Schedule unveiled: Bucs learn their path for 2017
The Bucs' 2017 schedule, released Thursday with the rest of the league, includes two high-profile showcase games, with Tom Brady and the defending champion Patriots coming to Tampa on a Thursday in Week 5 and the Bucs hosting the Falcons in a huge Monday night showdown the week before Christmas.
The Bucs open the season on Sept. 10 at Miami, and in all, Tampa Bay's schedule is uniquely skewed with home games early and late in the year -- three of the first five are at home, as are three of the last four, creating a tough stretch in the middle of the season that has just two home games over a span of 66 days.
The schedule will be officially announced at 8 p.m. on NFL Network.
The NFC South has sent its champ to the Super Bowl in each of the last two seasons, and if the Bucs are to challenge for the division title, they'll need a strong finish, with three division games to finish the season -- the Monday against Atlanta on Dec. 18, a Christmas Eve game at Carolina and a season finale at Raymond James Stadium on New Year's Eve against New Orleans.
The biggest challenges? Jameis Winston will face a pair of quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl wins in a span of five days -- the Giants and Eli Manning come to Tampa on Sunday, Oct. 1, and the Patriots and Brady follow on Thursday, Oct. 5, with a national audience on CBS. What immediately follows is a run of three road games in four weeks, going to Arizona and Buffalo, then home against the Panthers and back on the road at New Orleans for a lap around the country in 22 days.
The schedule has some favors -- the Bucs get their bye week far later than in recent years in Week 11, giving them an extra week to prepare for a game at Atlanta against the defending NFC champions. A week later, they'll likely face chilly conditions as they go to Green Bay to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Dec. 3. The other potential cold game -- at Buffalo, where the Bucs have played just once in their 41 years -- should be a mild one on Oct. 22, fortunately more fall than winter.
It's not quite the larger national platform many had thought the Bucs might have -- just one Monday night game, no Sunday night games (some games later in the season can be flexed to prime time) and in all, 12 of 16 games have 1 p.m. kickoffs, with less national audiences that later afternoon games bring.
Here's the schedule: September -- 10 at Miami, 17 vs. Chicago, 24 at Minnesota; October -- 1 vs. N.Y. Giants, 5 vs. New England (Thursday), 15 at Arizona, 22 at Buffalo, 29 vs. Carolina; November -- 5 at New Orleans, 12 vs. N.Y. Jets, (bye week), 26 at Atlanta; December -- 3 at Green Bay, 10 vs. Detroit, 18 vs. Atlanta (Monday), 24 at Carolina, 31 vs. New Orleans.