The NFL schedule makers were relatively kind to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season, as their road games against the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks were all scheduled early enough that they should largely avoid cold weather-related issues.
That's not to say the teams themselves won't still be problematic for the Bucs, but nevertheless, conditions could've played a larger role than they likely will.
As for the rest of their 2013 schedule, it includes notable road contests in Detroit in late November and back-to-back games in St. Louis and New Orleans to end the regular season.
Not to mention marquee home games against San Francisco in Week 15 and a pair of prime-time matchups against Carolina and Miami midseason. Oh, and of course their slate of games against divisional foes Atlanta and New Orleans.
While it's still too early to predict a win total on their season as it stands today based solely on their overall schedule, here is a list of the five pivotal games, ranked in order of their importance, that will swing the Bucs' season one way or the other.
5. Week 10 vs. Miami
With two young gunslingers at quarterback in Josh Freeman and Ryan Tannehill, as well as a pair of young and upcoming defenses, this game has all the potential to be a back-and-forth slugfest. Sprinkle in Mike Wallace, Doug Martin, Vincent Jackson and Brian Hartline, as well as a national television audience, and fans from around the country could bear witness to one of the more entertaining games of the Monday Night Football lineup. Oh, and don't forget: Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis had his 2012 season ended against the Dolphins, which is something he surely hasn't forgotten.
4. Week 15 vs. San Francisco
The last time these two teams met, the 49ers routed the Bucs 48-3 in one of their most-lopsided defeats in team history. Mind you, the Bucs were on their way to finishing the 2011 season with just four victories, but nonetheless, the Niners were clearly the better team. This season, the Bucs can use this game as a barometer of sorts to determine whether or not they can hang with the big boys of the NFC yet, as the Niners are the defending conference champions.
3. Week 9 at Seattle
The Bucs are 4-7 all-time against the Seahawks, including a pair of victories in five trips to Seattle. But now, the 'Hawks have QB Russell Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch leading a very well-run offensive attack that is sure to give a young Bucs defense problems. Oh, and we can't forget Seattle's "Legion of Boom" secondary led by CB Richard Sherman, who got into a Twitter squabble with Darrelle Revis over bragging rights as the NFL's premier cornerback earlier this offseason. Almost makes you wish the two could be on the field at the same time, doesn't it?
2. Week 3 at New England
Despite the good fortune of not having to travel to Foxborough, in say, December, the Bucs still have to face the harsh reality that quarterback Tom Brady and his always-potent offense will be waiting nonetheless. Revis' familiarity with Brady and the Pats may help some, but chances are the onus will fall on the other 11 defensive players to step up their collective efforts. And of course, there's the added intrigue of the Belichick-Schiano connection.
1. Week 2 vs. New Orleans
The Bucs have spent most of their offseason seeking to improve their 32nd-ranked pass defense by adding Revis via trade, signing free agent safety Dashon Goldson and landing highly-coveted cornerback Johnthan Banks in the second round of April's draft. All, of course, was done with the ultimate goal of slowing down, or shutting down, the likes of Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan, whom the Bucs face twice a year as division foes. Well, fans will get to see early on how much progress has been made, as the Saints, who beat the Bucs twice in 2012 by a combined score of 76-28, travel to Tampa Bay in Week 2. Brees threw for a combined 684 yards and eight TDs against TB last season.
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