Andrew, the NFL schedule is due to be released on April 16, less than three weeks from now. When that happens, we’ll find out such things as when the bye week falls, how often the Bucs will play in prime time and how the intra-division games are distributed. And the first thing everybody looks for, of course: Who’s the opponent on opening day?
That’s anybody’s guess. There’s no real formula to it. Here are the Bucs’ last 10 openers: Carolina, Detroit, Cleveland, Dallas, at New Orleans, at Seattle, Baltimore, at Minnesota, at Washington, at Philadelphia. That’s a mix of AFC and NFC, in and out of the division, home and away. The last time the Bucs’ opening game was somewhat easy to predict was 2003, when they were defending champs and a rematch against the Philadelphia Eagles, their NFC Championship Game foes, on a Monday night was too good to pass up.
So, rather than try to guess who might be on the Bucs’ schedule on Week One, let’s debate which game we would like to see in that spot. Like every team in the league, Tampa Bay has known who all 16 of its opponents would be and where those games would be played since the last game of 2012 ended. So, choosing from that list, pick the destination – or the home opponent – that would be the ideal way for the Bucs to begin the 2013 season.
To help you out, here’s a reminder of the Bucs’ 16 opponents this year:
Home…Arizona, Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina, Miami, New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco
Away…Atlanta, Carolina, Detroit, New England, New Orleans, N.Y. Jets, St. Louis, Seattle
So, put on your schedule-making hat (from what I understand, it’s a porkpie), and set up Week One for the Buccaneers.
Andrew Norton: For some reason I really want to be right about this one. We’ve debated players, opponents, free agents and basically everything in between. But I really want to win this one. Even though it is essentially a complete guess that requires no research and no real rhyme or reason.
But that doesn’t mean that I won’t try. Time to put on the thinking porkpie.
Alright. I’ll be honest. I tried. And failed. It doesn’t make much sense any way you slice it. In 2012, there were six games between teams in the same divisions across the entire NFL. In 2011, there were eight. There were four games last season between a team from the AFC and a team from the NFC. The 2011 and 2010 seasons saw two each. The NFC South has only played an in-division game one time in the last four years (when Carolina came into Raymond James Stadium last year), while the NFC West division has played games against each other on opening week six times in the last four years.
In fact, the only thing that the Buccaneers’ Week One games have in common in the last four years is geographical. All four happened in Tampa Bay. So, what started as well-intended research is now becoming a blind guess. The team that I want to see the Buccaneers face in Week 1 is the Philadelphia Eagles.
This game would really be like the perfect storm if you are a Bucs fan. First is the obvious bonus of opening at home. You are psyched up about the season, you’ve been waiting eight months to watch your players get back on the field and you learn that the game is going to happen at Raymond James Stadium. Sweet.
Second, you’ve got a bit of a rivalry on your hands. Of course you start this argument by going back to the 2002 NFC Championship Game. Since that game, the Buccaneers and Eagles have each won two matchups when facing each other. And then, the obvious bad blood that was created last season when the Eagles pulled of a win in the final seconds of their game in Tampa Bay. A home opener with a good history and the sweet, sweet taste of payback? Yes, please.
Third, (selfishly) the Eagles have a handful of question marks surrounding their team, which makes them a good team to open your schedule against. A new head coach, a restructured defense from the ground up and no defined starting quarterback have to give the Buccaneers the edge in this context. Awesome.
And finally, what could possibly be better than playing a game against a rebuilding rival at home? The house will be packed. Last season, Raymond James Stadium was roaring when the Eagles came to town. Imagine that intensity amplified on opening weekend. I like the sound of that.
So that’s my pick. They seem to hit all the right factors of a perfect opening opponent. And while I began my post with the frustration of no real scheduling trend, I’m ending it with the frustration that the NFL season is still months away. Your turn.
Scott Smith: Well, it’s good to see you pour a lot of time and effort into trying to answer specifically the question I said NOT to answer. We’re not trying to predict the opening game; we’re pinpointing the opponent we would most LIKE to have in that spot. Which you did get around to. Eventually. Real efficient use of your time there, Andrew.
I do like your eventual pick, especially considering how much the team probably wants to avenge that painful loss late last year. And you only have to go back to 2003 to find an opening game against Philly (though not at home) that went really, really well. You also have the Greg Schiano-Chip Kelly pairing, as two coaches who came directly from the college ranks, which is a nice sidebar. Still, something tells me those guys could be dangerous, especially on offense.
While you couldn’t find any trends and we’re not trying to predict anyway, I should point out that the Bucs have started four straight seasons at home. A fifth seems unlikely, and I’m going to start with my pick by saying that I would rather the Bucs start on the road this year, anyway. Let’s get a big win on the road to kick things off and then return home with a chance to start 2-0. You know when the last time we won a road game and then a home game to start the season was? 2005. Division title. The last time before that? 2000. Wild Card.
So now I need to figure out which road game I want to put in Week One. I’ll start out with this idea: Let’s find a game that, if played in December, could be pretty ugly from a weather standpoint. Put that game in September and that’s one less blizzard to worry about. So that narrows it down to New England, Seattle and the New York Jets (you could probably throw Carolina in there, too, but we started with the Panthers last year). The other four road games are all in domes.
Now, I know that Buccaneer players and coaches are not afraid of any opponent on the schedule, so they probably wouldn’t care which of those three teams is first up. But this is me picking, and I’d like to find what is – presumably – the game that appears to be against the weakest opponent. New England and Seattle were both in the playoffs last year; the Jets finished 6-10. Of the three quarterbacks, Mark Sanchez had by far the least successful 2012 season, as compared to Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. New York might be an intimidating place to play, but Seattle is one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL and Foxborough is no cakewalk, either.
And who knows? Maybe there will even be a player on the Bucs’ roster who has a special motivation to play well against the Jets that day.
Anyway, there doesn’t seem to be any point in a second part to this PCP. I don’t want us to pick off any more of the possibilities, so we can leave 14 more choices for anyone who wants to join in the discussion below. I know that doesn’t give you an opportunity to rebut my snarky attack on you above, Andrew, but you can just lay it on extra thick next week.