Buccaneers' schedule front-loaded with division winners

Dirk Koetter is trying to get the Bucs to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has released its 2018 regular-season schedule. Here's a look at what's in store for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Breakdown: The Bucs finished fourth in the NFC South last season but still drew one of the league's toughest schedules in 2018. That's because a team's finish the previous season only accounts for three games in scheduling -- and also because the three other teams from the NFC South reached the playoffs last year, all with 10-6 records or better. Because of that, no NFL team will play a tougher division schedule in 2018 than the Bucs. Altogether, the Bucs will face 10 teams that had winning records last season.

Front-loaded schedule: In the first three weeks of the season, the Bucs will face a pair of 2017 division champions -- the NFC South-winning New Orleans Saints in Week 1 and the AFC North-winning Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Monday Night Football in Week 3 -- and the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2 at home. The Bucs will get an early Week 5 bye, which gives them an opportunity to regroup -- something that served them well in 2016 when they started the season 2-3, had a bye in Week 6 and then went 7-4 down the stretch. An early bye doesn't doom teams the way one might think. In fact, of the 11 teams that had Week 5 byes over the past three seasons, six made the playoffs, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

More late-season NFC South drama: The Bucs played three division games in the final three weeks last season (four in the final six weeks), meaning the NFC South crown wasn't decided until Week 17. This year, there's another odd schedule quirk involving the division: The Bucs play all three of their division home games in final five weeks of the season. For a team whose five-game win streak propelled it to a 9-7 record two years ago, this could be a plus. In addition, those are three teams you want to be on the road and not at home in the month of December, particularly the Panthers. Since 2015, the Panthers, Saints and Falcons are a combined 14-6 (.700) at home in December versus 9-10 (.477) on the road. If you go back to 2013, they're 22-11 (.667) at home in December versus 16-17 (.485) on the road.

Strength of schedule: 4th, .531

Buccaneers' Regular-Season Schedule (all times Eastern)

  • Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 9, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.

  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 16, Philadelphia, 1 p.m.

  • Week 3: Monday, Sept. 24, Pittsburgh, 8:15 p.m.

  • Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 30, at Chicago, 1 p.m.

  • Week 5: BYE

  • Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 14, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.

  • Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 21, Cleveland, 1 p.m.

  • Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 28, at Cincinnati, 1 p.m.

  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 4, at Carolina, 1 p.m.

  • Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 11, Washington, 1 p.m.

  • Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 18, at NY Giants, 1 p.m.

  • Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 25, San Francisco, 1 p.m.

  • Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 2, Carolina, 1 p.m.

  • Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 9, New Orleans, 1 p.m.

  • Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 16, at Baltimore, 1 p.m.

  • Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 23, at Dallas, 1 p.m.

  • Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30, Atlanta, 1 p.m.