The Buccaneers 2011 schedule has been released and features two primetime home games - versus the Colts on October 3 at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN's Monday Night Football and on Saturday, December 17 against the Cowboys at 8:20 p.m. on NFL Network.
Pewter Report’s Scott Reynolds offers up his reaction to each of the contests on Tampa Bay’s 2011 schedule.9/11 Lions at Bucs 1:00 Fox
Tampa Bay starts off the season against one of the hottest teams at the end of the 2010 campaign – and with revenge on its mind. A controversial offensive pass interference call on tight end Kellen Winslow negated a fourth quarter touchdown and forced the Bucs to settle for a field goal. The Lions rallied with a field goal to tie the game in the fourth quarter and won it on overtime in a 23-20 upset. That stunning home loss in Week 15 propelled the Lions to win their final three games of the year, and ultimately cost the Bucs a playoff spot. The Lions should be more formidable this time around with quarterback Matthew Stafford at the helm.
9/18 Bucs at Vikings 1:00 Fox
The Bucs travel to Minnesota to play Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, who will be breaking in a new quarterback to replace Brett Favre. Minnesota’s defense is dangerous and should be looking to rebound after underachieving last year. Left tackle Donald Penn had one of his best games against Vikings Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen, and that should be one of the marquee matchups to watch in Tampa Bay’s first road game of the year. The Bucs run defense, which has been among the league’s worst the last two years, will get an early test from Peterson.9/25 Falcons at Bucs 4:15 Fox
The Falcons travel to Tampa Bay for the Bucs’ first NFC South game of the year. With the Bucs hosting two of its first three games of the 2011 season at home, a strong start could be in the making for this young Tampa Bay team, which greatly benefited from a hot beginning to the 2010 season. However, the Falcons have beaten the Bucs the last five times, including last December at Raymond James Stadium after Tampa Bay blew a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.
10/3 Colts at Bucs 8:30 ESPN (Monday Night Football)
The Bucs get their first primetime home game in years, and it is against the Colts, which beat Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium in overtime on Monday Night Football in 2003 despite the Bucs jumping out to a big lead. Cornerback Ronde Barber is the only Buccaneers player that was on the roster for that game to witness Peyton Manning torch Tim Wansley and lead a furious fourth quarter comeback. Jon Gruden coached against Tony Dungy that night and saw the former Bucs head coach emerge victorious on his birthday. Gruden will return to the scene of the crime as a broadcaster for ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecast. The league helped the Bucs’ cause in terms of selling out a home contest by making sure this game was a primetime contest.
10/9 Bucs at 49ers 4:05 Fox
The Bucs return to San Francisco to play the 49ers, a team they beat 21-0 last year. The 49ers, who will be led by new coach Jim Harbaugh, will be seeking revenge for that shutout defeat. Penn caught a surprise touchdown in his home state in last year’s Bucs victory. Will offensive coordinator Greg Olson use him as a goal line weapon again?10/16 Saints at Bucs 4:15 Fox
The Bucs’ second NFC South contest is also a home game, but Tampa Bay fares better against the Saints in New Orleans. Over the past two years, the teams have split the series with each win coming on the other’s home turf. The Saints had a surprising first-round exit from the playoffs last year and will be looking to reclaim their place atop the NFC South, while the resurgent Bucs will be looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and also staking their claim as the best team in the division.10/23 Bears at Bucs 1:00 Fox (in London at Wembley Stadium)
Tampa Bay gave up one of its home games to “host” Chicago in London. The Bucs likely got rewarded for this gesture by getting two primetime home games – in addition to a nice payout by the league for willing to host the International Game for the second time in two years. In 2009, the Bucs lost to the New England Patriots at Wembley Stadium, 35-7, and then-rookie QB Josh Freeman made his NFL debut in the fourth quarter. Expect a better performance from Freeman and the Bucs this time around.10/30 BYE WEEK
The Bucs’ bye week falls at a great time close to the middle of the season. The bye week was automatically going to be following the trip to London as is customary for teams participating in that overseas contest.
11/6 Bucs at Saints 1:00 Fox
Can the Bucs make it three in a row at the Superdome? Tampa Bay has stunned the Saints on their home turf the last two years thanks to a stifling defense that has bottled up Drew Brees and efficient play from Freeman. Even though it’s November, the winner of this game could take a monumental step towards winning the division.11/13 Texans at Bucs 1:00 CBS
Who knows which Texans team will show up to play! Houston is full of talent, but always manages to underachieve at the end of the season. Arian Foster is one of the league’s premier running backs and could have a field day against Tampa Bay’s run defense unless it improves significantly from a year ago when it was ranked 28th in the league.
11/20 Bucs at Packers 1:00 Fox
Tampa Bay travels to Green Bay to play the defending Super Bowl champions. Will the Packers be feeling the effects of a Super Bowl hangover, or will Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson and Co. be driving towards another Lombardi Trophy? The Bucs have beaten the Packers in the last three games, including a 17-16 win at Lambeau Field in 2005. Can the Bucs make it four in a row?
11/27 Bucs at Titans 1:00 Fox
Armed with a new head coach and a new quarterback, the Titans will be one of the league’s more interesting and unpredictable teams. There is talent on both sides of the ball, and the Bucs haven’t fared well in Tennessee in the past. Even if the Titans don’t have a winning record at this point of the season, this contest could be a trap game for the Bucs, especially with ultra-speedy Chris Johnson running the ball.12/4 Panthers at Bucs 1:00 Fox
Carolina was swept by the Bucs last year, but will have a new head coach in Ron Rivera and likely a new starting quarterback. The Panthers defense should be tougher with Rivera at the helm, and the running back tandem of DeAngelo Williams (if he is re-signed) and Jonathan Stewart has given the Bucs problems in the past.
12/11 Bucs at Jaguars 1:00 Fox
Tampa Bay has never matched up well against a physical Jacksonville team in years past whether it has been in the preseason or the regular season. If the Bucs are hot, there could be a host of Tampa Bay fans that will make the four-hour drive to Jacksonville to help negate homefield advantage for the Jaguars. Bucs-Jaguars games typically go down to the wire regardless of when they are played, and this one should be no exception.12/17 Cowboys at Bucs 8:20 NFL Network (Saturday Night Football)
Tampa Bay gets its second home prime time game, this time on NFL Network, which is a first for the franchise. This game, which should also be a home sellout, will also be the home finale and will appear on national television on a Saturday night. The Cowboys were derailed by quarterback Tony Romo’s season-ending injury, and played tougher for Jason Garrett down the stretch than they did at the beginning of the season for Wade Phillips. When they are at full strength, the Cowboys are one of the most talented and dangerous teams in the league. It will be fun to see if Tampa Bay’s Mike Williams can outduel Dallas wide receiver Dez Bryant.
12/24 Bucs at Panthers 1:00 Fox
The Bucs will be spending Christmas Eve on the road in Carolina, but the trip shouldn’t be too much of a distraction to the players as they will likely be home in time to tuck their kids into bed before Santa Claus comes – unless the game is flexed to a 4:15 p.m. or 8:20 p.m. primetime start. It’s hard to imagine Carolina becoming a playoff contender in just one year, but look what happened to Tampa Bay, which bounced back from a 3-13 record to finish 10-6 in 2010 and just narrowly missed the playoffs.
1/1 Bucs at Falcons 1:00 Fox
Tampa Bay ends the season on New Year’s Day at Atlanta, which is easily the toughest game on the schedule. This contest against the ever-tough Falcons will likely have playoff and even division-clinching implications. If Freeman can end the 2011 season as hot as he ended the 2010 campaign, he and the Bucs could score an upset against Matt Ryan and the Falcons, which are awfully hard to beat at the Georgia Dome.
All times Eastern
Home games in boldA WAY TOO EARLY PROGNOSTICATION
With the rosters for the Bucs and their opponents hardly set for 2011 because the draft and free agency have yet to happen, it’s awfully difficult to predict wins and losses. Plus, there are good teams that always seem to underachieve (see Minnesota) and get derailed by injuries (see Dallas), and supposedly bad teams that always rise up unexpectedly (see Tampa Bay).
Yet three out of Tampa Bay’s first five games are at home, which helps, and could make for a strong start and an early winning record. It’s not unreasonable to think the Bucs could be 4-3 or better by the bye week after the team’s trip to London.
The problem for the Bucs is their tough end to the season with a slew of road contests. Tampa Bay is on the road for six of its final nine games, including three of its last four contests. Ending the road at two division rivals – Carolina and Atlana – will test the playoff mettle and mentally of this young Tampa Bay team in 2011.
The Bucs could be a better team in 2011 and yet only have a 9-7 record because of facing tougher opponents. The NFC South doesn’t have the luxury of feasting on the dreadful NFC West division this year. In 2010, the NFC South was a combined 14-2 against the NFC West. This year it has to take on the NFC North, which has both of the 2010 NFC Championship Game participants in Chicago and Green Bay, which ultimately won the Super Bowl.
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