TAMPA — Slow starts the first half of the season have plagued the Bucs the last two years. But in a cruel twist of slate, the NFL schedule makers have given Bruce Arians’ team arguably the hardest road they’ve ever had to travel.
The Bucs open the 2019 season against the San Francisco 49ers at Raymond James Stadium at 4:25 p.m. Sept. 8. It’s the first time since 2015 that the Bucs will begin the regular season with a home game. Four days later, they will play on Thursday Night Football at Carolina.
But following a Sept. 22 game against the Giants at Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs will not play in Tampa Bay until November 10.
That’s right. Seven weeks will pass without the Bucs playing in their home stadium.
What comes during that gap is an exhaustive, six-week stretch of road trips in which the Bucs will travel more than 20,000 miles.
Games at Los Angeles against the NFC champion Rams and at New Orleans against the NFC South champion Saints proceed the Bucs’ “home game,” in London against the Panthers at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Following a bye week, the Bucs play at Tennessee Oct. 27 and at Seattle Nov. 3.
For a team that has suffered through 3-7 and 3-6 starts the past two seasons, the 2019 schedule doesn’t offer a lot of hope for Bucs fans.
A resolution passed by NFL owners in 2014 requires teams that are part of a successful Super Bowl bid to play one home game abroad within the next five seasons. Super Bowl LV will be played at RJS on Feb. 7, 2021. So the London game, which will begin at 9:25 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, is certainly a factor.
But it’s hard to find anything like the Bucs’ schedule. In 2015, the Miami Dolphins had only one home game during a seven-week stretch, but most of those away games were played in the same time zone.
When the Bucs return to RayJay Nov. 10, Arians will get to host his former Arizona Cardinals team in a 1 p.m. game. After hosting the Saints Nov. 17, the Bucs are at Atlanta Nov. 24 and at Jacksonville Dec. 1 before returning home to play the Colts Dec. 8.
The final road game is at Detroit Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. At least the Bucs will be home for the holidays. They finish the season by hosting the Houston Texans either Dec. 21 or 22 (to be determined later by the NFL) and the Atlanta Falcons Dec. 29.
On the other hand, the Bucs have games against only five teams that made the playoffs in 2018: the Rams, Saints, Seahawks, Colts and Texans.
It’s the third time the Bucs will play a game in London. They lost to the Patriots in 2009 and to the Bears in 2011. Both games were played at Wembley Stadium.
The Bucs will be playing only the second NFL game at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, a state-of-the-art facility that cost about $1.3 billion and was completed about two weeks ago. The soccer pitch opens to reveal an artificial turf field that will be used for NFL games. The Bears and Raiders will play on the same field one week earlier on Oct. 6.
Arians is known as a head coach who has started fast. He took over as the Colts interim head coach when Chuck Pagano had to leave the team to treat leukemia in 2012 and went 9-3, finishing second in the AFC South.
The next season, Arians was named head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and proceeded to go 10-6, 11-5 and 13-3 in his first three seasons there.
But those teams never had to go seven weeks between playing a game in their home city.
The Bucs will rack up the air miles, but this year there will be no ride on a comfy schedule.