The 2021 NFL regular season schedule was released Wednesday and according to one ESPN projection, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the easiest slate of games.
Based on current NFL rosters, Tampa Bay's strength of schedule is the weakest in the league next season according to ESPN's Mike Clay. Not far behind are, in order from easiest to hardest, the Atlanta Falcons, the Buffalo Bills, the New York Jets, and the Miami Dolphins to round out the top five weakest schedules.
So why do the Bucs supposedly have a weak schedule? For starters, Tampa Bay begins its season at home against the Dallas Cowboys, a team that finished 6-10 last season and hasn't finished above .500 since 2018. The Cowboys aren't the only NFC East squad the Bucs battle either.
In Week Six, the Bucs travel north to face the Eagles in Philadelphia, and four weeks later get on the road again to take on the Washington Football Team, which will be a rematch of the 2020 NFC Wildcard game. In Week 11, the Bucs host the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, for the second straight season. While Washington made the playoffs last season, there have been no repeat NFC East division winners since 2004, which is the longest current streak in the NFL.
If there's any division weaker than the NFC East, it's probably the AFC East, especially since Tom Brady left the Patriots to join Tampa Bay. Speaking of Brady, he'll be making his homecoming trip to New England in Week 4, a game that'll be broadcast on Sunday night. The following week, the Bucs host the Miami Dolphins and have a meeting with the two-win New York Jets in Week 17.
Not only are out-of-division games easier this season, but so are the division games as well. The New Orleans Saints begin a new era in its franchise history with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees retiring this offseason and former Bucs' quarterback Jameis Winston set to likely start. The Saints aren't the only team with a new quarterback as the Carolina Panthers acquired Sam Darnold from the Jets.
Finally, there's the Atlanta Falcons who only won four games in 2020, but did the Bucs a run for their money in Week 15 last season, coming up short 31-27 at home. Tampa Bay, of course, took care of business 44-27 two weeks later in Florida.
The Bucs open division play in Week 2 at home vs. the Falcons and don't play them again until Week 13 in Atlanta. Tampa Bay travels to New Orleans in Week 8 and hosts the Saints in Week 15. Meanwhile, the Bucs will play Carolina twice in the final three weeks: On the road in Week 16 and at home in the final week of the regular season.
Other games on the Bucs' 2021 schedule include a west-coast trip in Week 3 against the Rams, a Week 7 rematch with the Chicago Bears who squeaked out a one-point win last season, and a road game in Indianapolis in Week 12. Even Tampa Bay's bye week comes at a great point in the season, right in the middle and between two road trips in Week 9.
As for the strongest strength of schedule this season, that was awarded to the Bears, followed by, in order from hardest to easiest, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Detriot Lions, the Rams, and the Cincinnati Bengals to round out the top five strongest schedules, according to the projections.
Going through Tampa Bay's schedule, it's not surprising to read that the Bucs have the weakest strength of schedule according to Clay's projections. Based on the numbers, Tampa Bay is set up for another Super Bowl run in 2021.
“Last season’s Super Bowl championship run was exciting for our entire community, but we missed having the majority of our fans there to witness that momentous achievement due to the pandemic," Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford said in a press release Wednesday. "We can’t wait to host our fans again and are excited to have all the returning starters from last year’s team back for what should be a tremendous schedule of home games as we work towards another memorable season.”
Stay tuned to AllBucs for further coverage of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2021 schedule release, and other news and analysis.