Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 13 wins – 4 losses, 2nd in the NFC
Tom Brady knows how hard it is to do the double in the NFL. Four times he failed. But he also knows how to get there. He who was at the head of the attack of the Patriots winners of a second consecutive Super Bowl in 2004. The last to have achieved this exceptional performance.
This shows the magnitude of the task that awaits the Buccaneers as the playoffs approach. Especially since the dynamic is not the same as a year ago.
How did they get there?
Rare thing in this modern NFL, the Buccaneers managed to keep their 22 starters from last year. The defending champion therefore approached the season with a lot of certainty. Tom Brady had a full training camp which was undisturbed by the Covid. He was able to work calmly with Bruce Arians on the direction to give to this attack. Decisions that have borne fruit from the start of the season with 7 wins in 8 games and one of the best starts in the franchise.
Except that all was not perfect. First because there was this defeat in Los Angeles in week 3 against a contender. Then because once again, the Buccaneers have suffered the law of the Saints. Two defeats against New Orleans (week 8 and 15) which once again offer the league a tutorial to put Brady and the Floridians in difficulty.
Add to that a surprising loss in Washington (Week 10), the Antonio Brown controversy and a few key injuries and you have the ingredients for a rocky season. Certainly the results are more than positive (12-4, 2nd in the NFC), but the dynamic does not appear as good as last year. It is now up to the Buccaneers to remove doubts from the first game.
The key player: Rob Gronkowski (TE)
Last year, Rob Gronkowski had increased in power, to deliver his best game of the season at the Super Bowl (6 receptions, 67 yards and 2 TDs). In 2021, he was able to be effective from the start with already 55 receptions, 802 yards and 6 TDs. Good news for Tom Brady who will need his sidekick more than ever to go all the way.
Fourth aerial option at the start of the campaign, the tight end has de facto risen in the hierarchy. With the injury of Chris Godwin and the departure of Antonio Brown, the former Patriot must now do the heavy lifting with Mike Evans. For two weeks, he has done very well with 115 and 137 yards to complete the regular season. He will have to continue to disrupt the defenses. It must be said that his profile is so particular.
In form, he is almost unstoppable. Too fast for linebackers, he is too powerful and strong for cornerbacks or safety. He’s a headache for defensive coordinators. Especially that Bruce Arians and Tom Brady manage to put him in positions to make him shine. He still has to do it for four high-intensity matches now and above all that he stays in good health. These last conditions are crucial to a good course for the Bucs, because without him, Tampa Bay and Tom Brady will not be able to perform offensive miracles.
Why are they going to go all the way?
They know how. Like the Chiefs on the other side, the Buccaneers have big-game experience. And who else but Tom Brady to lead you in the decisive moments? The quarterback has played 10 of the last 20 Super Bowls. He is in his element and becomes an invaluable asset when the playoffs arrive. Especially since he is not alone in this team. Tampa Bay is one of the most complete rosters in the league.
On offense, the offensive line has allowed just 23 sacks this season (1st in the NFL), allowing this air squad to develop its game as it sees fit. Tom Brady reached the highest total of yards of his career (5316 yards) with his second highest average (312.7 yards / games). On the other side of the ball also the workforce is solid. The defense is notably 5th on points conceded (20.8 units/game).
Why won’t they go?
Paradoxically, there are some uncertainties. Offensive injuries have piled up in recent weeks (see below) and the casting had to be reorganized around Tom Brady. Tyler Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Cyril Graison or even Scotty Miller will they be able to take over from the absentees? Leonard Fournette, back from injury, will he be able to raise his level of play again, as he did last year during the playoffs?
The defense is not exempt from all questions either. The front seven has lowered the pace in its pass-rush with 47 sacks (1 unit less than last year with one more game). The run stop was not imperial at the end of the season and must take advantage of the returns from injuries to return to its standards. Sectors (slightly) less efficient which exposed the back lines several times during the season. All this still remains question marks and nothing says that the defending champion will not answer them with class during these playoffs. It is nonetheless true that at present, some questions are still unresolved.
As you will have understood, injuries remain a crucial factor in the progress of this team. Spared last year, the infirmary had a lot more work in 2021. The big absence from this post-season will necessarily be Chris Godwin. The receiver, decisive in the title last year, had started on a phenomenal basis this season with 1103 yards and 5 TDs in 14 games. He will be missed by Tom Brady. Just like Antonio Brown, who is no longer in the team for other reasons.
For the rest, many injured players should return for the champion’s entry into the running. Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul, Jamel Dean Leonard Fournette, Ronald Jones and Giovani Bernard could all be there on Sunday against Philadelphia.
Tampa Bay is undoubtedly a strong contender for its own succession. You will have to be very solid to eliminate the defending champion this season, especially at the start of the playoffs when they are at home. Not sure, however, that this team goes the distance and repeats the feat of winning four consecutive games.
A loss in the conference final, for example, could be a possible scenario against a fresher team (the Packers?). Difficult however to bet on it, because if there is something that we have learned over time: with Tom Brady everything is possible.