Three straight on the road: Bucs now face rare challenge
Much of the initial concern from the postponement of the Bucs' season opener due to Hurricane Irma is that it forces the Bucs and Dolphins to play 16 games in a row because their Week 11 bye was shifted to this week in the move.
But for the Bucs, moving the game in Miami sets up a rare and difficult challenge: three straight road games starting in mid-November, and all against 2016 playoff teams: at Miami, at Atlanta and at Green Bay. Both the Bucs history and recent NFL play show that the odds of coming out of a three-game, three-week road trip with more than one win from those games are at best 20 percent.
There's an unusually high number of NFL teams with three straight games away from home in 2017 -- 10 now including the Bucs, as many as in the previous three seasons combined. But over those past three seasons, the 10 NFL teams facing three straight road games came out of that stretch with more than one win just once. Eight of the teams went 1-2 in those games, and a ninth (the 2015 Jaguars) went 0-3. The only real winner under such circumstances was the 2014 Bengals, who went 3-0, including a win against a 2-14 Bucs team.
Even good teams struggle with the challenge of three straight road games -- last year's Packers, who made the NFC Championship Game, went 1-2, losing at the Titans and Redskins to fall to 4-6 before winning their last six games to make the playoffs. The 2014 Broncos, who went 12-4, took half their losses durinng a three-game road trip with losses at the Patriots and Raiders. The combined record of those 10 NFL teams making three-game road trips from 2014-16 was 11-19 in those games.
It's even rarer in Bucs history -- Tampa Bay has played three straight road games just 10 times in its 41-year history, and just twice in the last 20 seasons. The 2005 Bucs went 2-1 in such a stretch, winning at New Orleans and Carolina before taking a 28-0 shutout at the Patriots on the way to the playoffs. In 2014, the Bucs opened a three-game road trip with a 56-14 loss to the Falcons (and Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith) before bouncing back with a win at Pittsburgh on the way to a 2-14 record.
Only twice in Bucs history has the team posted a winning record in a three-game, three-week road trip -- that 2005 team, as well as 1979, when a Bucs team headed to the playoffs had three straight road games all decided by a field goal or less. They won 12-10 at the Vikings, lost 17-14 at the Falcons and won 16-14 at the Lions, needing every win to edge the Bears in tiebreaker to win a division title. Overall, the 10 Bucs teams to play a three-game, three-week road trip have gone a combined 9-21 in those games.
The Bucs aren't alone with this obstacle ahead of them -- the Dolphins, having seen their home opener postponed, will now open the season playing in Los Angeles, New York and London, England, on three consecutive weekends, and while the London game is technically a home game, it presents all the logistical challenges of a road game, with added jetlag to boot.
Other teams the Bucs will battle for playoff spots have similar stretches -- the Falcons go to the Patriots, Jets and Panthers in Weeks 7-9, the Vikings go to the Lions, Falcons and Panthers in Weeks 12-14 and the Eagles go to the Seahawks, Rams and Giants in Weeks 13-15.
I couldn't find full data for teams with three straight road games, but a 2011 ESPN story tracked 110 teams that had such stretches from 1990-2010 -- nine of them went 3-0, 30 of them went 2-1, but 53 of them went 1-2 and 18 went 0-3.