Normally you have to wait until the season ends to figure out the next year's opponents, but since all the last-place finishers in the NFC have been decided, we already know who the Bucs will play in the 2012 season.â†µ
The six division games are the same every year -- home-and-home with Atlanta, Carolina, and New Orleans.
Four more conference games are on a divisional rotation, alternating home and away each time they come up. In 2012 the Bucs will play the entire NFC East, using the same home and away games as they played in 2006.â†µ
The four interconference games are also on a divisional rotation. In 2012 the Bucs will play the entire AFC West, but since the last time Tampa Bay played that division, the NFL changed the way home and road games are assigned against AFC West and NFC West teams to help minimize travel. Back in 2004, before the change was made, the Bucs had to travel to both Oakland and San Diego -- two cross-country trips, exactly the kind of thing the NFL wanted to change. Next season, they will either travel to both Kansas City and San Diego, or to both Oakland and Denver, then play the other two in Tampa.â†µ
The last two games match the teams in the other two NFC divisions that finished in the same position as your team did. Since we already know the Bucs will finish last in the NFC South, and we also know who will finish last in the NFC North (Minnesota) and the NFC West (St. Louis), we can slot those as well. In these games next season, the NFC West visits the NFC South, and the NFC North hosts the NFC South.â†µ
Got all that? Yeah, I didn't think so. To make it simple, here's what the Bucs' home and away games will look like next season. We won't know exactly when all these games are until April, but at least you know what's ahead of the 2012 Bucs.â†µ
HOME: Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Washington, Kansas City and San Diego OR Denver and Oaklandâ†µ
AWAY: Atlanta, Carolina, Dallas, Minnesota, New Orleans, NY Giants, Kansas City and San Diego OR Denver and Oakland