The Buccaneers get the Cowboys at home this season...but when?
If you're the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' travel secretary, you've had about four months to plan one trip. Things are about to get a lot more hectic, starting Tuesday.
Last December, the Buccaneers learned they will be facing the New England Patriots in London this fall in the latest game of the NFL's popular International Series.
They were even given a date: October 25, 2009. However, apart from a handful of opening weekend and Thanksgiving Day games announced two weeks ago, the rest of the details regarding the upcoming season have remained a mystery. That will all change on Tuesday when the NFL's 2009 schedule is released in its entirety.
The schedule will drop in prime time for the first time ever, as the 256-game regular-season slate will be revealed on a special edition of NFL Total Access on the NFL Network at 7:00 p.m. ET. Buccaneers.com will also announced Tampa Bay's entire schedule at precisely 7:00 p.m.
Will the Buccaneers, who finished 9-7 and just out of the playoff field in 2008, be included on the Monday Night Football schedule? Will they have any other prime time games? Will they open on the road for the sixth time in the last seven years? What team will they face in the season finale? Will they face their NFC South foes early, as in 2006, or have a backloaded divisional schedule, as in 2008? When are the Cowboys, Giants and Packers coming to town?
All of those questions will be answered on Tuesday night.
The Buccaneers do know one other aspect of their regular season schedule, actually. Because the participants in the International Series games are always treated with a bye the weekend following their overseas appointment, Tampa Bay knows it will get the weekend of October 31-November 1 off. That means the Buccaneers will enjoy a relatively late bye week for the third year in a row, which is generally considered a positive development.
The Buccaneers were part of the Monday Night Football slate in 2008, as their Week 14 contest at Carolina was played to a national audience. They had been regular members of the MNF rotation from 1998-2006, appearing on the series 13 times in that span before pulling a blank in 2007.
Perhaps the most important information team representatives are eager to hear is the opponent for opening weekend. That foe will instantly get a target on its back for the next five months.
The NFL Network special will include reporters spread around the country to gauge reactions from various teams and to analyze particularly intriguing matchups. The show will include a look at the making of the schedule, plus interviews with head coaches and GMs on how it affects their planning and preparation. Players also will also be interviewed and the top games will be debated.
Each year, teams are allowed input into the schedule-making process but are not involved in the final decision-making. The NFL still produces its schedule by hand, and the process, with its many variables, takes several months. Thus, teams around the league and their fans are eager for the game date news by the time the first few weeks of April roll around.
Here's a closer look at a few of the answers the Buccaneers and their fans are awaiting: