The Buccaneers have played the NFL's toughest schedule so far this season. Their opponents have a collective 65%-win percentage, with a record of 43-23. Fortunately, the tides are about to turn as the Bucs return home for the first time since Week Three this Sunday to face off against the 3-5 Arizona Cardinals with a significantly easier strength of schedule on the horizon.
Let's rewind a bit to Tampa Bay's first game of the season against the still-unbeaten 49ers, which got their record off to a rocky start. San Francisco was supposed to be a win in a year where Tampa Bay would have to play the entire NFC West – one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. They traveled to LA to take on the defending NFC Champion Rams, who were 3-0 at the time the Bucs played them a couple weeks later. Tampa Bay played spoiler to that unbeaten record as they faced a stretch that would see them play the NFC South-leading Saints, the Panthers on a hot streak and Seattle in the house of the 12s before the first half of the season was over. It wasn't just that their opponents were tough – they were playing them on the road, making two west coast trips and a jaunt to London for a 'home' game in the span of 36 days.
As the Bucs have gotten used to their new staff, and systems, on both offense and defense, they've gone through 'growing' pains as Head Coach Bruce Arians calls them. It's resulted in a 2-6 record. The last half of the season is favorable to turning their season around, though. Tampa Bay's remaining opponents have a 46% win percentage, currently. The Bucs go from having the toughest first-half schedule to the fourth-easiest second-half schedule in the NFC. Not to mention, five of their last eight games are at home.
There's recent precedent for a second-half turnaround. In 2016, with a new head coach, the Bucs were sitting at 3-5 through eight games. They finished the season 9-7, winning six of their last eight and all four of their home games down the stretch. That year, those second-half opponents had a 55%-win percentage, making the feat more daunting than what the Bucs are facing now.
Tampa Bay's toughest remaining game according to win projection is Jacksonville on December 1. The Bucs have 41.3% win odds, according to teamrankings.com. The team with the best current record they'll face is the Saints, who have shown no signs of slowing down in cruising to a 7-1 record. They also have Drew Brees back at the helm, not that Teddy Bridgewater was lacking in Brees' absence.
By contrast, they also have two games against the struggling Atlanta Falcons, who have a 1-7 record. It'd be a chance to gain some ground against a division opponent if the Bucs can sweep the home-and-away series. Coming off a game where the Bucs took a very good team in a hostile environment to overtime, you can't help but think Tampa Bay is on the cusp of finally putting it all together.
All three phases firing combined with the favorable second-half schedule could be exactly what the Bucs need for a turnaround. Just ask Coach Arians.
"It'll be fun to get home this week, and like I said, once we start winning, I think we're going to get on a roll and obviously having these home games should help a bunch," he said.