The Tampa Bay Buccaneers schedule has been released! We now know the dates and times of every game for the defending champions this year. With a clear path now in place, we can start to project potential pitfalls and problems along the way.
For a team as good as the Buccaneers, there don’t look to be many major concerns on the schedule. In fact, the Bucs have the second-easiest strength of schedule based on last season’s win percentages. When you combine that with the current roster make up of each team, they are projected to have the easiest strength of schedule, as well.
This leads to the age old question for great teams. Can the Buccaneers put together the ever elusive perfect season? Here’s what they’ll have to be wary of on the way.
Offense Early On For The Buccaneers
The Buccaneers open the season with three high powered offenses. They will open the season at home against Dallas. The Cowboys ranked 14th in yards per game last season despite several key injuries on the offensive side of the ball. The most notable of these was start quarterback Dak Prescott.
The Cowboys now come into the season fully healthy. Their playmakers include Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb and they are one of the best trios in the NFL. Their offensive line, while aging, still features key names like Zach Martin and Tyron Smith. This Cowboys team will have a puncher’s chance in every game and can upset the Bucs if they aren’t careful.
This description would also apply to the Falcons. Atlanta only ranked 18th in yards per game last season, but they brought in a new offensive-minded head coach in Arthur Smith to maximize the plethora of talented players they have on that side of the ball. They also invested the fourth-overall pick into the electrifying tight end out of Florida, Kyle Pitts. It’s fair to expect the Falcons to make a significant jump offensively in 2021.
Just looking at their roster, it’s truly surprising they weren’t better last year. Julio Jones is still in the conversation as the best wide receiver in the NFL. Calvin Ridley had the fifth-most receiving yards in the league last season. Matt Ryan, the greatest quarterback in franchise history, is still playing at a high level as he begins to enter his late 30s. While the Falcons may struggle in 2021, their offense still projects as a real problem.
Finally we come to the best of the bunch. The Rams ranked 11th in yards per game last season. They were led by head coach Sean McVay who is one of the best offensive minds in the game. Now he will have something he has never had before; a top-10 quarterback. Los Angeles invested multiple first round picks in a trade for Matthew Stafford, who is a considerable upgrade over last year’s starter Jared Goff.
What makes the Rams the biggest threat of this group is that they have some sort of defense to back them up. Star players like Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey can disrupt even the best in the league. Traveling to the west coast to take on this NFC contender will be one of the biggest challenges of the Buccaneers’ season and is a game to highlight as a pitfall to perfection.
Travel and Schedule Woes
The long trip to Los Angeles will be difficult. However, it feels that much more difficult considering that the Buccaneers will have to travel to the the following week to play New England. This will make for a short week with the extra travel time. On top of that, it will be full of anticipation and media coverage as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski make their return to New England for the first time since leaving for Tampa Bay.
If the Bucs can navigate these high profile games they will return home to play an up and coming Dolphins team. This has all the making of a let down game for the Bucs. It will be their first 1:00 games of the season after two prime time games and a potential NFC playoff preview in the first month. If Bruce Arians and company can’t maintain their intensity as the grind of the season settles in, they could be in trouble against Miami.
After this, the Bucs will have a short week as the featured team in Thursday night football in week six. To make this week even shorter, they will have to travel to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles. On paper, this looks like a team the Bucs should beat. However, the same was true last year when the team played Chicago. It is hard to account for the physical condition the team will be in so soon after playing their last game.
The Plot Thickens
The middle part of the schedule is a grind to say the least. The Bucs will play six playoff teams from last season during Week 7-Week 15. These teams include New Orleans twice, Chicago, Washington, Indianapolis, and Buffalo.
This will include back-to-back weeks of teams coming off a bye to play the Bucs. Washington, who the Buccaneers played in the first round of the playoffs, in Week 10 and the Giants in Week 11 will each prepare for two weeks to take on the champs. Fortunately, the Bucs will also be coming off their bye before playing Washington, so that will counterbalance to a degree. Both project as tough, physical matchups that will not be easy despite a bit of a talent gap on paper.
Tampa Bay will host the Bears in Week 7 for what projects as a potential pitfall for perfection. Chicago has had one of the better defenses in the NFL for the last several years. Enough so to get them to the playoffs consistently with one of the worst offenses in the league. In the draft, they traded up for what might have been the missing piece holding them back: a franchise quarterback. If there was a dark horse to upset the Bucs dreams of perfection, it very well could be Chicago.
The Buccaneers’ biggest obstacle in this stretch is likely the Buffalo Bills. Led by their MVP-caliber quarterback, this team went all the way to the AFC championship game last season before falling short against the Chiefs. Much like the Bucs, they have brought back most of their roster and have added young players in the draft which they hope to get them over the hump. Needless to say, this is a potential Super Bowl preview.
Following each of these two difficult games, the Bucs then have to deal with division rival New Orleans. Regardless of record or anything else, division games are always tough. Familiarity breeds contempt as well as upsets; as the saying goes. As the Saints seem to remain the best division opponent, it seems likely they will challenge the Bucs in Week 8 eight and in Week 15. These games are that much more difficult following games vs two of their most challenging opponents on the schedule.
If there was ever a team to put together an undefeated season, this Bucs team might be the one. Led by the greatest quarterback of all time and returning all the key players from their championship roster, this is an unprecedented type of team. On top of that, their path is as smooth as anyone’s in the NFL on paper. The Bucs will likely be favored in every game and should expect to win every game.
However, games are not played on paper. Unexpected injuries take their toll and the human element of highs and lows are always unpredictable. The odds are always against any team having a perfect season and the Bucs are no exception. If you were to ask me if Tampa Bay will run the table this year, I would tell you no. If you were to ask me if they could have a perfect season, then I would tell you absolutely yes.