Twice in 14 days? Bucs-Saints an NFL rarity
The NFL schedule is complicated enough that in a given year, there are rare occurrences like this year's three-game homestand for the Bucs, or rarer still, Tampa Bay and the Saints playing twice in a span of three weekends.
The Bucs and Saints meet Sunday in Tampa, and then again in New Orleans in Week 16 -- less than two weeks off because teams play on a Saturday, Dec. 24 to avoid a Christmas kickoff -- and that happens just one other time in the entire NFL this year. The Broncos and Chargers played in Weeks 6 and 8, with only one other instance of teams even playing three weeks apart, as the Lions and Vikings in Weeks 9 and 12.
It's the first time the Bucs have played the same team twice in three weekends since the NFL went to its current four-team division model in 2002. It happened more frequently in the five-team NFC Central, squeezing eight division games into the same schedule -- the Bucs did it five times: Packers in 1995 (loss, then win), Lions in 1990 (W/W), Vikings in 1988 (L/L), Bears in 1988 (L/L) and Vikings in 1978 (W/L).
Is there an advantage or disadvantage to two meetings in such proximity? There's no clear sign in the Bucs' recent history -- since 2002, they've had four instances of playing teams three weeks apart, with every possible combination -- they swept the Panthers in 2002, got swept by the Panthers in 2011, won then lost against the Saints in 2011 and lost then won against the Falcons in 2004.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter was asked if he would hold anything back in his playbook or strategy in Sunday's first game against the Saints, wanting to leave something for the second meeting on Christmas Eve, and as could be expected, his focus is solely on winning the next game on his schedule.
"Absolutely not. Absolutely not," Koetter said. "I've never been like that. I don't believe in that. Shoot, who knows where we're going to be in two weeks. Our most important game is right now."