Tampa Bay Buccaneers' schedule heats up with late divisional games

The Bucs believe quarterback Jameis Winston has them pointed toward the playoffs. Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has released its 2017 regular-season schedule. Here’s a look at what’s in store for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Breakdown: The Bucs' quest to improve on their 9-7 season from last year and reach the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons will include nationally televised prime-time games at home against both Super Bowl teams -- the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons, against whom they hope to avenge a dreadful 43-28 loss in Week 15. Just like last year, that game could be the difference-maker in the NFC South, a division that has produced the NFC champion two seasons in a row.

Keeping suspense in the NFC South: In an odd schedule quirk, the Bucs won't square off against a divisional opponent until Week 8, when they take on the Carolina Panthers at home. They'll then face three straight divisional foes in what will be a very suspenseful final three weeks of the season. This is somewhat reminiscent of when the Bucs faced the New Orleans Saints twice in a three-week span last year.

The Falcons have a similar situation. According to ESPN Stats & Info, they're the first team since the eight-division format began in 2002 that does not play a divisional opponent before Week 9, and they end the season with four straight divisional games. The late-season divisional games could be a good thing for a Bucs team that started very slow last season before a five-game win streak late in the season, but it will also mean fans have to wait. Again.

Opponents doomed at Lambeau in December: A December trip to Green Bay may be the toughest challenge on the slate. The Packers are 21-3 at Lambeau Field in the month of December since Mike McCarthy took over as head coach. Quarterback Jameis Winston has played in only two career games, college and the NFL, in temperatures below 40 degrees at kickoff, and he's never played in temperatures 30 degrees or lower. The Bucs got lucky catching Buffalo in late October.

Strength of schedule: 14th, .518

Buccaneers Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)

  • Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, at Miami, 1 p.m.

  • Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, Chicago, 1 p.m.

  • Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.

  • Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, NY Giants, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 5: Thursday, Oct. 5, New England, 8:25 p.m.

  • Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, at Arizona, 4:05 p.m.

  • Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.

  • Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 29, Carolina, 1 p.m.

  • Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, at New Orleans, 1 p.m.

  • Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 12, NY Jets, 1 p.m.

  • Week 11: BYE

  • Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.

  • Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.

  • Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 10, Detroit, 1 p.m.

  • Week 15: Monday, Dec. 18, Atlanta, 8:30 p.m.

  • Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24, at Carolina, 1 p.m.

  • Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, New Orleans, 1 p.m.