It's not a rivalry per se. It just seems like it.
Sunday's meeting between Tampa Bay (6-4) and Washington (5-5) will be their sixth meeting since the 2003 season. During that span the Bucs are 3-2, with the Bucs taking last year's contest at Raymond James Stadium, 20-17.
The reason? A simple quirk of the NFL scheduling formula. The Bucs were scheduled to play the NFC East in 2003 and 2006 due to the NFC division rotation. They drew the Redskins in 2004, 2005 and this season based on their two NFC "intraconference games," in which the Bucs play a corresponding team from the other two non-rotation divisions based on their finish.
So a rivalry? Not really, but the Bucs are definitely familiar with the Redskins.
"It feels like we're in the NFC East," Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said."
And like those classic NFC East games, the Bucs and Redskins play close. Their last four meetings — including the 2005 NFC Wild Card playoff game — have been decided by seven points or less.
Plus, the past three meetings have been in Tampa, something that grates at Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs.
"I want to check with our athletic director as to why we keep playing down there every year," Gibbs said.
The results from the past four games:
Sept. 12, 2004: Washington 16, Tampa Bay 10 (at Washington)
Nov. 13, 2005: Tampa Bay 36, Washington 35 (at Tampa Bay)
Jan. 7, 2006: Washington 17, Tampa Bay 10 (at Tampa Bay — Wild Card playoff game).
Nov. 19, 2006: Tampa Bay 20, Washington 17 (at Tampa Bay)
While one might see that kind of familiarity as an advantage, most of the Buccaneers didn't necessarily see it that way. Since most NFL teams change personnel from year to year — and can change schemes from week to week — relying on last year's experience isn't always a luxury.
"We have to study like we've never seen them before," Bucs center John Wade said.
Adding drama to the game is the fact that both teams are in the NFC playoff hunt. The Bucs have a two-game lead in the NFC South, while the Redskins — losers of two straight — are fighting for a Wild Card berth with several teams, including the New York Giants, the Detroit Lions, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals.
Most of the Bucs see Sunday's game as more intense for that reason alone.
"There are a lot of things we have to focus on besides a rivalry," Bucs defensive end Kevin Carter said.
HE CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW: Bucs DE Greg White had laser eye surgery during the bye week. In his first game since the bye, White notched two sacks and forced two fumbles.
"When I first went on the field after the surgery it looked different," White said. "It looked clear, like HD (TV)."
White used to wear glasses in the locker room during the week and contacts during games.
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Matthew Postins covers the Buccaneers for Bucsblitz.com and the Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and his coverage of the Buccaneers has won numerous state and national awards.