Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Teams to Beat

To take the next step into the playoffs in 2011, the rising Buccaneers will have to overcome a schedule that includes seven games against 2010 playoff opponents and some of the top individual talent in the NFL

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Following a 2010 season in which a team of budding young stars just missed the playoffs on a fifth-level tiebreaker, fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expecting quite a show in 2011.

They certainly won't be disappointed in the cast.

In addition to such must-see Buccaneers as Josh Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Gerald McCoy, fall Sundays at Raymond James Stadium will feature some of the most intriguing teams and individual talents from around the NFL.  Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson, Arian Foster and DeMarcus Ware will all make visits next fall as Tampa Bay hosts four 2010 playoff teams, the always-entertaining Dallas Cowboys, the up-and-coming Detroit Lions and several others.

Away from home, the Buccaneers will visit their usual NFC South haunts as well as several of their old NFC Central destinations.  Tampa Bay's 2011 road schedule will also feature another cross-country trip to San Francisco and will be a gauntlet of some of the NFL's best rushers, including Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner and Frank Gore.

Here is a look at all 16 opponents for the Buccaneers in 2011:

Home

Away

Atlanta

Atlanta

Carolina

Carolina

Chicago

Green Bay

Dallas

Jacksonville

Detroit

Minnesota

Houston

New Orleans

Indianapolis

San Francisco

New Orleans

Tennessee

The full NFL schedule with dates and times will not be released until April, but the Buccaneers and the other 31 teams could determine their upcoming opponents as soon as the 2010 regular season was over.

Since realigning into eight four-team divisions in 2002, the NFL has moved away from strength-of-schedule formatting and relied instead on a simpler rotation of divisions.  The idea is to make sure each team gets at least one home game and one away game against every other team in the league over an eight-year period.  The first eight-year rotation concluded in 2009; the cycle is scheduled through 2017.

For the Buccaneers and the rest of the NFC South, that means a three-year revolution through the other NFC divisions and a four-year spin through the AFC divisions.  Tampa Bay's division was pitted against the NFC West and AFC North in 2010; in 2011, they will face each team in the NFC North and AFC South.

That accounts for half of the 16 games on the schedule.  Six of the remaining eight games are against division opponents, of course, with the usual home-and-away with Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans.

That leaves just two games determined by the previous year's standings.  Each team is pitted against the team that finished in the same spot in the standings in the two intraconference divisions it is not pitted against.  Since the Buccaneers finished third in the NFC South and the South is already playing the North in 2011, the remaining two opponents are the third-place teams in the East and West.  That leads to a home game against the Dallas Cowboys and a road trip to San Francisco.

Here are some highlights from the Buccaneers' 2011 home slate:

  • Tampa Bay's home opponents will include the NFL's sack leader in 2010 (Dallas'  DeMarcus Ware); the rushing leader (Houston's Arian Foster); the second, third and fourth-leading passers in terms of yards (Indianapolis' Peyton Manning, New Orleans' Drew Brees and Houston's Matt Schaub); the first, second and third-leading receivers (Atlanta's Roddy White, Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne and Dallas' Jason Witten); the touchdown leader (Foster); the second-leading touchdown receiver (Detroit's Calvin Johnson); the leading punter (Dallas Mat McBriar); and the leading punt returner (Chicago's Devin Hester).  In terms of teams, the Buccaneers will face the third, fourth, sixth and seventh-ranked offenses in 2010 (Houston, Indianapolis, New Orleans and Dallas).
  • Four 2010 playoff teams will come to Tampa, including three division winners: Atlanta, Chicago, Indianapolis and New Orleans.  In addition it faces a Detroit team that won its last four games and a Dallas squad that won five of its last eight.
  • The Indianapolis Colts will be making their first trip to Tampa since 2003, when Peyton Manning led a furious Monday night comeback to earn a 38-35 overtime win.  That is the Colts' only previous appearance at Raymond James Stadium and one of only three visits to Tampa since 1991.
  • Likewise, the Houston Texans will visit Tampa for just the second time since 2003, and the game will mark just the third regular-season meeting between the two teams.  Houston entered the league as an expansion team in 2002 and the Bucs and Texans have played a preseason game against each other every season since, but the only two regular-season matchups occurred in 2003 (in Tampa) and in 2007 (in Houston).

And here are some highlights from the Buccaneers' 2011 road slate:

  • As mentioned above, Tampa Bay will run into many of the NFL's leading rushers during their eight games away from home in 2011.  That includes the players who ranked third (Atlanta's Turner), fourth (Tennessee's Johnson), fifth (Jacksonville's Jones-Drew) and sixth (Minnesota's Peterson) on the league's rushing yardage chart in 2010.
  • The Bucs will also find some strong defensive teams in their road path in 2011, including the fourth (New Orleans), fifth (Green Bay) and eighth (Minnesota) ranked defenses in the NFL in 2010.  Individually, they will run into many of the best pass-rushers in the NFL in 2010, including Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews (second with 13.5 sacks), Atlanta's John Abraham (third, 13.0), Carolina's Charles Johnson (tied-fourth, 11.5) and Minnesota's Jared Allen (tied-seventh, 11.0).
  • As with their AFC South home opponents, the Buccaneers will be making their first regular-season trips to both Jacksonville and Tennessee since 2003.  The Bucs have played in Jacksonville just twice since the Jaguars came into the league in 1995, and will be looking for their first regular-season victory in north Florida.  Tampa Bay has also played just two games in Tennessee since the former Houston Oilers relocated in 1997; both of those games were Titan victories.
  • Three of the Buccaneers' eight away games will be against playoff teams from 2010: at Atlanta, at Green Bay and at New Orleans.
  • The Buccaneers have played 24 road games against the Packers, including 19 at Lambeau Field, but they've traveled to Wisconsin just once since leaving the NFC Central for the new NFC South in 2002.  That game took place in 2005, with the Buccaneers breaking a 12-game road losing streak to Green Bay with a 17-16 win.
  • Following the same NFC North rotation, the Buccaneers will also play in Minnesota for the first time since 2005 and only the second time since the '02 realignment.  Tampa Bay's last trip to the Metrodome (which may or may not be the venue for next year's game) was the season opener in 2005, which the Buccaneers won 24-13 en route to the NFC South crown.
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