The NFL released its 2011 schedule on Thursday, and, as usual, it had some notable twists and turns from start to finish.
First, the Bucs return to primetime for the first time since the Week 14 Monday Night Football loss at Carolina in 2008. They will host the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football on October 3rd. They will also host the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday, December 17, which will be aired on the NFL Network. It’s interesting to note that both primetime games are at home against big-name teams, which could mean the league is looking not just to promote a young and upstart team to the rest of the country in marquee matchups, but also generate excitement locally in an attempt to boost attendance.
The schedule sets up relatively favorably at the start, with the Bucs playing 4 of their first 6 games at Raymond James Stadium. The “home” game against the Bears in London would technically count as a 5th home game in the first 7, although the cock-eyed pewter-clad optimist could hope for the lockout to end after August 1, in which case the game would revert to Raymond James Stadium.
The Bucs start off at home against the Detroit Lions in Week 1 in a rematch of the Week 15 loss that ultimately dealt a fatal blow to the Buccaneers’ playoff hopes. Barrett Ruud told me after the Seattle win that they would be thinking about the home losses to Atlanta and Detroit if they missed the playoffs. Looks like the Bucs will have an early opportunity to get that bad taste out of their mouths and put that aspect of 2010 behind them quickly.
Speaking of Atlanta, the Bucs will host the Falcons in Week 3 as part of a national doubleheader in what will be a huge early season divisional matchup. The return game in Atlanta is in Week 17.
The Bucs also sandwich their trip to London and following bye week between two games with the New Orleans Saints. They host the Saints in Week 6 and travel to the Superdome in Week 9. International travel is not an easy thing. Facing the Bears defense is tougher. Facing the high-powered Saints offense twice around that span is even tougher.
Naturally, with a hefty slate of home games in the early part of the season, the Bucs will see a lot of the road after their bye week, traveling to New Orleans, Green Bay, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Carolina, and Atlanta. However, Raheem Morris got the most out of his young team on the road last season, going 6-2 with close losses in Baltimore and Atlanta. Tennessee and Jacksonville are not easy places to play, but aren’t exactly a house of horrors for opponents. The Carolina Panthers are also on the slate twice in the last 5 weeks of the season. Thus, the road-heavy back half of the schedule might be more navigable than one might think.
The Bucs also travel to Green Bay for a matchup with the Super Bowl champions in Week 12.