TAMPA — Bucs coach Dirk Koetter says his team would do well to follow the blueprint of success by the Panthers.
At least this season, the Bucs will get to share a big stage with the defending NFC champions on Monday Night Football.
Tampa Bay returns to ESPN's prime-time Monday night telecast for the first time in three years with a regular-season game Oct. 10 at Carolina in a battle of quarterbacks picked No. 1 overall — the Panthers' Cam Newton, the NFL's most valuable player last season, and the Bucs' Jameis Winston, the fans' choice as 2015 rookie of the year.
The matchup with the three-time defending NFC South champs is part of a brutal six-game stretch to start the season for the Bucs, which includes games against both Super Bowl 50 participants in back-to-back weeks.
Eight days before their game at Carolina, the Bucs host the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos at 4 p.m. Oct. 2 at Raymond James Stadium.
It's an ambitious start for the Bucs, who open the 2016 season with consecutive road games for the first time since 2001, Tony Dungy's last season as coach in Tampa Bay. That year, the Bucs got off to a 1-1 start after games at Dallas and at Minnesota.
The Bucs open Sept. 11 at Atlanta and visit the Cardinals Sept. 18 before returning home for their season opener against the Los Angeles Rams at 4 p.m. on Sept. 25.
The Bucs also have a nationally televised game Nov. 3 on the NFL Network when they host an 8:25 Thursday game against the Falcons.
There are two trips to the West Coast — Oct. 23 at San Francisco and Dec. 4 at San Diego.
If the Bucs can navigate the tough first six weeks of the season, the schedule appears to be a little more kind with the team spending a month in Tampa Bay.
After the Monday Night Football game, the Bucs will enjoy a bye week and three consecutive home games against the Raiders, Falcons (on Thursday night) and the Bears.
One oddity includes two games against the Saints in a span of three weeks. The Bucs host the Saints on Dec. 11, then play Dec. 18 at Dallas before a Christmas Eve game in the Crescent City.
The Bucs end the season on New Year's Day at Raymond James Stadium against Carolina.
The return to Monday Night Football highlights the schedule. In their last appearance on MNF, the Bucs defeated the Dolphins 22-19 at Raymond James Stadium in 2013.