Tom Brady’s Buccaneers are two years removed from winning the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay’s roster looks much different today than it did then. That includes Todd Bowles’ promotion from defensive coordinator to head coach this offseason. That said, many of the core pieces from that title team remain. Can the age defying Tom Brady drive the Bucs to another championship run? Or will Tampa Bay fall short of Brady’s lofty expectations? Let’s take a closer look at the Buccaneers:
Opening Win Total: 11.5
Current Win Total: 11.5
Schedule Difficulty: Medium
Brett Favre believes Tom Brady’s August absence is probably a good thing. No one can speak to the needs of a future Hall of Fame quarterback playing into their 40’s quite like Brett Favre. Brady’s former teammate, Matt Cassel, thinks that Brady looks and feels ready to go after his preseason tune-up last week. Tom Brady is the most accomplished quarterback in the history of professional football; doubting him hasn’t been a profitable endeavor to this point.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Buccaneers offense was:
- 1st in net passing yards.
- 26th in rushing yards.
- 2nd in points per game.
At 44 years of age, Tom Brady led the league in passing yards and touchdowns last season. If Brady’s Bucs aren’t shutout by the Saints in Week 15 on Sunday Night Football, Brady is probably the reigning league MVP. That sounds more like the background for a quarterback in a football movie than reality, but that all actually happened. Let’s continue to treat Brady like the unicorn that he is until he shows actual signs of regression.
Brady is supported by one of the league’s best wide receiver groups. Mike Evans has been remarkably consistent, breaching 1,000 yards receiving in every season since he entered the league in 2014. Evans is among the best high-point options in the sport, which is a big reason why he’s had double-digit touchdowns in four of his eight seasons. Chris Godwin is recovering from a season-ending knee injury. While there is still no timetable for his return, he appears ahead of schedule. Godwin is a difference maker in the short to intermediate game that Brady excels in.
Former Falcon Russell Gage will plug a lot of the gaps in those areas if Godwin ends up missing time. Julio Jones is not the headliner that he was in his prime, but he is a professional wide receiver playing with a Hall of Fame quarterback that can get the most out of his skillset.
Rob Gronkowski’s retirement is a blow to this offense. Brady’s ability to rely on Gronk in a variety of situations is irreplaceable. O.J. Howard is no longer on the team, which positions Cameron Brate and veteran Kyle Rudolph to man the tight end position for the Bucs.
Leonard Fournette has been a valuable Buccaneer, especially as a pass-catcher. That’s a big factor for Brady, who is arguably the greatest check down passer in history. No. 91 overall pick Rachaad White is another asset as a pass-catcher. I have my doubts that a veteran in Brady’s position will have much tolerance for rookie mistakes, but right now White is expected to be the primary reserve behind Fournette. Ke’Shawn Vaughn has been unremarkable to this point in his career. Veteran Giovani Bernard is another good pass-catcher.
The Buccaneers offensive line is my biggest concern for this offense, as they will have three new starters on the interior. First comes the good news: former Patriot Shaq Mason is an upgrade over Cincinnati-bound Alex Cappa at right guard. The bad news: the transition from retired high-end guard Ali Marpet to Luke Goedeke is a considerable downgrade. Similarly, the loss of center Ryan Jensen is a real difference maker at an important position.
The Bucs remain strong on the edge with LT Donovan Smith and stud RT Tristan Wirfs. Ultimately, Tampa Bay still has three quality linemen, but two positions on the interior are significantly worse off than they were last season. This group has gone from a top-five type of unit, to one that’s now in the middle-of-the-pack.
Per Sports Info Solutions, the 2021 Buccaneers defense was:
- 3rd in rushing yards allowed.
- 21st in passing yards allowed.
- 6th in sacks, 1st in hurries, 1st in knockdowns, and 1st in pressures.
- 5th in points allowed per game.
The Buccaneers have one of, if not the best linebacker duo in football. Veteran Lavonte David is entering his eleventh season. While he’s not quite the player he was in his prime, he’s still the definition of reliability at the position. Devin White is one of the most dynamic off-ball linebackers in the sport. He still has room to grow, as he could be more consistent at times, but White is one of the centerpieces of this defense that can be a factor in all areas.
The Buccaneers have a top-ten caliber front four if a few things break their way. I’ve loved Vita Vea since college, as he’s a dominant run defender that draws double teams that’s also a unique and disruptive force as an interior pass rusher. Former Bear Akiem Hicks has dealt with numerous injuries the last few seasons. If he can stay healthy and perform close to his peak, the prospect of him playing alongside Vea is genuinely fascinating.
Edge Shaquil Barrett has 37.5 sacks across his three-year tenure in Tampa Bay. He’s a high-quality pass rusher. Last year’s No. 32 overall pick Joe Tyron-Shoyinka popped for me as an edge rusher when I reviewed Tampa Bay this offseason. He’s a young defensive player that I could see taking a bit of a leap this season. If Tyron-Shoyinka takes that leap and Hicks returns to form, this front four is going to be a problem for opposing offenses in both phases.
New head coach Todd Bowles is famous for bringing pressure as a defensive play caller. Tampa’s front four provides a quality pass rush and their interior lineman have owned A-gap in the run game for years. That said, Bowles’ aggressive play calling is one of the reasons the Buccaneers had high-end production as a run defense and a pass rush. Tampa’s run defense is behind certain teams ramping up the passing game volume against the Bucs. When pressure doesn’t get home, that puts a team’s secondary in precarious positions.
Tampa Bay’s secondary has a number of good, young players that are still on their rookie deal. Cornerbacks Carlton Davis III, Jamel Dean, and Sean Murphy-Bunting, along with safety Antoine Winfield Jr. have all been on the field together for much of the last two seasons. Mike Edwards is likely to play the other safety position, but there is enough talent on this secondary where it should at least be in the middle-of-the-pack. Given the youth in this group, it’s more likely that this group improves than regresses.
The Buccaneers start the season with their most difficult stretch of opponents: at Cowboys (SNF), at Saints, vs. Packers, vs. Chiefs (SNF). If Tampa Bay gets through this four-game stretch with a 2-2 record or better, they’ll be in a good position moving forward.
Into their Week 11 bye the Bucs schedule is far more manageable: vs. Falcons, at Steelers, at Panthers, vs. Ravens (TNF), vs. Rams, vs. Seahawks (Germany). A 4-2 or better record is a very reasonable expectation through this stretch. It’s worth noting that the game against the Seahawks in Germany counts as a home game for Tampa Bay. That gives Tampa eight games at home, eight on the road, with one on a neutral field.
Coming off their bye Tampa Bay has another manageable stretch through the rest of the year: at Browns, vs. Saints (MNF), at 49ers, vs. Bengals, at Cardinals (SNF), vs. Panthers, at Falcons. The Buccaneers face the Browns the week before Deshaun Watson returns from his suspension. That advantage makes a 4-3 or better record through this stretch very doable.
Tampa’s two losses to the rival Saints last year were both strange games that were greatly impacted by in-game injuries. If the Bucs can even just split with the Saints, a 5-1 division record is very attainable.
I was mildly concerned about Brady’s toe dip into retirement followed by his August absence. He’s one of the great culture changers in the history of sports; demanding excellence is a much harder sell when you’re not around. Brett Favre’s perspective on Brady being away from the team this August alleviated much of my concern on this matter. Favre is one of the few, bordering on the only person on the planet that can really see this matter through Brady’s eyes. That leaves Tampa Bay’s interior offensive line as my only real concern for this team. But there are a few more that warrant discussion.
You can certainly be concerned about Brady’s ability to continue defying the aging process. Additionally, Bruce Arians is one of the best coaches of the last decade. There is no guarantee that the transition from him to Bowles will be a successful one. That said, the 2022 Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren’t a normal football operation because they have Tom Brady. Ultimately, if you’re betting the Bucs win total you are primarily betting on or against Brady.
I don’t get involved in betting against guys like Brady over the course of a full season, because there is no reason to. I have the Bucs at 11-6, which means that I have a slight lean towards their under. But why am I going to get involved in that when there are 31 other teams I can bet on? What I’m going to do is pass on Tampa Bay’s win total entirely. If Brady and this offense shows any signs of regression, I can use that in season. If they don’t, I can also use that in season.