The 2020 NFL schedule was released Thursday night and it’s markedly better for Tampa Bay than last year’s brutal schedule, which had too much travel away from Raymond James Stadium in the month of October (over an entire month). There is no trip overseas to London this year, nor are there far away West Coast trips to Seattle or Los Angeles. All that travel contributed to the Bucs’ weariness and injuries down the stretch as Tampa Bay finished 7-9 after losing back-to-back home games to end the year.
The furthest west the Bucs venture in 2020 is Las Vegas to take on former head coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders on Sunday Night Football on October 25. That’s one of five prime time games Tampa Bay has on the 2020 schedule.
Here are my initial takeaways on the schedule, which should set the Bucs up for a 10-6 or 11-5 record if the team can stay moderately healthy.
BUCS’ 2020 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE
Week 1: at New Orleans: Sept. 13 – 4:25 p.m. FOX
Week 2: vs. Carolina: Sept. 20 – 1:00 p.m. FOX
Week 3: at Denver: Sept, 27 – 4:25 p.m. FOX
Week 4: vs. Chargers: Oct. 4 – 1:00 p.m. CBS
Week 5: at Bears (TNF): Oct. 8 – 8:20 p.m. FOX
Week 6: vs. Packers: Oct. 18 – 4:25 p.m. FOX
Week 7: at Raiders (SNF): Oct. 25 – 8:20 p.m. NBC
Week 8: at Giants (MNF): Nov. 2 – 8:15 p.m. ESPN
Week 9: vs. Saints (SNF): Nov. 8 – 8:20 p.m. NBC
Week 10: at Panthers: Nov. 15 – 1:00 p.m. FOX
Week 11: vs. Rams (MNF): Nov. 23 – 8:15 p.m. ESPN
Week 12: vs. Chiefs: Nov. 29 – 4:25 p.m. CBS
Week 13: Bye Week
Week 14: vs. Vikings: Dec. 13 – 1:00 p.m. FOX
Week 15: at Falcons: Dec. 20 – 1:00 p.m. FOX
Week 16: at Lions: Dec. 26/27 – TBD
Week 17: vs. Falcons: Jan. 3 – 1:00 p.m. FOX
Outside of a very tough opener at defending NFC South champion New Orleans (where the Bucs are 5-point underdogs), Tampa Bay has a chance to win the next four games against Carolina (home), Denver (away), L.A. Chargers (home) and Chicago (away). The Bucs can even be 5-0 with an upset in the Big Easy in Week 1. Of course I thought last year’s easiest game would be against San Francisco at home in Week 1, considering the 49ers were 4-12 the previous year. Who knew San Francisco would create some early momentum off that win in Tampa Bay and go 12-4 en route to the Super Bowl?
There is a big group of five prime time games in the middle of the schedule, starting at Chicago on Thursday night and continues two weeks later on Sunday Night Football at Las Vegas. The Bucs travel to face the New York Giants the next week on Monday Night Football before hosting the Saints on Sunday Night Football the following week on November 8. Following a 1:00 p.m. road game at Carolina, Tampa Bay then hosts the L.A. Rams on Monday Night Football on Nov. 23.
That’s the Tom Brady effect, folks. And that’s a franchise record for prime time games in a season. The Bucs only had four prime time games in 2003 following the team’s Super Bowl win the previous year.
Another notable is the Bucs’ bye week in Week 13. In my 24 years of covering the Bucs I can’t recall a bye week this late in the season. That late bye week could help Tampa Bay rests its legs and gear up for a playoff push in December. A strong finish could be in the cards if this team can figure out how to win at home and convert Raymond James Stadium into a home-field advantage.
Five of the Bucs’ last seven games are at home, where the team was 2-6 last year. Tampa Bay hasn’t had a winning record at home since going 6-2 in 2008, which was the last year Jon Gruden coached the Bucs, finishing 9-7 that season and missing the playoffs by one game. The best record Tampa Bay has posted at home since was 4-4 under every year Dirk Koetter was head coach from 2016-18.