It is clear that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have become America’s underdog story this NFL off-season. A franchise known for their continuous losing records and questionable front office decisions has managed to land the most accomplished quarterback in the history of the NFL and build a roster that many have deemed capable of winning a Super Bowl championship.
The biggest question going into this NFL season has changed from asking whether or not the dominant Kansas City Chiefs can repeat as title winners, but rather if QB Tom Brady can win one last Super Bowl without coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. My simple answer is possibly, but not very likely.
I can admit that the Bucs roster looks “legit.” From adding Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski from the Patriots to drafting OT Tristan Wirfs and S Antoine Winfield Jr, Tampa Bay has taken a big step forward to contention with this influx of talent to what was seen as an already promising roster. My real concerns as to whether or not the Buccaneers can go all the way come in the form of age, injury history, and a truly hard schedule.
Concern 1: Age
It is no secret that QB Tom Brady is nearing the end of his illustrious career. At 42 years old, we saw a notable drop off in form last season. The then-New England quarterback threw for 24 TDs and 8 INT with a QB rating of 53.7.
It is also important to note that in four out of his last five games for the Patriots, including the playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, he had an average QBR of 37.63 with a completion percentage of just over 50%.
Sure, one can argue that a lot of those glaring errors were a by-product of the lack of true weapons playing in New England last year, but I believe these numbers tell a story beyond the obvious.
Like any athlete nearing, or already in their 40’s, there will be a downward trend in overall production and play meaning even the “GOAT” will have to cope with this. No one person is immune from father time.
With this said though, I do believe there will be an uptick in his numbers next year just from the sheer presence of two-1000 yard receivers, a strong TE core (including his favorite target from years past), and a rather-promising offensive line (which still needs to prove itself).
It is important to mention that Tom Brady is not the only one facing the age dilemma on the Bucs, though. With veterans Jason Pierre Paul and Ndamukong Suh being an integral part of their defensive line and already in their 30’s, it is crucial that these two have similar seasons as last year for the team to succeed.
Concern 2: Injury history
Another essential part of success in the National Football League is staying healthy. There’s many that argue that there is no such thing as a “healthy football player,” but it is the team that is most capable of keeping their stars on the field, especially in such a physically demanding sport, that have the foundation for season-long success. Unfortunately, there are some notable injury concerns on this Tampa Bay roster.
Let’s begin with the two players I just listed as critical to the defensive line in Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh. JPP played a 10-game season last year and has dealt with nagging injuries throughout his time in Tampa. Suh, being on his way to 33 years old, may begin to see injuries become a part of his reality despite only posing two missed games throughout his career.
An obvious one comes in the form of TE Rob Gronkowski, who has yet to play a full 16 game season since 2011. Gronk actually retired after the 2018-19 season due to his many concussions and hefty injury history throughout his career.
In the games he did play in his last season for the Patriots, his receptions dropped from 69 (the year before) to 47, and his yards per game fell from 77.4 to 52.5. Being one of the many weapons on this stacked Bucs receiving core, it possible that we could see a further drop in production not to mention him inevitably missing time to injury.
Concern 3: Hard, “truly NFC” schedule
Being in the NFC South, Tampa Bay needs to play the dominant New Orleans Saints and up and coming Atlanta Falcons twice a year not to mention the Carolina Panthers who have every right to be an interesting team going into this season.
In addition, notable games for this year include Kansas City, both the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers, Minnesota, at Chicago, and at Denver, who are one of my favorites to have a “comeback” season.
Each of those teams named above are real Super Bowl and/or postseason contenders come the 2020 NFL season. Coming off a 7-9 year, the Bucs will need to truly get the best out of their team each and every game out to contend for the NFC South crown let alone make the playoffs.
I just find it hard to see continuous success for this team given their age, injury concerns, and history of underachievement in years past. I will give them the benefit of being a strong team by predicting them to have a 9-7 record that has the potential of sneaking into the playoffs now with the expanded wild card, but I find it hard to see week-to-week sustainability.
It is also hard for me to see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as true Super Bowl contenders going into the 2020 NFL season.