The PewterReport.com Roundtable features the opinions of the PR staff as it tackles a topic each week that involves the Bucs. This week’s topic: Which NFC foe is the most formidable for the 2021 Buccaneers?
Scott Reynolds: The Battle-Tested Rams Are A Strong Foe
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The winner of the NFC West division will be among the most battle-tested teams in the conference. A healthier San Francisco squad could win the division. An improved Arizona team could win it. Russell Wilson always makes Seattle a threat to win the NFC West. Just like Aaron Rodgers always makes Green Bay formidable in the NFC North. Yet adding a veteran QB like Matthew Stafford makes the Rams the team to beat in the NFC West. This division is so rough and tumble. And because of that, I like the expected winner from the NFC West – the Rams – to give the Bucs the toughest run at the NFC Championship.
Bucs QB Tom Brady and Rams DT Aaron Donald – Photo by: USA Today
The Rams beat the Bucs last year in Tampa Bay on Monday Night Football, 27-24. The previous year, the Bucs won a wild one at the L.A. Coliseum, beating the Rams, 55-40 in a shootout. The third game in as many years is set to take place in Week 3 in Los Angeles. That should be an early battle for NFC supremacy. While Tampa Bay has played Detroit in each of the last two seasons, the Bucs didn’t face Stafford. He was sidelined with an injury in each December contest. He’s an upgrade over Jared Goff, who passed for 893 yards in the last two games with five TDs. But he also had five interceptions.
Stafford’s veteran savvy and rocket arm should add another dimension to Sean McVay’s offense. The Rams defense will undergo a major change as Raheem Morris takes over for Brandon Staley. Coming over from Atlanta, Morris knows the Bucs offense well. But his defense was shredded last year for 75 points in two games. Morris will now have the likes of Aaron Donald, Leonard Floyd, Jalen Ramsey and Darious Williams at his disposal instead of an undermanned Falcons defense. Expect points a plenty in Week 3 either way. This game could be a prelude to the NFC Championship Game.
Mark Cook: Packers Still Bucs Toughest Foe
The Buccaneers were road warriors in the playoffs on their way to the Super Bowl, beating Washington, the Saints and the Packers. But it was the Packers win to me was the most impressive, as from a talent standout they were the most evenly matched team of the three. Aaron Rodgers can still go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league and statically out dueled Tom Brady in their match-up. If Rodgers is back in Green Bay, the Packers are still the Bucs biggest threat to repeating as NFC champs in 2021.
Bucs LB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
While all the games on the road were competitive, the win at Lambeau Field, taking on the reigning league MVP, in the cold weather of Wisconsin, was the toughest. There were a handful of breaks the Buccaneers got that if a couple had went the other way, we’d likely be talking about the Packers as 2020 Super Bowl champs. Tampa Bay got the benefit of some close calls by the refs, particularly Sean Murphy Bunting’s late first half INT that allowed the Bucs to extend the lead with the improbable touchdown pass to Scotty Miller as the first half expired. Tampa Bay also got the benefit of a questionable red zone series late in the game and by the decision of Packers head coach Matt LeFleur to kick a field goal instead of going for the go-ahead score on fourth down in the fourth quarter.
But as long as Rodgers in under center in Green Bay in 2021, you can bet the Packers – and Rodgers in particular – won’t forget a game they felt they should have won. Green Bay will be motivated and hungry and Rodgers, who has just one Super Bowl win on his resumé wants to add another ring to his finger. Just like the Bucs wanting to avenge their two losses to the Saints last season, the Packers will be aiming to do the same.
Jon Ledyard: Beware The Rams
If Aaron Rodgers plays this season for Green Bay, you can move the Packers to the top of the list. But it feels like there is too much unrest in Green Bay right now, especially for a team with question marks at offensive line and cornerback. The Rams, on the other hand, seem to be trending in the right direction on offense once again. Much of that is thanks to the addition of Matt Stafford at quarterback, who will finally play for a good team.
Rams COO Kevin Demoff, HC Sean McVay and GM Les Snead – Photo by: Getty Images
Stafford by himself isn’t the biggest threat to the Bucs, but combined with head coach Sean McVay’s creativity after a full offseason to evolve his offense? Whew. When they aren’t turning the ball over, the Rams offense has always given Todd Bowles fits, posting 67 points in a pair of games over the past two years. Upgrading Jared Goff for Stafford will add more of a downfield, aggressive element to the L.A. offense that they haven’t recently possessed.
The biggest question for the Rams is how they replace innovative defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. Raheem Morris is a good defensive mind, but the Bucs crushed him twice last year. Having said that, the Rams offer significant upgrades in the secondary compared to what Morris had in Atlanta. They are well-positioned to replace their defensive backfield losses in free agency, and have two of the best players in the NFL in Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald. Don’t be surprised if it’s the Rams standing in the Bucs’ way of repeating as Super Bowl champs next January.
Matt Matera: When Healthy, The 49ers Are A Huge Threat
The talent has always been there for the 49ers, stemming back to their NFC championship run just two seasons ago. It’s just always been a question of whether they can stay healthy. Although they drafted quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick, I’m not entirely sure he starts right away, or even this season. I’m not necessarily defending Jimmy Garoppolo by any means, but the 49ers are 22-8 when he is their starter. It’s not a question of can they win with him, it’s a matter of can he stay healthy.
Bucs NT Vita Vea – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
In previous years when Garoppolo goes down, their backup was Nick Mullens. Capable for sure, but not even close to the talent that Lance brings. Now the 49ers have an insurance policy if Garoppolo were to miss time as well as having their quarterback of the future. If they want to start Lance right away, that’s fine too. San Francisco boasts a very talented group of players that would even give the Bucs trouble. The duo of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk is one to be taken seriously. Their speed and open field ball catching skills make for a great match-up against Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean. Then there’s perennial All-Pro George Kittle, who is one of the best in football at tight end when healthy. He’s never easy to guard.
You also have to account for the 49ers’ run game and offensive line. I can already picture a battle between offensive tackle Trent Williams and Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul, depending on where they want to line up that game. It’s a group that could even give the Bucs top ranking run defense a run for their money. Defensively, they’re one of the top groups upfront that could disrupt the pocket for Tom Brady and company, led by Joey Bosa. Much like Kittle, Bosa is another player that’s at the top of the league at his position, but just needs to stay healthy. Could you imagine a NFC Championship game between Brady and Garoppolo with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line? What a storyline that would be. The 49ers have a great roster, they just need to be around for a full season to contend.
Taylor Jenkins: Packers Remain The Bucs’ Toughest Test
After two consecutive 13-3 seasons and two consecutive trips to the NFC Championship under head coach Matt LaFleur, the Packers remain the Bucs’ biggest threat in the NFC. Well, this is assuming that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will remain with Green Bay. Their offseason has been largely uneventful in the form of major new additions, but as we’ve seen with the Bucs, that in and of itself can be a major event when your roster is that talented.
Packers TE Marcedes Lewis – Photo by: USA Today
Despite an identical record in 2019 and 2020, the Packers made a massive leap on the offensive side of the ball under LaFleur in his second year. The kinks were worked out and we got to witness the potential of a brilliant offensive coach – a product of the Mike Shanahan coaching tree while also previously working with Kyle Shanahan and Sean Mcvay – teaming up with a blue chip quarterback in Rodgers. Together they orchestrated the NFL’s highest-scoring offense in 2020 with 31.8 points per game, in addition to racking up the league’s fifth-most total yards and Rodgers’ third NFL MVP award.
The Packers re-signed Aaron Jones among a number of other re-signings and restructures this offseason, saw their biggest loss come in the form of center Corey Linsley and attacked all of their biggest needs through the draft. Green Bay added cornerback Eric Stokes in the first round this year, set to battle for the second cornerback spot behind superstar Jaire Alexander. They then replaced Linsley in the second with interior offensive lineman Josh Myers out of Ohio State in the second. Offensive line was a focal point in Green Bay’s draft and they flooded the unit with three of their first seven picks being spent on the unit and they even added a new weapon in receiver Amari Rodgers out of Clemson in the third. With a talented roster returning, an MVP-caliber quarterback in sync with a great offensive mind, a solid draft class that should make an immediate impact and provide crucial depth and Joe Berry joining the Packers’ staff as their newest defensive coordinator, Green Bay looks primed to give Tampa Bay another run for their money in 2021.