TAMPA — The Bucs' 2017 schedule includes two high-profile games in prime time against last season's Super Bowl teams, with Tom Brady and the defending champion Patriots coming to Tampa on a Thursday in Week 5 and the Bucs hosting the Falcons in a huge Monday night showdown the week before Christmas.
The Bucs open their second season under coach Dirk Koetter on Sept. 10 at Miami. In all, Tampa Bay's schedule, announced Thursday, is unusually skewed, with home games bunched early and late in the year. Three of the first five games are at home, as are three of the last four, creating a tough stretch in the middle of the season with just two home games over 66 days.
The NFC South has sent its champion to the Super Bowl in each of the past two seasons, and if the Bucs are to challenge for the division title this year, they'll need a strong finish. They have three division games to finish the season: against Atlanta on Dec. 18, a Christmas Eve game at Carolina and a season finale at Raymond James Stadium on New Year's Eve against New Orleans.
The Bucs have no division games until Week 9, with all six in the final nine games.
The biggest challenges? Jameis Winston will face a pair of quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl wins in five days: The Giants and Eli Manning come to Tampa on Oct. 1, and the Patriots and Brady follow on Oct. 5, with a national audience on CBS. What immediately follows is a run of three road games in four weeks, going to Arizona and Buffalo, then home against the Panthers and back on the road to New Orleans for a lap around the country in 22 days.
The Bucs will face seven playoff teams from 2016, four of them in four straight weeks starting in late November: at the Falcons, at the Packers, versus Lions and versus Falcons.
The schedule has some favors for the Bucs. They get their bye week far later than in recent years, in Week 11, giving them an extra week to prepare for a crucial game at Atlanta. They have three extra days to prepare before their longest road trip of the year, to Arizona, where they lost 40-7 last season.
A week after they play at Atlanta, the Bucs will likely face chilly weather as they go to Green Bay to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers on Dec. 3. How cold might that be? Green Bay had a home game on Dec. 4 last season, and it was 32 degrees at kickoff. The Bucs are 1-10 in Green Bay when the temperature is 48 degrees or lower.
The other potential cold-weather game is at Buffalo, where the Bucs have played just once in their 41 years. But the weather should be a milder on Oct. 22.
Want a reunion? Former Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon, who left as a free agent this offseason, gets a homecoming fast. His new team, the Bears, are Tampa Bay's first home game, in Week 2.
The schedule doesn't have the larger national platform many had thought the Bucs might have. They have just one Monday night game and no Sunday night games (some games later in the season can be flexed to prime time), and in all, 12 of their 16 games have 1 p.m. kickoffs, which draw smaller audiences that later-afternoon games.
Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.