Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Path to the Playoffs: '06 Schedule Announced

If the Bucs are going to defend their NFC South title, they’ll have to win their division games early and brave the cold late…All the details on the just-released 2006 schedule

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Bring on the Ravens! Tampa Bay's 2006 regular season begins with a visit from Baltimore

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers figured their 2006 schedule would be different, if only because they had flipped their regular-season record from 5-11 in 2004 to 11-5 in 2005. For one thing, there was sure to be some Buccaneer presence in prime-time after a 2005 season played almost exclusively at 1:00 p.m.

But this one is different.

The NFL released its full 2006 regular season schedule on Thursday, giving the Buccaneers and their 31 opponents an idea of their potential paths to the playoffs. For the Bucs, it involves a front-loaded division schedule – a drastic change from last year – and a heavy potential for cold-weather games in December. Oh, and yes, the Bucs are headed back to prime-time.

Tampa Bay will travel to Charlotte to play the Carolina Panthers on Monday, November 13, a game to be carried on ESPN, kicking off at 8:30 p.m. ET. That gives the team two nationally-televised affairs, as the previously-announced Thanksgiving Day game at Dallas will be featured on Fox at 4:15 p.m. ET. In addition, there remains the possibility of more prime-time games for the Buccaneers thanks to the implementation of "flex scheduling" this year. The league has not yet scheduled its Sunday night games on NBC for Weeks 10-15 and 17, waiting until later in the year to move attractive matchups from the afternoon into the evening.

(Scroll down to see the Buccaneers' entire 2006 schedule.)

Last year, the Buccaneers played five of their six intra-division games after November 19, accounting for five of their last seven contests overall, and didn't play a single NFC South opponent until November 6. This coming fall, the Bucs will dive right into the division schedule with their road opener, at Atlanta on September 17. That is followed in rapid succession by a home game against Carolina on September 24 and a trip to New Orleans on October 8. The Bucs will be completely done with their NFC South games by December 10, finishing with three straight contests out of the division.

For the first time since their Super Bowl-winning season of 2002, the Buccaneers will start at home, following three straight opening road assignments. Now that the offseason program is underway, the Bucs can begin focusing on their opening-day opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. This marks the first time since 2000, when the Bucs won at New England in Week One, that the team will start the season with one of its four interconference games.

Tampa Bay's two road interconference games are part of a potentially grueling finish. There is no three-game December road trip like last season, but three of the Bucs five games in the last month will be on the road in possibly frigid locations. After taking on the defending Super Bowl champs in Pittsburgh on December 3, the Bucs will also travel to Chicago on December 17 and Cleveland on December 24. That means the team is on the road for Christmas Eve, though they will be home on New Years Eve to play the defending NFC champs, Seattle.

Throw in a November 13 game at Carolina and the Thanksgiving game and the Bucs might get a lot of use out of their winter gear this season. That, too, is different. This is the first time in 31 years that the Buccaneers will play five outdoor road games in the months of November and December.

After playing four of their first seven games on the road last year, the Bucs will be at home for four of their first six contests this year. That includes back-to-back visits by the Cincinnati Bengals on October 15 and the Philadelphia Eagles on October 22.

Tampa Bay's bye week also falls three weeks earlier this year than it did in 2005. The Bucs will get the fourth weekend of the season off, centering around Sunday, October 1. Last year, the bye was on October 23. The Bucs also had the fourth week off in 2003.

Other notable games for the Buccaneers this fall include:

  • At N.Y. Giants, Oct. 29…The Bucs last visit to the Meadowlands to play the Giants was in 1997, when a 20-8 victory in December helped earn the Bucs their first playoff spot in 15 years. That is Tampa Bay's only victory in 11 visits to the Meadowlands. * At New Orleans, Oct. 8…After a nomadic 2005, the Saints will be back in the Superdome this year, and the Bucs will be one of the first regular-season visitors. * Washington, Nov. 19…That's almost a year to the date of the Redskins visit to Raymond James Stadium in 2005, which resulted in a thrilling, 36-35 Buccaneer victory on Mike Alstott's daring two-point conversion run in the final minute. The two teams also met in the playoffs, with Washington winning a Wild Card game at Tampa, 17-10.The Bucs have also released their preseason dates, beginning at home against the N.Y. Jets on Friday, Aug. 11 (see below).
**2006 Buccaneers Season Schedule**
**Day**
**Date**
**Opponent****Time****Network**
**-- Preseason --**
Fri.Aug. 11N.Y JETS7:30 p.m.WFLA-TV (NBC)
Sat.Aug. 19MIAMI7:30 p.m.WFLA-TV (NBC)
Sat.Aug. 26at Jacksonville8:00 p.m.CBS (national)
Thurs.Aug. 31at Houston8:00 p.m.WFLA-TV (NBC)
**-- Regular Season --**
Sun.Sept. 10BALTIMORE1:00 p.m.CBS
Sun.Sept. 17at Atlanta1:00 p.m.FOX
Sun.Sept. 24CAROLINA1:00 p.m.FOX
Sun.Oct. 1-- Bye Week --
Sun.Oct. 8at New Orleans1:00 p.m.FOX
Sun.Oct. 15CINCINNATI1:00 p.m.CBS
Sun.Oct. 22PHILADELPHIA1:00 p.m.FOX
Sun.Oct. 29at N.Y. Giants1:00 p.m.FOX
Sun.Nov. 5NEW ORLEANS1:00 p.m.FOX
Mon.Nov. 13at Carolina8:30 p.m.ESPN*
Sun.Nov. 19WASHINGTON1:00 p.m.^FOX
Thurs.Nov. 23at Dallas4:15 p.m.FOX*
Sun.Dec. 3at Pittsburgh1:00 p.m.^FOX
Sun.Dec. 10ATLANTA1:00 p.m.^FOX
Sun.Dec. 17at Chicago1:00 p.m.^FOX
Sun.Dec. 24at Cleveland1:00 p.m.FOX
Sun.Dec. 31SEATTLE1:00 p.m.^FOX

* Nationally-televised game. ^ All Sunday afternoon games in Weeks 10-15 and 17 are subject to rescheduling to Sunday evening as part of NFL's flex scheduling. Home Games in ALL CAPS. All Times Eastern.

Click here to open a printable version of the Buccaneers' 2006 schedule.

Several aspects of the Bucs' 2006 schedule appear very challenging. Half of the 16 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, including both Super Bowl squads and three of the four Conference Championship participants (four games total). In addition, Tampa Bay will play four of its last six games on the road for the first time since 1992.

However, the Bucs have demonstrated an ability to overcome these factors. On their way to an 11-5 record last year, the Buccaneers went 4-2 against teams that were coming off 2004 playoff appearances. They also went 5-3 on the road, highlighted by back-to-back December wins at New Orleans and Carolina to start that three-game road swing. Overall, the Bucs have been an extremely competitive traveling team under Head Coach Jon Gruden. In his four years at the helm, the team is 17-16 away from home, including the postseason, making Gruden the only coach in franchise history with a .500 or better mark on the road.

Other notes regarding the Buccaneers' 2006 schedule:

  • The Bucs' winning streak against defending NFL champions was snapped last year when they lost at New England on December 17. However, they had won their three previous games in that situation and have a chance to start a new streak this year with their trip to Pittsburgh on December 3. In 1999, the Bucs beat Denver after the Broncos' XXXIII victory; in 2000, Tampa Bay topped St. Louis after the Rams' XXXIV win; and in 2001, the Bucs downed Baltimore after the Ravens' XXXV victory. * The Bucs will play just one team with a new head coach this year, as the New Orleans Saints will be in their first year under Sean Payton. * The Ravens will get an opportunity to knock off the Buccaneers for the first time ever. The two teams have met only twice (Baltimore began play in 1996, though they were actually an existing team that had moved from Cleveland and relinquished the Browns' history), with the Bucs winning in Tampa in 2001 and in Baltimore in 2002. * Tampa Bay's game against the Steelers will mark their first regular-season trip to Pittsburgh in over two decades. The Bucs have played only two regular-season games in Pittsburgh, in 1976 and 1983; the last four meetings between the two teams have all been in Florida. * Pittsburgh is also one of two locations on the Bucs' 2006 schedule in which Tampa Bay has never won. The Bucs are 0-2 all-time in both Pittsburgh and Cleveland. * The Buccaneers could secure their first win at Soldier Field since the 1999 season during their December 17 trip to the Windy City. The Bucs won in Chicago, 20-6, on January 2, 2000 to clinch the NFC Central title and earn first-round bye in the playoffs. The Bucs also clinched a division title (NFC South) and a first-round bye with a road win over the Bears in the 2002 season finale, but that game was played in Champaign, Illinois while Soldier Field was being refurbished. * The Bucs will put two of their longest winning streaks against any teams on the line this year. The October 15 visit from the Bengals will give Tampa Bay a chance to extend its string of victories over Cincinnati to five, dating back to 1995. And the Thanksgiving game will pit the Bucs against the Cowboys, whom they've beaten three straight times since the 2000 season. The Bucs also have a four-game winning streak against Detroit but won't play the Lions this year in the regular season. * Tampa Bay's first road game of the season comes at a venue in which the team has had tremendous success. Since 1997, the Bucs have visited the Georgia Dome six times and won five of those games, including last year's 27-24 victory on November 20. Overall, Tampa Bay has won nine of its last 11 against the Falcons, including six of eight since the two teams joined the NFC South in 2002. * The Bucs' home game against Atlanta will fall in December for the fifth straight season. The Bucs beat Atlanta, 34-10, on Dec. 8, 2002; lost to the Falcons, 30-28, on Dec. 20, 2003; and whitewashed their Georgia rivals, 27-0, last Dec. 5. Last year, the Bucs won a thrilling, 27-24 overtime decision with the Falcons on December 24. The two teams meet again in Tampa on Dec. 10 of this season. * The Bucs have never played a regular season game on New Year's Eve before, either in the day or the evening. The 2000 Wild Card game loss at Philadelphia fell on New Year's Eve. They have played once on Jan. 1, three times on Jan. 2 and once on Jan. 6, winning three of those five games. Tampa Bay has played on Christmas Eve day on four prior occasions, including last year, and is 1-3 on that date. The opener falls on a good date, however, as Tampa Bay is 2-1 all-time on Sept. 10, most recently thrashing Chicago, 41-0, in 2000.
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