Head Coach Tony Dungy (left) and team Owner/President Malcolm Glazer know that January 15th is the Bucs' next test
With the NFC Central title already in the bag, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers began their trip home from Chicago with information slowly trickling in. With the rest of the NFL finishing up its Sunday schedule, the Bucs awaited word of when they would next take the field. Just before the team plane began to taxi to the runway, the National Football League called with the Bucs' assignment.
Tampa Bay will play its Divisional Playoff Game on Saturday, January 15 at 4:15 p.m. at Raymond James Stadium. Though the Bucs' opponent will be determined by next weekend's action, the game time has been officially scheduled.
There are three possible opponents for Tampa Bay after the Wild Card weekend has sorted itself out. Next weekend, sixth-seeded Detroit will travel to Washington to face the third-seeded Redskins, while fifth-seeded Dallas will fly to Minnesota to take on the fourth-seeded Vikings.
As the top seed in the NFC playoffs, the St. Louis Rams are guaranteed a home game against the lowest-seeded opponent to emerge from those two contests. That means that if Detroit upsets Washington, the Lions will head to St. Louis and the Bucs will get the winner of the Minnesota-Dallas affair. If Washington wins, they will come to Tampa.
The Bucs have playoff history with two of those teams, having beaten Detroit in a Wild Card game in Raymond James Stadium in 1997 but having lost to Dallas in both the 1981 and 1982 playoffs. Should the Bucs and Rams each advance beyond that round to the NFC Championship Game it would be, remarkably, a rematch of the only other conference championship in Bucs history. In 1979, in just the fourth year of the franchise's existence, Tampa Bay won the NFC Central and defeated Philadelphia in the Divisional Playoff round to set up a home game against the Rams for a shot at the Super Bowl. However, the visiting Rams won that contest 9-0 and the Bucs have not been back to the conference championship game since.
The Divisional Playoff round is set up each season with one game from each conference being played on both Saturday and Sunday. That means the victorious team in Saturday's game at Raymond James Stadium will be able to watch St. Louis' contest to see if they will be traveling to the Gateway to the West or staying home for the NFC Championship Game. St. Louis and Tampa Bay are the 19th and 20th teams to gain first-round byes in the NFC since the playoffs were expanded to six teams in 1990. Of the first 18 teams in that situation, 17 have won their first playoff game.