For this weekend’s Pewter Report Roundtable, the crew tackles another tough question. This week’s prompt: Which part of the Bucs 2022 schedule presents the biggest challenge?
Scott Reynolds: Easy – It’s The Saints And Rams Games
The biggest challenge to this year’s Bucs 2022 schedule is not necessarily the tough four-game start. It’s the fact that Tampa Bay will play the New Orleans twice (of course) and the Los Angeles Rams – again. There is no escaping the Saints. Both teams are in the NFC South, a division the Bucs finally won last year. Although they did despite getting swept by the Saints for a third straight time in the regular season. You can say that the tide may turn now that Sean Payton has retired. I’ll remind you that Payton actually missed last year’s 9-0 victory over the Bucs in Tampa Bay last year.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and Saints DT David Onyemata – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
That means that new head coach Dennis Allen is already 1-0 versus the Bucs. Forget the thorn in the side analogy. Payton has been a dagger in the heart of the Bucs for years. The Saints have ripped off seven straight wins in the regular season, dating back to the 2018 season opener. But really it’s been Allen’s defense that has posed the biggest problem for the Bucs during that span. Tampa Bay proved last year it can still win the downtrodden NFC South without even beating New Orleans. But it would sure be nice to actually get a “W” over the Saints in the regular season and end that streak. Tampa Bay plays at New Orleans in Week 2 and hosts the Saints on Monday
The Super Bowl champion Rams pose an even bigger problem for the Bucs. This year’s Super Bowl could once again go through L.A., which has beaten Tampa Bay three straight times. Sean McVay’s offense has bested Todd Bowles’ defense in every contest as the Rams have averaged 30.3 points per game in all three wins. Getting a win in Week 9 at home would do wonders for the Bucs’ confidence, especially if the two teams have to meet again in the postseason.
Matt Matera: Bucs Barely Have A Break From Late October Till Christmas
The first four games are probably the toughest stretch, but you get a nice three-week break after that. Later on in the season though, the schedule barely lets up for almost two months! It starts off on a short week with the Ravens, who are always a tough matchup. Then it’s the team that the Bucs have not been able to figure out over the last two seasons – the Rams. After a trip to Germany to play the Seahawks in a winnable game, the schedule picks up right again after the bye.
Bucs LB Lavonte David and OLB Shaquil Barrett – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
For this next one, a lot of this game depends on whether DeShaun Watson is eligible to play. If he is, then the Browns just became another heavy hitter on the schedule. You have to travel to a cold weather place after a bye to face Watson, Amari Cooper and Nick Chubb? That’s not easy. Your reward after that is a Monday night matchup against the other team that’s had your number in the regular season – the Saints.
Going after that, the Bucs have two trips out west in three weeks, plus a matchup with the AFC champion Bengals. The west coast games are very intriguing. The 49ers just made it to the NFC Championship game last year and are a quarterback away from compiling an even better Super Bowl contender. The Cardinals are also a playoff team that shouldn’t be taken lightly. From late October until Christmas time, there’s maybe one game you can put in as a win for the Bucs. All the others are really going to have to be earned.
J.C. Allen: First Four Games Will Set The Tone
The schedule makers did the Bucs no favors giving them the most difficult stretch of games to open the season. It kicks off with an away game against Dallas, a rematch of last year’s season opener that came down to the wire. The Bucs were able to escape with a 31-29 win on a last-second field goal. The Cowboys came dangerously close to spoiling the Bucs’ banner opener in 2021 and will have a chance to deal them their first loss of the season on Sunday Night Football.
Bucs TE Rob Gronkowski – Photo by Cliff Welch/PR
That game is followed up by a trip to NOLA to face the thorn-in-the-side Saints. Winner of seven straight regular season contests, New Orleans has Tampa Bay’s number. Of course the Bucs beat them when it counted most in the 2020 playoffs, but they haven’t been able to get that regular season monkey off their back in over three years. The Bucs have lost in embarrassing fashion to the Saints in each of the last two seasons. Tom Brady is 0-4 against New Orleans while in red and pewter. If Brady and the Bucs want to win the division they’ll need to exorcise the demons and hand the Saints and early season loss.
That’s followed up by two consecutive home games. Nice, right? Wrong! The Bucs will host a pair of MVP quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in back-to-back weeks. There are some question marks on offense for both of these teams, after dealing away their superstar receivers. Yet both the Packers and Chiefs made concentrated efforts in the offseason to improve their defenses. These teams present plenty of challenges offensively with two of the best offensive minded coaches in the league. The Bucs will need to get the ball rolling early with some wins to avoid falling into an early hole.
Josh Queipo: Weeks 12-16 Will Make Or Break The Bucs Year
Everyone is making a big deal out of the first four weeks of the year. And I get it. Those are four tough games against talented opponents. But in all four matchups the Bucs will face opponents really trying to establish timing and continuity with new offensive playmakers. To me, that lends itself in the Bucs’ favor.
Bucs OLB Shaquil Barrett and Cardinals QB Kyler Murray – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
But have you seen the “stretch run” portion of the Tampa Bay schedule? From the last game in November through the entire month of December, the Bucs face what could be quite the gauntlet. Coming off the bye week following the Germany game, Tampa Bay will have to endure an away/home alternation that has them face Cleveland, New Orleans, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Arizona. Say what you will about how things can go south for each of those teams, but there isn’t a single layup in the group. Each team has the potential to be a playoff contender. And with the exception of the Saints, each team has a good chance to be a top-notch offense.
The schedulers did the Bucs no favors with this stretch in regards to capitalizing on these opponents’ misfortunes, either. Most likely both Deshaun Watson of the Browns and DeAndre Hopkins of the Cardinals will have returned from looming suspensions by the time the Bucs face their teams. Most people believe it is December that will make or break a team’s season. This year that mantra will be especially emphasized in the Bucs schedule.
Bailey Adams: Starting Off With Back-To-Back Road Games
Even before the schedule dropped Thursday night, we already knew the Bucs would have it tough in 2022. Meeting the entire NFC West and AFC North divisions, as well as the NFC East and NFC North winners, was always going to be a challenge. Add in the Chiefs, too, and that’s quite the slate of opponents. The way it all sets up for Tampa Bay has its share of obstacles – and some lighter stretches – but what sticks out to me is the back-to-back road games to open the season. The Bucs are one of only three teams to have two away games to start the season, with the Colts and Patriots being the other two. Indianapolis faces Houston and Jacksonville, though. Does that even count?
The Bucs will get the year underway with a Sunday Night Football matchup in Dallas against the Cowboys. Last year’s meeting between the two sides in Tampa was difficult enough, but now this one will be on the road. And as of right now, Chris Godwin’s availability for it is in question, which certainly won’t help. Going on the road and escaping Jerry World with a win will be hard enough, but what follows is a trip to New Orleans. The Saints have long been the Bucs’ kryptonite. We thought they had gotten past it in the NFC Divisional Round last January, but then they were swept in the regular season again in 2021. At some point, the Bucs will have to get over the hump, right?
You’d like to see the Bucs split these two games, at least. But they’ll be up against two solid teams in two hostile environments. Drop the opener in Dallas and the pressure amps up for Week 2 in New Orleans. Lose them both, and you come home at 0-2. Of course, the fact that you’re coming home to face the Packers and Chiefs adds another element to it. Tampa Bay won’t make or break its season with its first two (or four) games, but the team won’t have a second to ease into things as they look to make a run back to the Super Bowl.