With victories over Kansas City in Week Six and Oakland this past Sunday, the Buccaneers are halfway through their annual quartet of interconference games. They are also halfway to an unprecedented AFC sweep.
In 2002, the NFL expanded to 32 teams with the arrival of the Houston Texans and used that opportunity to overhaul their scheduling practices. The league moved away from the old formula, which was heavily dependent on strength of scheduling from the previous year, and started a much simpler rotation plan. The idea was to make sure that, within any eight-year period, every team would play at least one home game and one away game against every other team in the league.
Thus, each division rotates annually between the other three divisions in its own conference and the other four divisions in the opposing conference. The Buccaneers began their AFC rotation in 2002 with the South division and have since rotated two-and-a-half times through the South, North, East and West.
One thing the Bucs have never done, since this new format was installed, was sweep its AFC schedule in any given year. That possibility still exists in 2012 and, in fact, it will be put to the test once again this coming Sunday.
If the Buccaneers can vanquish the visiting San Diego Chargers this weekend and also overcome Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver in Week 13, they’ll have their first interconference sweep. The closest the team has come to such a run was in that first season, 2002, when they beat Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati on the way to winning Super Bowl XXXVII. However, Pittsburgh spoiled it with a 17-7 win at Raymond James Stadium in Week 23…the last game Tampa Bay lost before hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
The Bucs also went 2-2 against the AFC North in 2010 (beating Cleveland and Cincy but losing to Pittsburgh and Baltimore); against the North again in 2006 (beating Cincy and Cleveland…sensing a pattern here?…and losing to Baltimore and Pittsburgh); and against the East in 2005 (beating Buffalo and Miami but losing to the Jets and New England).