TAMPA — Panthers quarterback Cam Newton last season became the first rookie to throw for 4,000 yards and the first signal caller to rush for 14 touchdowns.
He may also be the last player you would want to make your NFL coaching debut against, but that is the task facing Greg Schiano.
The Bucs kick off the regular season, and the Schiano era, against Newton and the Panthers in a 4:15 p.m. game Sept. 9 at Raymond James Stadium.
This is the fourth straight year the Bucs will open the season at home.
Newton, the NFL's rookie of the year, had career performances in beating the Bucs twice last season. He rushed for three touchdowns and passed for another in the Panthers' 38-19 win Dec. 4 at Raymond James Stadium and passed for three TDs and ran for one in a 48-16 win at Carolina on Christmas Eve.
After opening with the NFC South rival Panthers, the Bucs have a three-game stretch against the NFC East, with games at the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, at the Cowboys and home against the Redskins, who now employ as an assistant Schiano's fired predecessor, Raheem Morris.
The Bucs, who were 4-12 in 2011, have one prime time game: Oct. 25, a Thursday, at Minnesota.
All four of the Bucs' games against the AFC West make up the middle of the schedule. The Bucs play Kansas City on Oct. 14, Oakland on Nov. 4, San Diego on Nov. 11 and Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Dec. 2.
Tampa Bay's bye week comes in the fifth week of the season, Oct. 7. The Bucs return from that to host the Chiefs and the Saints at Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs mostly dodged cold winter weather. Their only December road game outside the South is the Broncos game. Not only are their two other December road games in the South, they are in domed stadiums: at New Orleans on Dec. 16 and at Atlanta on Dec. 30 for the regular-season finale.
All three of the Bucs' divisional road games — also at Carolina on Nov. 18 — fall during the final seven weeks of the season.
The Bucs have six games against 2011 playoff teams, including their two each against the NFC South rival Saints and Falcons.