The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked to be a playoff-bound team in 2012, before a five-game tailspin from Weeks 12 through 16 derailed their chances.
After such a disappointing finish, Tampa fans began longingly looking forward to the 2013 campaign. Now that the franchise’s full schedule has been released, it’s much easier to visualize how the season could play out.
If the Bucs are able to get the job done at home and show up on the road, this group could have a real shot at contending for the NFC South and possibly even make the postseason for the first time since 2007.
A lot of that will depend on Josh Freeman's play at quarterback and just how much head coach Greg Schiano can get out of his defense.
Let’s take a look at the Buccaneers’ complete slate of games for the upcoming 2013 season.
|2013 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Schedule|
|1||Sept. 8 ||@ New York Jets||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|2||Sept. 15 ||vs. New Orleans Saints||4:05 p.m. ET||FOX|
|3||Sept. 22 ||@ New England Patriots||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|4||Sept. 29||vs. Arizona Cardinals||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|5||Oct. 6||BYE WEEK||N/A||N/A|
|6||Oct. 13||vs. Philadelphia Eagles||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|7||Oct. 20||@ Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|8||Oct. 24||vs. Carolina Panthers||8:25 p.m. ET||NFLN|
|9||Nov. 3||@ Seattle Seahawks||4:05 p.m. ET||FOX|
|10||No. 11||vs. Miami Dolphins||8:40 p.m. ET||ESPN|
|11||Nov. 17||vs. Atlanta Falcons||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|12||Nov. 24||@ Detroit Lions||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|13||Dec. 1||@ Carolina Panthers||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|14||Dec. 8||vs. Buffalo Bills||1 p.m. ET||CBS|
|15||Dec. 15||vs. San Francisco 49ers||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|16||Dec. 22 ||@ St. Louis Rams||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
|17||Dec. 29 ||@ New Orleans Saints||1 p.m. ET||FOX|
Note: For a complete look at Tampa Bay's 2013 schedule, check out NFL.com.
2013 is a make-or-break year for a number of key figures in this organization.
Second-year coach Greg Schiano has to prove that he has full control of this team and can get his players to fight hard for 16 games.
It’s also pivotal that quarterback Josh Freeman makes the leap to elite quarterback, as he has been skirting the line with up-and-down performances since entering the league in 2009.
Outside of the usual NFC South foes, these two and the rest of the Bucs will have a chance to prove their mettle against a number of talented opponents.
At Raymond James Stadium, they’ll notably take on the reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers and upstart Miami Dolphins—an organization that completely reloaded in the offseason.
On the road, Tampa has marquee matchups with the always-tough New England Patriots, offensive powerhouse Detroit Lions and feisty dark-horse contender St. Louis Rams.
Overall, the Bucs' 2013 strength of schedule is right in the middle of the pack. Their opponents' combined record from 2012 is exactly .500, per NFL.com, so how they fare against this competition will help reveal in which direction the team is moving.
Most Pivotal Matchups
The game most Bucs fans should be circling is when the team travels to Seattle to take on the Seahawks.
Behind Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch, a stingy defense and the acquisition of Percy Harvin, Seattle is making a serious push for glory in 2013.
If the Bucs are truly going to be taken seriously and want to have a shot at claiming a wild-card spot in the NFC—assuming they are unable to win the divisional crown—they’ll need to show up and steal a win at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle is arguably the toughest place to play in the NFL, and it is certainly no easier for a Tampa squad that must travel across the entire United States to get there.
However, if the Bucs are for real in 2013, they will have to prove it in this showdown.