Greg Schiano's Tampa Bay Buccaneers have some nice pieces to work with moving forward. There are a lot of talented players in key positions, but the Bucs are facing an uphill battle in the loaded NFC. And since scheduling plays a huge role in the outcome of every NFL season, Athlon is analyzing every team's 16-game slate.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2013 Schedule:
Week 1: at New York Jets
Week 2: New Orleans
Week 3: at New England
Week 4: Arizona
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Philadelphia
Week 7: at Atlanta
Week 8: Carolina (Thurs.)
Week 9: at Seattle
Week 10: Miami (Mon.)
Week 11: Atlanta
Week 12: at Detroit
Week 13: at Carolina
Week 14: Buffalo
Week 15: San Francisco
Week 16: at St. Louis
Week 17: at New Orleans
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Out of the Gate: In a bizarre and meaningless twist, the Bucs will face three straight "New" teams to start the year with the Jets, Saints and Patriots to open the season. Two of those will come on the road with a home game against Arizona wrapping up the first month, so a 2-2 start would have to be considered an excellent beginning. The one piece of good news for the start to the year is getting divisional foe New Orleans at home. Pull an upset in that game and build on it to open up 3-1 and Tampa Bay could be staring at a postseason run.
Toughest Stretch: The last three weeks of the regular season will be daunting for this young Bucs squad. Not only will Tampa Bay face four road games in the last six weeks but the final two games of the year will come in St. Louis and New Orleans against key NFC playoff contenders. Toss in a home game with the defending NFC champion 49ers in Week 15 and Tampa Bay boasts one of the hardest final three weeks of the year. The good news is there are plenty of wins leading into this stretch...
Easiest Stretch: The toughest portion of the schedule will be preceded by the three easiest weeks of the season, as the Lions, Panthers and Bills fill Weeks 12-14 of the Bucs' 2013 schedule. Additionally, Tampa Bay will face Miami two weeks earlier. So while there are reasons for optimism in both Carolina and Miami, Tampa Bay has to believe it can win those four games (in a five-week stretch) if it expects to compete for a playoff spot in the extremely stacked NFC.
Circle The Calendar: There are some interesting battles on this slate, including a rematch of former Big East coaches when Doug Marrone — who was 2-1 against Schiano in college — and the Bills come to town in Week 14. However, fans in Tampa won't ever forget the Mike Williams touchdown that wasn't against New Orleans on the final play of the game in last season's meeting. The Saints held on to a 35-28 win in Tampa in Week 7 after Williams' apparent game-tying touchdown was overturned because the wide receiver had stepped out of bounds. Games with the key division rival don't need any extra fuel, but this team will be ready to welcome Drew Brees and company to town in Week 2.
Divisional Notes: The Bucs will face just one NFC South opponent in the first six weeks of the year when the Saints come to town in Week 2. Then Tampa Bay will play divisional games in four of the next seven (Week 7-13), including both games with Atlanta and a Thursday night short-week home tilt with Cam Newton. The next game with Atlanta (Week 11) also will come on a short week as well. The season wraps up with a brutal road NFC South game in the Superdome in New Orleans — in a situation where both teams likely will need to win to get into the playoffs.
Playoff Push: There is just as much to hate about the end of the '13 schedule as there is to like. Weeks 12-14 appears to be all winnable games that could set the Bucs up for a playoff push. However, the final three weeks of the year might be the team's toughest stretch. Not only does the NFC frontrunner come to town in Week 15, but the Bucs must go on the road for the final two weeks to face fellow playoff hopefuls in the Rams and Saints. The Bucs must make headway prior to the final three weeks — meaning this team likely needs nine or 10 wins in the first 14 weeks to expect a postseason berth.
Fantasy Playoff Run (Weeks 14-16): Doug Martin had better enjoy that Week 14 date with Buffalo, the 30th-ranked defense against fantasy RBs, because the sledding gets much tougher after that. San Francisco surrendered the fourth-fewest points to RBs and St. Louis (15th in rushing defense in 2012) added linebacker Alec Ogletree and safety T.J. McDonald to its defense in the draft. The 49ers and Rams also were top-12 defenses against QBs.
2013 Athlon Sports NFL team-by-team schedule analysis: