TAMPA, Fla. – Coming out of their final goodbye last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 7-4, with their best hope, even with quarterback Tom Brady leading the way, earning one of the last spots in wild card of the NFC. , before orchestrating an eight-game winning streak that resulted in a Super Bowl.
This year, they’re 6-2 coming off the break at the NFL midpoint, and they’re sitting atop the NFC South with some cushion thanks to the New Orleans Saints’ 27-25 loss to Atlanta. Hawks
The Bucs are a much better team than they were a year ago. The offense has found its identity and has established a rhythm with Brady. Now, at the age of 44, he is having an MVP-caliber season. He is second in the NFL with 2,650 passing yards, behind Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, by 121 yards, and is first in yards per game (331.3) and touchdowns (25). Vegas now has him as a +350 favorite to win the award, ahead of Josh Allen (+400), Kyler Murray (+550), Stafford (+700) and Aaron Rodgers (+900).
Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich has successfully fused Bruce Arians’ offense with what Brady likes to do the most. And on the other side of the ball, they have established themselves as an aggressive and punishing defense.
But what does it realistically take to repeat? We’ll take a look at several of the factors that affect them, in what is shaping up to be a hotly contested NFC.
Movement in the NFC classification
The Bucs benefited from qualifying during the bye week. In addition to the loss to the Saints, the Green Bay Packers fell to 7-2 after a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Rams lost to the Tennessee Titans to also fall to 7-2, and the Dallas Cowboys lost to the Denver Broncos. , falling to 6-2.
The only team ahead of them in the NFC standings that won last week were the Arizona Cardinals, who defeated the San Francisco 49ers to improve to 8-1. However, quarterback Kyler Murray’s ankle injury remains a question mark, as does wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins’ hamstring. And catcher AJ Green, who he also wasn’t with last week, is on the reserve / COVID-19 list.
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But there will be movement in the teams ahead of the Bucs and very close because they play against each other. On November 28, the Rams will play in Green Bay, which, by then, should have quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is also currently on the reserve / COVID-19 roster. On December 2, the Cowboys play in New Orleans. On December 13, the Rams play in Arizona. On December 19, New Orleans travels to Tampa. Then, on January 2, the Cardinals and Cowboys square off. It also happened that day: the Rams play the Baltimore Ravens (6-2).
Based on ESPN’s Football Power Index ratings, which are comprised of the predicted efficiency of offensive, defensive, and special teams, measured by expected points added per play, the Rams have the second-toughest schedule to finish the season, while the Bucs have the hardest 28. , with only two of his nine opponents remaining (Saints and Buffalo Bills) above .500, with both opponents at home.
The FPI also gives the Bucs a 99.4% chance of making the playoffs and a 90.5% chance of winning their division. They also have a 6.2% chance of winning, the highest in the NFL. The Cardinals are right behind them in this department, with a 5.3% chance of winning. It also gives the Bucs a 50.4% chance of making the NFC Championship and the Cardinals a 55.7% chance.
“Having the advantage of playing at home will be huge with having fans and traveling and all that,” said center Ryan Jensen. “Staying on top of the NFC is something that obviously [you want]. You want to win your division and you want to secure home-court advantage during the playoffs. It’s been the whole season for us focusing on that, especially with these last nine games with how tight that race is. It’s going to be huge. “
Health is the biggest concern
The Bucs could be paying the price for playing an additional four games in 2020, as many defending Super Bowl champions do, as they have been decimated by injuries. They have been without starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting since Week 2 and their other starter, Carlton Davis, since Week 5. But Murphy-Bunting began his 21-day window to return from injured reserve last week, along with wide receiver Scotty Miller. (turf tip), and there’s a chance he’ll come back against the Washington soccer team on Sunday, (1pm ET, Fox) depending on his pain level. Arians also said veteran cornerback Richard Sherman would be “ready to go” after sustaining a hamstring injury in Week 6.
On offense, tight end Rob Gronkowski remains a big question mark. After starting the year with four NFL-leading touchdowns in the first two games, Gronkowski suffered broken ribs and a slightly punctured lung against the Rams in Week 3. He returned in Week 8 against the Saints, initially with the intention of from only playing in the red zone, but ended up playing only five plays due to back spasms, which are related to rib injuries. To make matters worse, wide receiver Antonio Brown still has a walking boot.
“You still have to worry about Gronk a little bit, and I don’t know if AB is going to come back,” Arians said. “And Carlton will stay on IR. We’ll see if [Murphy-Bunting and Miller] they are ready to play. It’s one thing to practice, it’s another to throw them in a game. “
Sanctions are still a big problem
The Bucs hope the 11-penalty game against the Saints will serve as a catalyst for change, much like their 11-penalty loss to the Chicago Bears in Week 5 last year. In weeks 1-5 of last year, the Bucs led the NFL with 48 penalties. After? The Bucs had the fewest penalties in the league in Weeks 6-17 with 48.
“It definitely puts a bad taste in our mouths when you lose a game like that because of those situations,” inside linebacker Lavonte David said. “We definitely have a group of mature men who understand what it cost us, so we are definitely going to improve.”
But the penalties they face this year are different. Last year, during the early part of the season, they had a lot of false starts, which can be attributed to lapses in concentration. This year, they’ve had 10 defensive pass interference penalties, the second-most in the league, when they had seven last season. They only had four defensive retention calls last season, and they already hit that number in 2021. Getting more continuity again in their passing defense will help, rather than throwing new pieces every week with guys who don’t have as many reps during their lead. weather.
But he will also depend on players like inside linebacker Devin White, who was fined $ 25,750 for taunting and unnecessary rudeness against the Saints, to control his emotions. David said he has spoken with White about the best way to harness that energy.
“That’s just the basics – no Bucs beat the Bucs,” David said. “That is just old. We cannot have that rebound so that we are the team we want to be. We are a good soccer team and we are capable of beating many teams when we go out to play. At the end of the day, we can’t win if we’re there with 10 penalties per game and things like that. “