The 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers famously won their final eight games from the regular season through the playoffs en route to the Super Bowl LV Championship, firing on all cylinders on both offense and defense down that stretch.
Just before that exhilarating run, however, the Buccaneers hit rough waters. The team got off to a 6-2 start in Tom Brady’s first season up front and seemed to be shaping up as a true title contender. That idea was dampened a month later after the Buccaneers lost to the Saints, Rams and Chiefs during a 1-3 run that led to their Week 13 bye.
Looking back, that was always a challenging part of the schedule. The Chiefs were the defending champions of the NFL, the Saints had recently become the Buccaneers’ boogeyman, and the Rams were packed with star-level talent and in clear win-now mode.
The Buccaneers evidently survived this month-long slump and came out the other end stronger than ever. However, had they won a few more of those games, they might have had an easier route to the playoffs and maybe even a division title. There’s no point worrying about it now – there’s a Lombardi Trophy that needs polishing – but the coming season could be defined by how well the Buccaneers handle another difficult stretch like this in 2020.
And that’s what contributor/reporter Brianna Dix, digital contributor Amy Schwartz, and I set out to find out here in our latest roundtable discussion of the Buccaneers’ 2022 schedule. Where do dangers await the team and their playoff hopes? When do players and coaches need to dig deepest? What part of the schedule, once complete, will give the Buccaneers a sense of relief that they just finished our college exams?
This is the fourth of our five roundtables so far. Here’s the schedule for the entire series:
Friday May 13: What is your*most anticipated game* on the Bucs schedule for 2022?
Monday, May 16: what is*You would change one thing*About the Bucs schedule if you had the power?
Tuesday, May 17: what would you most like to do*Thank you to the NFL schedulers*for this year?
Wednesday May 18: What is the toughest game in this year’s schedule?
Thursday, May 19: Who is the top rookie the Buccaneers will face in their 2022 schedule?
To get a wider variety of answers, we made a rule that picks can’t be duplicated among the three of us… and we totally broke that rule this time. Given the very obvious top answer and the difficulty of finding two others to compete with, I gave my two co-conspirators the green light to support each other. So it’s not that critical but we flipped back to Brianna at the front with Amy batting second and me in the three hole.
So please start this discussion, Brianna? Where is the biggest test in this 2022 Bucs schedule?
Brianna Dix: Stretch from week one to four
This is certainly the most obvious choice, but in my opinion it’s the hell of a stretch of the 2022 season. In the first four games, the Buccaneers play with the Cowboys in week one, at home against the Packers in week three and at home in week four the Kansas City Chiefs surrounded by a road trip to New Orleans to face a Saints team in week two that’s had their numbers the last two seasons. All three present marquee matchups, but daunting opponents to face in such a short time frame. As a result of winning the NFC South crown last season, the Buccaneers get games against other division winners, including three in their first four games: Cowboys, Packers and Chiefs.
Having to play in back-to-back games for both Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, both ranked as the top five quarterbacks in the league, is a terrifying achievement. That’s quite a set-up for the team’s new head coach, Todd Bowles, not to mention a challenging test for the Bucs’ defense in the first month of the 2022 schedule. How they perform in the first four games of the season will be a deciding factor their chances of another Lombardi Trophy. In week one, the Cowboys will seek revenge for last season’s season opener at Raymond James Stadium, which Ryan Succop won with a field goal late in the game. Dallas opted for a pass-heavy attack against Vita Vea and Co. Dak Prescott threw 58 times for 403 yards. They have home field advantage this year with a strengthened offensive line post-draft. The opener will join the other three in assessing where the Buccaneers are in their reinforced secondary.
Week four presents a repeat of Super Bowl LV as the Buccaneers’ four-man onslaught harassed Mahomes for four quarters in the bag. The sequel is set in prime time as anticipation for the competition builds. Despite the discussions surrounding the other heavyweights, don’t forget the Saints in Week Two, the team that has been the Bucs’ kryptonite during the regular season for the past several years. As a new era dawns and Bowles and Dennis Allen wear the headset, the game of chess begins. To be the best you have to beat the best. However, that reality is coming earlier for the Buccaneers in 2022.
Amy Schwartz: Weeks one through four stretch
I have to echo Brianna on this point because the first four weeks of the season will be by far the biggest test for the Buccaneers this season. The planners didn’t make it easy for the Bucs, instead giving them an opportunity to face three of the NFL’s biggest names early in the season. The Buccaneers will have little room for error in just four weeks against the Cowboys, Saints, Packers and Chiefs.
While these games are among the most exciting games of the season, they also have the potential to set the tone for the entire season. New head coach Todd Bowles and the Bucs begin their season on the road for back-to-back weeks facing three 2021 playoff teams within four weeks. The Bucs won’t open their home season until week three when they face the Green Bay Packers for the first time since the 2020 playoff run at Raymond James Stadium.
I see this first period of play as the biggest obstacle the Buccaneers will face before the playoffs this season. In a way, that tough list of opponents could be a gauge of how successful the Bucs can be as the season progresses. While this will prove to be a challenge, I like that the Bucs will be cutting these tough opponents off the schedule early.
Scott Smith: Weeks 8-10
I won’t say Brianna and Amy are wrong because I’m not blind. In fact, the Buccaneers are having the toughest first four weeks of the season of any team in the NFL because of the schedule. Dak, Pat and ARod pretty much say it all, and that doesn’t even include a trip to the hated Superdome.
I’ll just say that I am in addition Right because the challenges keep coming in this schedule and one of the defining parts of the season will come right to the heart of the matter in weeks 8-10.
It all starts with the Bucs’ only game on Thursday night of the season, meaning that this is the only time the team plays on a very tight schedule. Regardless of the opponent, it adds some difficulty to proceedings, but in this case, the Bucs are preparing for one of the NFL’s most unique Tests, stopping Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. That such a challenge takes place in a short week makes it doubly difficult.
As Brianna pointed out in a previous roundtable, NFL planners did the Buccaneers a small favor by ordering the trip to Los Angeles right after this game. Yes, it will help that Tampa Bay has three extra days to rest (the players) and set up a game plan (the coaches) for the Rams, it’s still the Rams who not only have the defending champions, but the only team other than New Orleans seems to have the Bucs number right now.
And do you know what’s next? A road trip over 4,991 miles. The Buccaneers are understandably excited to be the designated team for the NFL’s first ever game in Germany against Seattle, but that doesn’t make a couple of 10.5-hour flights any easier. All three of these games are individually wonderful at getting the Bucs attention and fielding some of the most interesting opponents, but all also bring their own specific challenges and lining them up creates a very difficult stretch on the schedule for 2022.