Power Ranking Buccaneers' 2013 Schedule from Easiest to Hardest Games

J.J. Rodriguez@ActofRodContributor IIApril 19, 2013

Power Ranking Buccaneers' 2013 Schedule from Easiest to Hardest Games

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers learned the exact dates and times of their upcoming 16 games with the release of the 2013 NFL schedule on Thursday evening.

    Included in their slate of games are a west coast trip to Seattle (Week 9) and road games in the Northeast versus the New York Jets (Week 1) and New England Patriots (Week 3). They also host Chip Kelly and the Eagles in Week 6 and the Super Bowl runner-up 49ers in Week 15 to close out their regular season home schedule.

    Also of note, the Bucs host two prime-time games. The first is a Thursday night matchup versus the Carolina Panthers in Week 8, the other a Monday night showdown versus in-state rival Miami in Week 10. 

    All told, their schedule includes just four playoff teams from a year ago (Patriots, Seahawks, Falcons and 49ers) and only three games outside of the eastern time zone. 

    In short, the schedule makers were very kind to the Bucs in 2013.

    With that said, here is a power ranking of the Buccaneers' 2013 schedule from easiest (16) to hardest (1). 

16. Week 14 vs. Buffalo Bills

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    Considering its placement in the schedule, by the time these two teams meet in early December, the Buffalo Bills could be in serious contention for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

    Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is gone, in his place former Eagles and Cardinals signal-caller Kevin Kolb, who signed a two-year deal earlier in the offseason.

    With all signs pointing toward first-year head coach Doug Marrone selecting a QB at some point in next week's draft, there's a good chance that whoever Marrone chooses could be under center for this game, which doesn't bode well for Buffalo's chances.

    Short of a complete meltdown by the Bucs or an out-of-this-world effort by the Bills, this is definitely Tampa Bay's easiest game in 2013. 

15. Week 4 vs. Arizona Cardinals

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    Despite the fact that the Arizona Cardinals added quarterback Carson Palmer in a deal with the Oakland Raiders, this is still a team in desperate need of an overhaul. 

    Last season the Cards finished dead last in both points scored and rushing yards, averaging just 15.6 and 75.2 per game, respectively. Couple that with the NFL's 28th-ranked rush defense, which allowed 137 yards on the ground per contest, and it only further illustrates my point that Palmer solves only some of their problems. 

    That's not to say I expect this to be a runaway game for the Bucs, but given the two-timezone distance and stifling humidity Arizona will have to endure, it's about as easy as it gets for Tampa Bay this season.

14. Week 10 vs. Miami Dolphins

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    The Dolphins are a good team who could become even better, depending on who they add in next week's draft. That's not to say they aren't without their flaws, however, as the true wild card in their deck is how well second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill performs this season.

    Will he progress and give 'Fins fans a reason for hope this season and beyond? Or will he endure the dreaded sophomore slump and take two steps back in 2013?

    For their part, the Dolphins organization has been very active this offseason, ensuring Tannehill has a more-than-adequate supporting cast by adding tight end Dustin Keller, adding speedy receiver Mike Wallace and re-signing receiver Brian Hartline.

    As for Tampa Bay, will the Bucs get an extra boost of adrenaline from a sold-out, hostile Raymond James Stadium on a national stage that ultimately gives them the edge over a scrappy Dolphins team?

    We shall see.

13. Week 1 at New York Jets

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    In what is being dubbed as the "Revis Bowl" because of the rampant back-and-forth trade rumors involving CB Darrelle Revis that have dominated both franchises' offseasons, this is quite the enticing opening-weekend matchup.

    Outside of that, however, there is very little going for the New York Jets offensively that should pose a threat to the Bucs, as Gang Green averaged just 17.6 points and 299.2 total yards of offense last season, both at or near the bottom in league-wide averages.

    In fact, given that the game is in early September and not, say, early December when the weather dynamic would all but certainly impact them, the Bucs have very few reasons to not leave this game 1-0 to start the season.

12. Week 16 at St. Louis Rams

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    This is one of the Bucs' few road games in which I strangely feel pretty comfortable about their chances for success.

    Sam Bradford set career marks in both passing yards (3,702) and touchdowns (21) in 2012, as the highly touted Rams QB finally started living up to his billing (and pricey contract), though he is still far short in the win column.

    RB Steven Jackson left for the Atlanta Falcons, though the Rams have more-than-capable options in tailbacks Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead, who combined to rush for more than 500 yards last season despite Jackson getting the bulk of the carries.

    If the Bucs can pressure Bradford, a career 58.3-percent passer and exploit a run defense that allowed more than 115 yards per game last season, they should handle this Midwest road game just fine.

11. Week 6 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

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    Last season, the Bucs allowed then-rookie QB Nick Foles to lead a late comeback that culminated with a touchdown pass as time expired to lift the struggling Eagles over Tampa Bay in front of their stunned home crowd.

    Head coach Andy Reid was fired following another disappointing season in Philly, and in his place is college transplant Chip Kelly and his brand of track-meet football.

    Though we don't know how or if Kelly will utilize the unique skill set of QB Michael Vick in his offense, the Bucs can expect a completely different attack from the Eagles this time around, starting with the read-option attack Kelly deployed at the University of Oregon.

    If nothing else, this could turn out to be one of the more entertaining, high-scoring games the Bucs play all season.

10. Week 8 vs. Carolina Panthers

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    The Bucs opened last season at home versus Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers and all but shut them down on their way to a 16-10 win. Furthermore, the Bucs won both meetings against Carolina in 2012, the first time they've accomplished that since 2010 and just the second time they've swept the season series since 2002.

    In fairness, Newton struggled at times during the season and far from resembled the super rookie from 2011. However, the Bucs defense deserves credit for pressuring Newton and keeping him uncomfortable for most of the first game.

    Then, of course, there's the added incentive of this being a prime-time, nationally televised home game for the Bucs, which could be enough to give them a little extra motivation heading into the game, much like their Monday night matchup versus Miami a few weeks later. 

9. Week 13 at Carolina Panthers

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    Last season it took a furious comeback by QB Josh Freeman and the offense to overcome an 11-point deficit in the final four-plus minutes of the fourth quarter, which was capped off by a TD pass to tight end Dallas Clark in overtime to win it for the Bucs in their second meeting with Carolina in Charlotte.

    For the first 55 minutes of the game, the Bucs offense was flat, out of rhythm and anemic, as Carolina had intercepted Freeman twice, sacked him once and held him to just one TD pass up to that point.

    With this game being the first weekend in December, weather may play a slight factor, but given these teams' histories with one another, the Bucs can expect another slug fest at the very least.

8. Week 2 vs. New Orleans Saints

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    The Bucs had one of their more explosive games offensively of 2012 at home against the Saints, scoring 28 points as Josh Freeman threw for 420 yards and three TDs and receiver Vincent Jackson hauled in 216 yards and one TD on seven receptions.

    However, a scrappy little quarterback named Drew Brees stood in their way of victory, as he threw for 377 yards and four TDs, leading the visiting Saints over the Bucs in a game that came to symbolize what seriously ailed Tampa Bay in 2012, namely their 32nd-ranked pass defense.

    Much like last season, the Bucs will be held captive to how well their pass defense performs. The early September heat and humidity in west-central Florida could certainly aid the Bucs against the normally domed Saints, but not nearly as much as constant pressure on Brees would help.

7. Week 11 vs. Atlanta Falcons

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    The Bucs lost a 24-23 nail-biter to the Falcons at home last season on a fourth-quarter touchdown run by running back Michael Turner that ultimately proved too much to overcome, as a late comeback attempt fell short for Tampa Bay.

    The true highlight of the game was Julio Jones' 80-yard TD catch midway through the third quarter, a play that personified the Bucs defense for most of the season.

    While we don't know how this late-season home game will turn out right now, you can expect another close game, as both contests last season were decided by a combined six points.

6. Week 12 at Detroit Lions

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    The Bucs' issues versus the pass last season have been well documented, which doesn't bode well facing QB Matthew Stafford, who threw for nearly 5,000 yards and 20 TDs in 2012. Throw in all-world receiver Calvin Johnson, who hauled in 122 receptions for 1,964 yards and five TDs, and the Bucs could be in for a long afternoon in Detroit.

    Stafford has shown a tendency to make throws he shouldn't, which have led to costly interceptions. The key for Tampa Bay, however, will stem from their ability to pressure him into forcing those types of throws and ultimately being able to capitalize on the mistakes.

    How successful they are rushing the passer will dictate how they fare overall defensively.

5. Week 7 at Atlanta Falcons

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    The Bucs closed out their 2012 season on a high note, beating the Falcons in Atlanta 22-17.

    Running back Doug Martin rushed for 142 yards and a touchdown, finishing his rookie season with 1,454 yards and 11 TDs. Add another 472 receiving yards and, all told, Martin tallied 1,926 total yards of offense in 2012.

    Not too bad for the 31st overall pick, huh?

    Some will suggest the Falcons didn't play with a whole lot of intensity considering it was Week 17 and their playoff position was not going to be affected by the outcome, which could have played a small part in it.

    However, the Bucs deserve credit for playing a much better game defensively, limiting Matt Ryan to more than 120 fewer passing yards than their previous meeting in Tampa a few weeks prior.

    That said, Ryan has proven to be difficult to beat at home, posting an impressive 34-6 record at the Georgia Dome in his five-year career, making this one of Tampa Bay's toughest games in 2013.

4. Week 17 at New Orleans Saints

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    The Saints flat-out destroyed the Bucs in New Orleans last season, winning by a final score of 41-0. In short, everything that could've gone wrong for Tampa Bay, did.

    Josh Freeman threw four interceptions and was sacked twice, resulting in one of the most lopsided losses in franchise history. For Freeman, it was the beginning of his undoing on an otherwise sensational season, as this game was the start of a three-game stretch in which he threw nine of his 17 interceptions.

    It's also worth pointing out that this season's game in New Orleans is the final game of the regular season, meaning one or both of these teams could be fighting for their playoff lives. At the very least, the Bucs can expect New Orleans' best effort.

3. Week 15 vs. San Francisco 49ers

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    In their last meeting, which occurred in 2011 in San Francisco, the 49ers manhandled the Bucs on their way to a decisive 48-3 victory.

    Don't think the Bucs have forgotten how badly they were beaten. Then again, don't think the 49ers aren't fully capable of repeating said trouncing.

    The Bucs will have a slight edge in the sense that San Fran is traveling three timezones in order to play, but that is one of the few advantages they do have going for them, as the Niners are loaded with talent and, fresh off their Super Bowl loss, have even more of a desire to succeed.

2. Week 3 at New England Patriots

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    The schedule makers were kind to the Bucs in the sense that they don't have them traveling to Foxboro in, say, late December, which is truly the only good news about facing the Patriots at all this season.

    That said, everything about this game points to a difficult task for the young, road-weary Bucs. Especially just one week removed from a difficult matchup against division foe New Orleans at home.

    Quarterback Tom Brady is a tough test for even the most proven of defenses, let alone one as fragile and inexperienced as Tampa Bay's, who allowed more passing yards than anyone in the NFL last season.

    All in all, the Bucs are likely in for a long day in Foxboro in Week 3.

1. Week 9 at Seattle Seahawks

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    There is arguably no tougher road venue to play in the NFL than that of CenturyLink Field in Seattle, where the "12th Man" is both imposing and impossibly loud to play through.

    Throw in quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks' lethal use of the read-option offense, not to mention their equally difficult defense, which is anchored by a tough, physically imposing secondary lovably known as "the legion of boom" by their faithful fans.

    As such, I've ranked this road game midway through the season in the great Northwest as Tampa Bay's most difficult this season.

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