There is lots of hope and expectations surrounding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, this season after an offseason that saw the hiring of a new coaching staff and the signing of many high profile players. While every game will have some importance for the team, this article looks at the five games that will be most important for Tampa Bay this season.  

Week 1: Versus Carolina
The upgraded Tampa Bay Buccaneers will begin the 2012 season against divisional foe the Carolina Panthers. While a week one divisional matchup offers up excitement for both fans and players, there are two other reasons why this game will shape Tampa Bay’s season.

The first reason is it will be the first regular season game in which new and old Tampa Bay players will be on the field together, and it will be the first regular season game for new coach Greg Schiano. The second reason is because Tampa Bay needs to make up for the way they played in two games against Carolina last season. In those two matchups last season Tampa Bay lost both by a combined score of 86-35.

Even though it would only be week one, Tampa Bay fans would love to score a win, especially after losing 10 straight to end the 2010 season.

Week 2: At New York Giants
This game will prove to be a rude awakening for a young Tampa Bay team and new head coach Schiano. Not only is Tampa Bay having to play the defending Super Bowl champions in week two of the season, but they are doing so on the road.

Most likely Tampa Bay will have no chance of winning this game, but it should the team and their coaches the chance to evaluate the talent, tenacity, and togetherness of this team.

This game could help Tampa Bay come together as a team or it could prove to be the start of another unwanted skid.

Week 8: At Minnesota Vikings           
This is going to be a great matchup between two former NFC Central Division foes. The two teams first met in September of 1977 and have battled each other 52 times in the last 34 years. Minnesota leads the series 31-21, however, Tampa Bay has won eight of the last 11 matchups.

This game is important for Tampa Bay because it is a game they should win, it is a primetime game, and it will be the team’s first road game since week three of the season.  

If Tampa Bay can pull out the win it should give them momentum going forward into the second half of the season.

Week 12: Versus Atlanta Falcons
In the second half of the season Tampa Bay will play in four division games starting in week 11 against Carolina, and will play Atlanta in weeks 12 and 17 and New Orleans in week 15. These games are important because they could help determine the final NFC South standings. The game against Atlanta will especially be important because it will be the last home game against a divisional opponent for the season.

This game is also important because it will also be a test for Tampa Bay’s defense, as Atlanta has several good offensive weapons including Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Roddy White, and Julio Jones to name a few. Additionally, Tampa Bay will trying to get revenge after being humiliated 45-24 by Atlanta to end the 2011 regular season.

Week 15: At New Orleans
Both Tampa Bay and New Orleans have the potential this season to be vastly different then they were in 2011, with Tampa Bay upgrading their team and New Orleans suffering from the repercussions of Bounty Gate. Therefore, depending on how these two teams perform during the rest of the season, this game could be a determining factor for deciding the NFC South or wildcard spots, or it could have no importance at all.

Either way these teams battle each other every time they play, and have met 40 times since 1977, with New Orleans leading the overall series, but Tampa Bay has won three out of the last five meetings.

No matter the stakes, a win is a win, and Schiano would love to be able to beat a divisional foe.