The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are facing a decision many teams hope to have to make in late December - or early January as it is this season. Do you play your starters having already clinched a playoff spot, or do you rest them to ensure you have the healthiest team possible entering post-season play?
“We’re going to play to win,” Arians said on Monday when asked about possibly resting his starters for Week 17. “Eleven and five, that’s very rare. To have a chance to get to 11-5, keep that seeding – we want that seeding just for pride. We don’t care who we play, it’s more for pride. I’d probably have to beat some guys in the head with a stick to try and get them not to play anyway. I talked to them about it before and [they said], ‘I’m playing.’ We’re going to practice and play like everything depends on it. It’s not going to be an easy game, either.”
Rare is a good word to use here. It’s rare for the Buccaneers to play in the postseason. In their 45th season in play, Tampa Bay is headed to the NFL Playoffs for just the eleventh time. That’s less than 25% of their franchise’s existence which has resulted in tournament play.
2020 represents the Bucs’ thirteenth-year finish above .500, a winning season rate that falls shy of 30%. Just eight times (18%) in franchise history have the Buccaneers enjoyed a double-digit win season.
The numbers only get smaller as Tampa Bay has enjoyed just two eleven win seasons and only one twelve win year. Of course, the twelve wins also came with a Super Bowl Championship, so that one literally stands alone in Bucs history.
As it stands, in Arians’ second-year as head coach, his team has secured the franchise’s fifth ten-win season. A win over the Atlanta Falcons would be the first sweep of that specific divisional rival since 2015 and would give Tampa Bay their third eleven-win campaign.
Oh, it would also secure them the fifth seed in the NFC Playoffs, and book them a trip to either New York, Dallas, or Washington D.C. depending on the outcome of the NFC East Divisional race.
They could clinch the fifth seed in another way as well, but why leave things to chance? Arians isn’t a coach known for relying on the other guys to find his success, and neither is his quarterback.
People can say a lot of things about Tom Brady, but saying he’s been handed anything would be a gross misrepresentation of the greatest quarterback - possibly ever - but definitely drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft.
A lot of you have probably heard of the Brady six (referring to the six quarterbacks selected before Brady in 2000), but did you know the 43-year old is also the ninth-leading rusher from the class of 2000? He’s also seventh in rushing touchdowns from that year’s draft.
The quarterback who wasn’t celebrated in Ann Arbor until he was a Super Bowl Champion and blossoming legend, drafted in the sixth round, and relatively unknown was never supposed to step on the field in 2001. But once he did, he wasn’t going to leave it without a fight. Something Ronde Barber talked about during his Buccaneers Ring of Honor press conference as well.
Even with all he’s accomplished he’s still surprising people, including the head coach who brought him in for a shared late-career run at the title.
“It’s amazing because when you’re out there watching him in practice,” Arians said of his 43-year old quarterback. “...you’re like, ‘This guy looks like he’s 30, maybe 33 at most.’ It’s just amazing watching him practice and the way he works so hard at taking care of himself. That’s not easy at 43, taking a few shots – hopefully not too many – and moving on. It’s really amazing to me. He really is a freak of nature in that regard.”
Brady’s scrappy mentality helped him succeed when nobody expected him to, and it made him the spirit animal for many New Englanders over the past twenty years. It’ll also help the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finish the season strong, even as many of them prepare for their first playoff appearance, ever.
For Tristan Wirfs, Antoine Winfield Jr, and even guys like Devin White and Jamel Dean, making the playoffs in their first or second seasons in the NFL is what they dreamed of. Perhaps it’s even what they expected.
There are guys on the team though, who have had to wait for their chance at the postseason. Lavonte David is in his ninth season. Once again a Pro Bowl snub, the All-Pro caliber linebacker is almost 31-years old as he stands on the cusp of his first career playoff game.
Mike Evans is looking to surpass Randy Moss in consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons to begin his career. In the first six years, Moss notched 1,000-yards receiving he was a Pro Bowler five times, First Team All-Pro three times, and made three trips to the NFL Playoffs.
Evans has three Pro Bowl appearances, no first-team selections, and well - no playoff experience.
Not every good player gets to play on a good team. And when it comes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, hope and hype often outweigh the results and production.
The coach wants to win in Week 17. He understands how important it is to enter the postseason as winners. Tampa Bay went 3-1 in the first two-quarters of the season before going 1-3 in the third. Closing out the fourth quarter with a 4-0 record means more than just beating the Falcons. It helps to turn winning into a habit.
In his 21st season in the NFL, Brady has been to the playoffs seventeen times and is on his way to his eighteenth trip, but his first in the NFC.
As much as things change, a lot of things stay the same. Brady’s franchise and teammates may not know the feeling of winning and competing for a Super Bowl Championship as well as he does.
But it’s his experience they’ll lean on most. His drive to win with the knowledge of past successes the team will use to fuel their own push towards the top. It’s the fact Tom Brady is still a sixth-round pick looking to prove everyone wrong.
There are many reasons why the quarterback is always the most important player on the field, but for Week 17 - and beyond - those reasons are why Tom Brady is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers X-Factor.