at Ford Field last January.

So now we're down to 10 total options, and seven potential opponents since we still have all three NFC South foes on the board. It's worth noting that the Bucs have not started the season against a team in their division since 2020, when they opened up at New Orleans. From 2012 to 2020, the Bucs had an NFC South team first on their schedule five times in nine years, so that's certainly not an idea we should eliminate. So I'm going to make at least one of my three picks come from that pool.

Also, the Bucs have been on the road in Week One in each of the last two years, in three of the last four and in six of the last eight. Seems like they are due for another home game in Week One, so two of my three picks are going to come from that group of opponents.

Okay, I'm done with the preamble. I'm picking the following three potential Week One opponents for the Buccaneers, in no particular order:

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1. Denver (home)

The Buccaneers have not been scheduled to face an AFC team in Week One since 2017, and since that trip to Miami was eventually postponed until November due to the presence of Hurricane Irma, they haven't actually played an AFC team at the start of the season since 2015. That was the aforementioned Winston-Mariota showcase against Tennessee. Obviously, this is somewhat just the law of averages, as the Bucs face far more NFC teams than AFC teams every year. However, with the addition of the 17th game in 2021, which is always an AFC opponent for the Buccaneers, the chances of an interconference game have gone up a bit.

The relevant storyline for me here is Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton, who held the same job in New Orleans from 2006 through 2021. It's safe to say that Payton's Saints were prime Buccaneer antagonists for a long time, and the NFL chose to match those two teams up in New Orleans in both 2018 and 2020. Both were highly entertaining games.

The NFL might also see this as an interesting opportunity to reassemble much of the Oregon Ducks' prolific offense on one field. The Broncos used the 12th overall pick in this year's draft on Oregon quarterback Bo Nix, then went back to that well in the fourth round to select former Ducks wideout Troy Franklin. Later in that same round, the Buccaneers nabbed Oregon running back Bucky Irving. Assuming Nix has beaten out Jarrett Stidham and Zach Wilson for the starting job on opening day, all three of those Ducks will be making their NFL debuts and could have major roles on their new teams. That's certainly a point of interest.

Also, this matchup would be something brand new for the NFL. To this point, the Buccaneers and Broncos have never met each other in a season opener.

2. Atlanta (home)

Weird fact: Even though the Buccaneers have faced a division opponent on opening day in 18 different seasons, they have not had a home date against the Falcons since the NFC South was formed in 2002. The Bucs did play host to Atlanta in the 1987 opener, but they were still in the former NFC Central at that point. Tampa Bay has had both Carolina and New Orleans on the docket at home in Week One before, so it feels like a Falcons visit is overdue.

The compelling storyline here is the national expectations for the NFC South. As noted above, the Buccaneers have won the division three years running, and they've had an impressive offseason with the re-signings of Winfield, Mike Evans, Baker Mayfield, Lavonte David and Chase McLaughlin. The Bucs' 2024 roster would appear to be just as strong as the one that took the division crown in 2023, but that hasn't been enough to sway the oddsmakers.

Instead, the betting favorite to win the NFC South in 2024 is now the Falcons, based mostly on their acquisition of quarterback Kirk Cousins. Interestingly, the Buccaneers defeated Cousins in last year's season opener in Minnesota, but the prevailing wisdom is that the addition of a proven performer at the game's most important position is going to put an otherwise talented Atlanta roster over the top.

The NFC South won't be decided in Week One, and the Saints and Panthers may have something to say about that outcome, too. Still, pitting the Bucs and Falcons against each other in Week One seems like a good way to start this race and get an early gauge on whether those oddsmakers know what they're talking about.

3. Carolina (away)

After eliminating Dallas, Detroit and Kansas City in my preamble, I only have two non-NFC South teams left on the Bucs' list of road trips: the Giants and Chargers. I'm hesitant to predict a West Coast trip in Week One – that has happened only once in franchise history (at Seattle, 2007) – and I think the Chargers are going to get a lot of special attention from the schedule-makers after the arrival of Jim Harbaugh. I could see L.A. drawing a more classic opponent in Week One, such as the Raiders. Meanwhile, the Giants seem to start every other season on Sunday Night Football, and I'm not predicting a Week One prime time game for the Buccaneers this year since they've gotten one in two of the last three seasons.

So that leaves me with three intra-division destinations and the Bucs have never started a season in Charlotte. They've had a total of three Week One visits to Atlanta and New Orleans over the past eight years. This could be a chance to mix things up a bit.

And, of course, there's an obvious storyline with this one, as Dave Canales will be making his regular season debut as the Panthers' head coach. Canales got that gig after an impressive one-year stint as Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator. Having him start his season against the team that gave him the springboard to a top job, and against the quarterback whose career he helped revive, seems like an awfully juicy matchup. Canales' new task, after having a hand in rebound seasons for both Mayfield and the Seahawks' Geno Smith, is to get second-year quarterback Bryce Young's career on track. Young was the first-overall pick in the 2023 draft, and after he struggled in his rookie campaign the Panthers have done everything they can to put him in a position to succeed. That includes the addition of several new starting offensive linemen in free agency and the usage of their first two draft picks on wide receiver Xavier Legette and running back Jonathon Brooks. That's a lot of new pieces to stitch together, though, and doing so in Week One against a Todd Bowles defense would be a tough challenge. And an entertaining one. Could be a great way to start the season for both teams.

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