FAB 4. Bucs’ 2018 Schedule Presents Challenges
The Buccaneers’ 2017 campaign was a season full of hype and a season full of disaster as the team did not live up to expectations and finished 5-11 when most expected Tampa Bay to make the playoffs. What will the 2018 season have in store?
Well, the release of the 2018 regular season schedule offers a glimpse of what could be for the Bucs. Depending on what the NFL determines in its investigation of quarterback Jameis Winston, 2018 could be quite challenging for Tampa Bay.
Here is the Bucs’ 2018 schedule, followed by my analysis.
Week 1 – Bucs at Saints – Sept. 9
Week 2 – Bucs vs. Eagles – Sept. 16
Week 3 – Bucs vs. Steelers – Sept. 24 – Monday Night Game
Week 4 – Bucs at Bears – Sept. 30
Week 5 – BYE WEEK – Oct. 7
Week 6 – Bucs at Falcons – Oct. 14
Week 7 – Bucs vs. Browns – Oct. 21
Week 8 – Bucs at Bengals – Oct. 28
Week 9 – Bucs at Panthers – Nov. 4
Week 10 – Bucs vs. Redskins – Nov. 11
Week 11 – Bucs at Giants – Nov. 18
Week 12 – Bucs vs. 49ers – Nov. 25
Week 13 – Bucs vs. Panthers – Dec. 2
Week 14 – Bucs vs. Saints – Dec. 9
Week 15 – Bucs at Ravens – Dec. 16
Week 16 – Bucs at Cowboys – Dec. 23
Week 17 – Bucs vs. Falcons – Dec. 30
• The Bucs better hope that Winston evades a two- or four-game suspension from the league for alleged inappropriate sexual conduct stemming from a reported incident back in 2016 involving a female Uber driver. Tampa Bay starts the 2018 season at New Orleans and then travels home to face defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia before a home game against Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football.
All three teams – the Saints, Eagles and Steelers – made it to at least the divisional round of the playoffs last year. Although backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was 2-1 as a starter last year, his wins came against the New York Jets and the Miami Dolphins, and both of those teams finished with a losing record.
Whether it’s Penn State’s Saquon Barkley or a running back in the second round, the Bucs need to draft a stud ballcarrier to help Fitzpatrick weather the storm in case Winston gets suspended. Even if he avoids a suspension, having a much improved running game with an upgrade at running back to help Winston is mandatory this year, especially to have a chance at geting off to a hot start.
• It’s nice that the Bucs get another Monday Night Game at home. Tampa Bay had two primetime home games in 2017 and lost on Thursday Night Football to New England and on Monday Night Football to Atlanta. Both were close losses that went down to the wire in the fourth quarter. The Bucs have suffered three consecutive losses in prime time, dating back to the 2016 season when they lost at Dallas to the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. The last primetime victory for the Bucs came in Carolina on Monday Night Football in 2016 when Roberto Aguayo kicked the game-winner in the fourth quarter.
• In a scheduling quirk, the Bucs play the Bears for the fifth year in a row. It almost seems like old times for the former NFC Central foes. Tampa Bay travels to Chicago in Week 4 to play right before the team’s bye, which is in Week 5.
After losing to Chicago in 2014, 21-13, and again in 2015, 26-21 during the Lovie Smith era, Tampa Bay has pasted the Bears in the last two meetings. The Bucs waxed the Bears, 36-10, in 2016, and drubbed them, 29-7, in the season opener last year. Tampa Bay will try to make it three wins in a row over Chicago with a victory in the Windy City.
• Speaking of Chicago, the Bears (5-11) are one of four teams the Bucs are playing that have Top 10 picks in the draft due to double-digit losing seasons. The Browns (0-16), the Giants (3-13) and the 49ers (6-10) are the other teams. But don’t count any of these teams as easy wins.
The Bucs barely beat the Giants last year on a last-second field goal by Nick Folk, 25-24, and the 49ers ended the 2017 campaign with five straight wins behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was acquired mid-season in a trade with New England. In fact, San Francisco finished 6-1 down the stretch and was one of the league’s hottest teams at the end of the season.
The Bucs could be favored in all four of these games, but don’t expect the team to necessarily go 4-0. If it does, that could be the sign of a winning season in Tampa Bay, however.
• The Bucs only have two home games in the span of six weeks from Week 3 when Tampa Bay hosts Pittsburgh until Week 10 when the Bucs return home to play Washington. Tampa Bay travels to Chicago, has a bye week, travels to Atlanta, returns home to host the Browns and then has back-to-back road games at Cincinnati and at Carolina. That’s an odd quirk.
• Tampa Bay could have a pair of cold weather games this year. The Bucs travel to New York to face the Giants on November 25, and then head back up north to Baltimore to play the Ravens on December 16.
• December will likely decide the NFC South division – that is if the Bucs are still relevant heading into the final month of the season. Last year they weren’t. Tampa Bay’s last three home games are against division opponents.
The team hosts Carolina on December 2 and New Orleans a week later on December 9. The Bucs wrap up the 2018 season with a home game against Atlanta on December 30. Tampa Bay went winless in the division last year until upsetting the NFC South champion Saints in the season finale at home, 31-24.
• One last schedule item. Two years a late season Tampa Bay game at Dallas was flexed for Sunday Night Football. The Bucs wound up losing that game, 26-20, and a shot at the playoffs as a result.
Tampa Bay may get a shot at revenge again on Sunday Night Football in Dallas late in the season as the two teams are scheduled to play on December 23. If the Cowboys and Bucs are in playoff contention late in the season, that game will surely be earmarked for flexing to Sunday Night Football on NBC.
• And speaking of nationally televised games, the Bucs will not have a Thursday Night Football game this year, which is good news as most of the players I’ve spoken with abhor the idea of playing on a short week – even if a bye week follows the game.