TAMPA — How good can the Bucs be in 2018? Fans will get a good sense in the first three weeks, as Tampa Bay opens the year with three of its toughest games, all against reigning division champions.
The Bucs open 2018 in New Orleans on Sept. 9 at the NFC South champion Saints, then come home to host the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles in their home opener at Raymond James Stadium on Sept. 16. Eight days later, they'll play host to Monday Night Football and another tough game against the Steelers.
PRINT IT: Get a printable version of the Bucs 2018 schedule here.
The Bucs' schedule, unveiled with the rest of the league's Thursday night, had a new twist for fans, with single-game tickets available immediately. In past years, they weren't available individually until late July around the start of training camp.
Another sign of how big those first three games are — tickets start at $60 each for most Bucs home games, but the Eagles and Steelers games start at $105 each, and still should be among the most likely to draw a sellout this season.
There were other quirks in the schedule as the Bucs hope to improve on a disappointing 5-11 season in 2017:
— The Bucs have an early bye — in Week 5 — one year after they had a Week 11 bye that was moved to Week 1 by Hurricane Irma, setting up 16 games in a row. This year's Bucs will close the season with 12 straight games.
— The Bucs won't host a division game until December, and they'll play all three in the final five weeks of the season, bringing in the Saints on Dec. 2, the Panthers on Dec. 9 and what the team must hope is a meaningful season finale against the Falcons on Dec. 30.
— The Bucs have a run of three straight home games from from Week 12 to 14 in November, but also go 27 days between home games between the Steelers game and the Browns coming to Tampa on Oct. 21.
— For the first time since 2011, the Bucs won't have a game on a Thursday night, which sets up a quick turnaround preparing after a Sunday game. The Monday game against Pittsburgh is their only prime time game entering the season, though games can be "flexed" to prime time later in the year.
"I like to see who we're playing," general manager Jason Licht said earlier Thursday of the schedule unveiling. "Do we have a stretch of home games? When is the bye? Are we playing on national TV and against who and when? The fan in me comes out when I see it."
The week-by-week opponents: at Saints (Sept. 9), vs. Eagles (Sept. 16), vs. Steelers (Sept. 24), at Bears (Sept. 30), bye week (Oct. 7), at Falcons (Oct. 14), vs. Browns (Oct. 21), at Bengals (Oct. 28), at Panthers (Nov. 4), vs. Redskins (Nov. 11), at Giants (Nov. 18), vs. 49ers (Nov. 25), vs. Panthers (Dec. 2), vs. Saints (Dec. 9), at Ravens (Dec. 16), at Cowboys (Dec. 23), vs. Falcons (Dec. 30).
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.