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Looking ahead at Bucs' 2016 opponents

Just as being eliminated from playoff contention has the Bucs looking ahead, it's a good time to do the same, taking an early look at the Bucs' 2016 opponents, which has all but two games determined.

NFL teams rotate through one NFC and one AFC division each season, and the Bucs should have a tougher schedule in both cases. Tampa Bay has been fortunate to face the NFL's two weakest divisions this year in the NFC East and AFC South — those divisions are 14-24 and 12-26, respectively, against teams outside their division, the worst marks in the NFL this year.

In 2016, they'll face the NFC West and AFC West, who have had considerably more success this year — the NFC West is 22-16 out of division this season, while the AFC West is 20-18.

That covers 14 of the Bucs' 16 games — six NFC South games as usual, plus trips to Arizona, San Diego (or its new home), San Francisco and Kansas City; and home games against Denver, Oakland, St. Louis and Seattle.

While the power can shift from division to division in a single year — remember how weak the NFC South was a year ago — what won't change is the logistical challenge of going out west three times in a single season. The Bucs haven't had to do that since 2004, when they went 0-3 in losses at Oakland, San Diego and Arizona.

The Bucs have had decent success on the West Coast in recent years — they're 4-2 since 2009, with wins at Oakland (2012), Arizona (2010), San Francisco (2010) and Seattle (2009).

The final two games on the Bucs' schedule remain to be determined — they'll travel to face the NFC East team that finishes in the same spot in the standings as the Bucs do, and they'll play host to their counterpart from the NFC North. With two weeks to go, that could be any of the four teams in either division — the Bucs are a game back of second and a game ahead of fourth place in their own division, and the other standings are similarly close.

Looking ahead at Bucs' 2016 opponents 12/25/15 [Last modified: Thursday, December 24, 2015 10:36am]
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