The NFL schedule, by its very nature, does not leave much room for either human error or human manipulation when it comes to which teams play which other teams.
After all, the matchups are predetermined by a formula based on division ranking from the previous season.
As described by NFL.com, each team plays:
• Six games against divisional opponents — two games per team, one at home and one on the road.
• Four games against teams from a division within its conference — two games at home and two on the road.
• Four games against teams from a division in the other conference — two games at home and two on the road.
• Two games against teams from the two remaining divisions in its own conference — one game at home and one on the road.
For example, the New England Patriots won the AFC East, so they face the other three AFC East teams (the Jets, Dolphins and Bills) twice, the AFC North, the NFC East and the top teams (Texans, Chiefs) from the AFC South and West.
Likewise, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 5-11, last in the NFC South, so they get the other three teams in their own division (Saints, Falcons, Panthers), the NFC West, the AFC South and the other two NFC cellar-dwellers (Giants, Lions) to get them to 16 games.
But computers are not perfect, and there is still the question of when to schedule bye weeks, games outside of the usual home stadium of the teams (London, Mexico City, the moon, wherever the NFL wants to put a game for marketing reasons), and home and road matchups.
And by that metric, the NFL did the Buccaneers dirty.
According to NFL.com, the league had 64,713 versions of the schedule; there are, after all, far more permutations than even that number for how to schedule 32 teams to play 16 games, but TV networks, other uses of the stadium for things like concerts and other outdoor events — they even had to work around a Papal Mass once — and not giving teams eight home games in a row all play into the final schedule.
It turns out the version they picked — No. 64,521 — has folks in Tampa Bay up in arms.
After a Week 3 home game against the Giants on Sept. 22, the Bucs play at the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints, “host” the Carolina Panthers in London, get a bye week, and then travel to face the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks.
Their next true home game is in Week 10 against the Cardinals on Nov. 10, and that’s after flying all the way back to Tampa from Seattle, a 2,520-mile flight that is one of the longest air routes in the entire continental United States; only Miami (2,732 miles) is farther away among cities with NFL teams.
Nobody at the NFL looked at that and thought, “Hey, wait a minute,” until it was too late and the schedule was publicly released.
Mike North, the NFL’s senior director of broadcast planning and scheduling, admitted someone screwed up once the massive backlash from Bucs fans started.
On SiriusXM NFL Radio’s “Late Hits” show, North said, “If we had to do-over, if we had a redo, I’d love to take another shot at that Tampa Bay schedule. I’m not sure that’s really fair to their fans. I’m hopeful that we didn’t do something to the Buccaneers that they feel like was really unfair.”
You mean like giving them seven weeks without a true home game and making them play the Rams, Saints and Seahawks during that stretch and capping it off with that aforementioned jet lag-o-rama? At least they didn’t make Bucs-Cardinals a Thursday game!
“I know we’re not allowed to root for anybody,” North said. “But I’m kind of rooting for the Buccaneers through October.”
The Bucs aren’t the only team going seven weeks without a game in the friendly confines of their home stadium, but the Oakland Raiders at least have the excuse of having not known until March 15 where they were even playing. You can’t fault the NFL for having to improvise when it came to trying to work with both Oakland and Las Vegas, but the Vegas stadium isn’t ready yet so the Raiders, for the time being, remain in Oakland.
The Buccaneers’ official Twitter feed tried to put a brave face on it, but fans were in no mood to be nice to the NFL.
Thank the #NFL for a horrible schedule. 5 away games where they travel to LA, London and Seattle ??? What a joke! I see another top 5 pick in 2020,
— Krob75 (@Krob751) April 18, 2019
Man NFL did us dirty. We play the Giants week 3 at home our next true home game is November 10th
— Jamelk1 (@Rareartworks) April 18, 2019
All that remains is for new Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians to say something publicly. Given his famously hot temper and lack of a filter on his public statements, it should be a doozy.
The franchise’s return to glory looks like it already could be “wait till next year” and they haven’t even played a game.
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