The horizon got a little closer Tuesday when the NFL released the 2011 regular-season schedule.
The NFL has taken notice, not only choosing the Buccaneers to represent the NFL in London for the second time in three years, but also giving Tampa Bay a slot on Monday Night Football for the first time since 2008. The Bucs will have two prime-time home games for just the second time in franchise history (the first was in 2003 after their Super Bowl win).
The increased exposure comes at a price for the Bucs, who sacrifice a home game to London and will only see the friendly confines of Raymond James Stadium three times after Oct. 16.
The Bucs open up their schedule against two teams that missed the playoffs in Detroit and Minnesota. The Vikings are in a bit of transition with Brett Favre retiring (we think) and uncertainty about their future. Detroit, on the other hand, is a great opener for Tampa Bay.
Not only are both the Lions and Bucs teams on the upswing, but Tampa Bay has a bone to pick with Detroit after the Lions essentially knocked them out of the last year's playoff race with a gut-wrenching December loss.
After the trip to Minnesota, the Bucs come home for three of four—but are these three home games doozies! The Bucs play Atlanta, followed by a Monday Night rematch of one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. After a long trip out west to play the Niners, Tampa Bay comes back home to face the Saints.
The gauntlet continues overseas as the Bucs shuffle off to jolly old England to take on the Chicago Bears. A bye week gives the Bucs a brief recovery before they head out to the Big Easy for a rematch with the Saints.
If you're counting, folks, that's five out of six against 2010 playoff teams during this stretch.
The Bucs come back home to take on the Houston Texans (who have been on the cusp of the playoffs for about three years now) before heading out for three of four on the road.
The trip begins with the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field followed by a trip to Tennessee to face the rebuilding Titans. The Bucs come back home to feast on the Carolina Panthers (and likely Cam Newton) before heading back out to Jacksonville.
Back-to-back Saturday games begin with the NFL Network prime-time broadcast of the final regular-season game at Raymond James Stadium as the Bucs host the most overrated team in sports, the Dallas Cowboys.
Tampa Bay joins the rest of the league playing on Christmas Eve in Carolina before wrapping up the regular-season slate on the road in a game that could very well decide the NFC South in Atlanta.
Looking over the whole of the schedule with most of their home games in the first half of the season, the Buccaneers really need to establish their home presence (they were only 4-4 last season) and get off to a good start.
If they can manage to take wins over Detroit, Minnesota and San Francisco while taking two out of three at home against Atlanta, Indy and New Orleans, it would set the Bucs up nicely (5-2) for the rest of the season away from home.
The Bucs were road warriors in 2010, finishing 6-2. If they can duplicate that in 2011 while getting off to a good start at home in the first couple of months of the season, the Bucs may be adding a third national telecast at home in the form of a playoff game.
This article originally appeared on NFL.com's Blog Blitz
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