Dissecting The Bucs' 2002 Schedule

March 29 – What should fans make of Tampa Bay's 2002 regular season schedule? Buccaneer Magazine has dissected the Pewter Pirates' schedule and outlined the pros, cons and intriguing matchups awaiting the Bucs in their first season under head coach Jon Gruden.

The National Football League released the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2002 regular season schedule on Thursday, and it looks like an interesting one.

Buccaneer Magazine has taken a closer look at the Bucs' 2002 regular season schedule, which has pros, cons and engaging matchups, but overall, the NFL handed Tampa Bay a righteous schedule.

To view and/or print Tampa Bay's entire 2002 regular season schedule, click here.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS Sept. 8, 2002

Pros The Bucs will open the regular season at home for the first time since 1999. Tampa Bay will host new division rival New Orleans on September 8 at 4:15 p.m., which will likely call for extremely hot temperatures. The Bucs dominated the Saints in Raymond James Stadium last December, 48-21. The Saints finished the season with a disappointing 7-9 record last season, and some say head coach Jim Haslett's team is in disarray.

Cons New Orleans will certainly have revenge on their mind when they visit Tampa on Opening Day. The Saints are also a better team than what they displayed against the Bucs last year.

The Bottom Line Both teams will be focused on getting off to a 1-0 start in both the overall standings and in their new division—the NFC South Division.


AT BALTIMORE RAVENS Sept. 15, 2002

Pros The Ravens (10-6) made the playoffs last season, but they've had to cut some players on both sides of the ball in order to clear salary cap room. Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac retired this offseason, which leaves an even bigger question mark at that position for Baltimore.

Cons Despite losing some players on both sides of the football, Baltimore should still be a very competitive team, especially on defense. Playing on the road is also tough, especially for a Bucs' offense that will still be working to get a good grasp on Jon Gruden's offense. This will be the first of five road games the Bucs play during the first half of the regular season.

The Bottom Line This should be a defensive battle, again. Winning on the road will be tough for the Bucs, but win, lose, or draw, it's a non-division, non-conference game for both teams.


ST. LOUIS RAMS Sept. 23, 2002

Pros The Buccaneers will host the St. Louis Rams on Monday Night Football. The Bucs vs. Rams game will be one of the most exciting games of the season . Tampa Bay has won two consecutive Monday Night Football games against St. Louis, and both were thrillers. This will be the first of two home Monday Night Football games for Tampa Bay 2002.

Cons Facing the Rams in the third week of the season may not be to the Bucs' advantage. Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden's troops will still be absorbing his new offense. The Rams, however, will be running Mike Martz's explosive offense.

The Bottom Line The Bucs will rely on defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and his defense more than ever during this explosive matchup. This game could turn out to have some serious playoff implications down the road, and the winner will come away with a conference victory and momentum.


AT CINCINNATI Sept. 29, 2002

Pros The Bengals finished 6-10 last season, and they have not done much in free agency to improve on that mark. Weather should not be a factor, which bodes well for the Bucs.

Cons Tampa Bay will be coming off of a short week and a physical game against St. Louis. Ironically, the Bucs defeated the Rams on Monday Night Football last season and played in Cincinnati the next Sunday. Tampa Bay barely escaped Paul Brown Stadium with an overtime win against Cincinnati last year.

The Bottom Line If the Bucs had to play a team coming off of a short week, the Bengals would have to be one of their preferences.


AT ATLANTA Oct. 6, 2002

Pros Tampa Bay's defense plays well on astroturf, and the Bucs will have another opportunity secure both a division and conference win.

Cons Atlanta has made some free agent acquisitions over the offseason, which should make them more competitive in 2002. The Falcons could actually be the Bucs' biggest threat in the NFC South Division. Facing second-year elusive quarterback Michael Vick and former Bucs running back Warrick Dunn on astroturf will also be a challenge.

The Bottom Line This game could be the start of an intense division rivalry. Both teams will want to start this rivalry off on the right foot by securing a win.


CLEVELAND Oct. 13, 2002

Pros The Cleveland Browns last visited Tampa Bay during the 1999 preseason. The Bucs defeated the Browns in that game, 30-3.

Cons Last season, the Browns finished the season with a 7-9 record, but under head coach Butch Davis' guidance, they will likely be a team to deal with next season as they proved they were one of the up and coming teams in the NFL last year.

The Bottom Line Although this game does not jump out on the schedule, it could be a very interesting matchup. Expect a very physical game, and the Bucs can't afford to underestimate the Browns.


AT PHILADELPHIA Oct. 20, 2002

Pros Perhaps Tampa Bay will finally show up for a game against Philadelphia. The Eagles humiliated the Buccaneers two consecutive years in the playoffs, which should provide enough incentive for the Pewter Pirates. Unlike the last two visits to Philadelphia, weather for this game should not be a factor.

Cons Veterans Stadium has been a nightmare for the Buccaneers. So has facing QB Donovan McNabb and the Eagles defense.

The Bottom Line Tampa Bay might catch Philadelphia at the right time in 2002. It's not the playoffs, and it shouldn't be cold.


AT CAROLINA Oct. 27, 2002

Pros The Carolina Panthers finished last season winless at home and 1-15 on the season. Tampa Bay can also gain some ground in the division and/or put Carolina another game behind them with a win.

Cons Playing the underdog is always dangerous, and the Panthers can't get any worse than they were last season. Tampa Bay could fall into the trap of overlooking their opponent.

The Bottom Line One should have a good feel for both of these teams and both teams should establish some sort of identity by the time they face each other in Carolina.


MINNESOTA Nov. 3, 2002

Pros The Vikings will visit Raymond James Stadium, which has not been a kind place to Minnesota. The Vikings were a mess last year, and they finished the season with a 5-11 record. The Bucs are undefeated (4-0) against the Vikings at Ray-Jay since Tampa Bay began play in their new arena in 1998. Tampa Bay will not travel in the month of November.

Cons As long as the Vikings have Quarterback Daunte Culpepper and WR Randy Moss healthy, Minnesota presents a serious offensive threat.

The Bottom Line Minnesota is rebuilding their entire team while Tampa Bay is rebuilding their offense. Both teams should make some strides in their development by the time they face each other. Tampa Bay is no longer a member of the NFC Central Division, but the Bucs-Vikings rivalry can still live on.


BYE WEEK

Pros Last season, the Bucs had a bye week in the third week of the season, which the team was not happy about. Having a bye week at this point in the season could really serve the Bucs well if they are gearing up for a playoff run in the second half of the season.

Cons Bye weeks always threaten to kill any type of momentum a team has established when it rolls around.

The Bottom Line Tampa Bay's bye week could not have come at better time in 2002.


CAROLINA Nov. 17, 2002

Pros Tampa Bay should have fresh legs after their bye week. Carolina had the honors of finishing with the worst record in the NFL last season at 1-15. Carolina last visited Tampa Bay in 1998, when the Bucs downed the Panthers, 16-13.

Cons The Buccaneers could be a bit sloppy coming off of their bye week. Tampa Bay can't afford to overlook Carolina, especially since they are a division and conference opponent.

The Bottom Line Tampa Bay can't afford to overlook Carolina for Green Bay.


GREEN BAY Nov. 24, 2002

Pros The Bucs are undefeated (4-0) against the Packers at Ray-Jay since Tampa Bay began play in their new arena in 1998.

Cons The Packers finished last season with a 12-4 record, and if Green Bay can get some better play from their receivers, they could be a Super Bowl contender next season.

The Bottom Line Tampa Bay and Green Bay had developed quite a rivalry over the years from playing together in the NFC Central Division. The Battle of the Bays will continue for at least one more year, and the game could be critical for both teams at this point in the season.


AT NEW ORLEANS Dec. 1, 2002

Pros Tampa Bay has played well in domed stadiums in the past, and their offense should look a lot better than when these two play on Opening Day. Three of the Bucs' last five games of the 2002 regular season will be televised nationally in prime time.

Cons Not only is this a road, division and conference game, it's a nationally televised game on ESPN Sunday Night Football. This would normally be good news, but Tampa Bay will be in New Orleans for this game.

The Bottom Line This game could have a lot riding on it for both teams, especially for the loser of the first matchup.


ATLANTA Dec. 8, 2002

Pros The Falcons finished last season with a 7-9 record. The last time Atlanta visited Tampa Bay was in 1999, when the Bucs defeated the Falcons, 19-10.

Cons Bucs former and new Atlanta Falcons RB Warrick Dunn could look to have a big game in front of his former home crowd, especially if the Bucs and Falcons are in a tight race for the NFC South Division title.

The Bottom Line The loser of the first matchup will be trying to avenge that loss and gain ground in the division with a win in this game.


AT DETROIT Dec. 15, 2002

Pros Tampa Bay has won two consecutive games at Detroit, and the Lions finished last season with a 2-14 record.

Cons The Lions should be an improved team next year. They were competitive in both of their games against the Bucs last season, and the third time could be the charm for Detroit, especially in their new domed home.

The Bottom Line Tampa Bay may have trouble focusing on Detroit with a Monday night game at home against Pittsburgh the following week.


PITTSBURGH Dec. 23, 2002

Pros The Bucs will have a chance to avenge the 17-10 shellacking the Steelers put on them in Ray-Jay last season Gruden has some experience against the Steelers from his AFC Conference days with the Raiders. This game will mark the first time in Bucs history that Tampa Bay hosts two Monday Night Football games in one season.

Cons Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense presents problems for teams, especially the Bucs. Tampa Bay allowed 10 sacks against Pittsburgh last season and they completely shut down the Bucs' offense.

The Bottom Line This game will certainly have a lot riding on it for both teams as they could both be playing for playoff positions this late in the season.


AT CHICAGO December 29, 2002

Pros The Bucs get to finish the 2002 regular season in front of a nationally televised audience (ESPN Sunday Night Football). This will likely be Tampa Bay's only chance to break their 0-20 losing streak in games played in temperatures below 40 degrees at kickoff.

Cons The Bucs get to freeze in front of a nationally televised audience in their regular season finally on ESPN Sunday Night Football. Tampa Bay has lost two consecutive games at Chicago. The Buccaneers are 0-20 in game played in temperatures below 40 degrees at kickoff.

The Bottom Line If both teams have something riding on this game, it could turn out to be an intriguing game to finish out the 2002 regular season, even it is played in freezing temperatures and/or snow.


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