The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won't cross the Atlantic again in 2010, but they will travel extensively, playing at least one game in every United States time zone.
Another West Coast swing to San Francisco and the team's first visit to Baltimore since the 2002 Super Bowl season highlight the Buccaneers' eight-game road slate in 2010.
The Buccaneers will face just four teams that qualified for the playoffs in 2009 — New Orleans (twice), Arizona, Baltimore and Cincinnati. However, 11 of their 16 games will come against teams that finished at least 8-8. The overall 2009 winning percentage of the Buccaneers' 2010 opponents was .480 (123-133).
When the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002, it also established a new scheduling format emphasizing a rotation of teams over the previous system, which was based largely on teams' records from the previous season. The original rotation was established for an eight-year period (2002-09), and in that period every team in the league played every other team in the league at least once both home and away.
That system erased some of the unusual historical scheduling quirks between certain teams. For instance, the Buccaneers hadn't played a regular-season game in Pittsburgh since 1983 until the new rotation took them to the Steelers' home in 2006. Tampa Bay had never played a game in Buffalo until their Week Two visit this season. And despite being expansion twins in 1976, the Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks had played only five times through their first 26 shared seasons before the new scheduling format.
That latter issue has been thoroughly resolved, as the Bucs and Seahawks have met each other in each of the last six seasons except 2005. That streak will continue in 2010 as Seattle is slated to visit Tampa for the fourth time since 2004. Pittsburgh and Cleveland, on the other hand, will play in Raymond James Stadium for the first time since 2002.
With the original eight-year rotation complete, the NFL has elected to use a similar system in 2010, though opponents for the following seasons have not yet been determined. The Buccaneers will play their three NFC South foes twice, as usual, as well as the four teams in the NFC West and the four clubs in the AFC North. That accounts for 14 of the 16 contests; the other two games are determined by the previous year's standings. Each team plays the team that finished in the same spot in the standings in the two divisions from its same conference that it is not already playing. In the Buccaneers' case, that means a home game against the NFC North's Detroit and a road trip to the NFC East's Washington.
The exact dates and times of the Bucs' 2010 schedule will be announced later, usually in late March or early April, but here are the 16 opponents the team will definitely play next fall.
- New Orleans
- St. Louis
- New Orleans
- San Francisco
The Bucs broke a 10-year drought on the West Coast this season with their Week 15 win at Seattle. Now they'll head back to the left edge of the country to play in San Francisco, where they haven't won since 1980. The Bucs will also hit the Mountain Time Zone when they play Arizona, the Central Time Zone with a stop in New Orleans and of course the Eastern Time Zone on multiple occasions.
The Buccaneers and Ravens will meet for just the fourth time since Baltimore entered the league in 1996. That's the second fewest games for Tampa Bay against any team in the league; the Bucs and Texans have met only twice so far. Tampa Bay holds a 2-1 series edge over the Ravens, though Baltimore won the most recent contest in 2006.
The Buccaneers have also won 66.7% of their all-time meetings with the Bengals, who will play host to Tampa Bay at some point in 2010. The Bucs' 6-3 record against Cincinnati equals the franchise's all-time mark against Buffalo as its two best records against any teams in the NFC. The Buccaneers will also be putting a five-game winning streak against the Bengals on the line in '10, their longest active streak against any team in the NFL.
The four NFC South teams will once again fight it out in what has unquestionably been the NFL's most competitive division since the 2002 realignment. The NFC South is one of only three divisions in which all four teams have won a division title already, and it is the only one that has yet to have back-to-back title winners. The NFC South has also had five teams advance to the conference championship game in the last seven years, tied with the NFC East for the most among all divisions.