Amid the ongoing pandemic, the NFL has taken the “business as usual” approach as much as possible. That has meant going through with free agency, holding a virtual draft and—from what it seems—releasing the 2020 regular season schedule next weekend as planned.
At least, that’s the plan as of this writing, despite questions from health leaders and government officials about potentially going without sports for a while longer. Brian McCarthy from the NFL’s public relations team tweeted this on Wednesday:
Should be out by May 9th as we've said. Kickoff slated for Sept. 10 and the 101th season concludes w/ Super Bowl LV in Tampa on Feb. 7, 2021. https://t.co/8YizywybGJ— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) April 29, 2020
If we’re gonna assume it’s business as usual for now with the NFL, let’s stick with business as usual here on Bucs Nation, shall we? With the schedule dropping next week, we don’t have much more time to speculate about the Buccaneers’ slate. Of course, we’ve known the opponents for months now, but we’ll find out the order of them soon, as well as the dates and times. And lumped in with dates and times, we’ll find out which games will be played in prime time.
Tampa Bay hasn’t been all that spotlight-worthy for quite some time, so most years, we see the team in one—or maybe two—prime slots. It’s usually the standard Thursday Night Football game and then, some years, perhaps a Monday Night Football matchup.
But things are changing this year on that front. The Bucs went out and signed Tom Brady to be their new quarterback. Enough said, right? Just for good measure, too, they went ahead and traded for Rob Gronkowski, Brady’s trusty tight end who spent 2019 in retirement. Brady was already going to get Tampa in the prime-time spotlight. Gronk just adds to the team’s hype.
So, what’s this schedule going to look like? For one, we can be sure that there won’t be any crazy long stretches away from Raymond James Stadium like there was in 2019. The league already said after that scheduling debacle that it wouldn’t happen again. Now, with Brady on board? It DEFINITELY won’t happen again.
Beyond that, it’s safe to assume we can expect a lot of prime-time games for the Bucs. But which ones? Let’s take some guesses...
Kansas City Chiefs (Home)
This feels like a pretty safe bet for a prime-time slot. Tom Brady matching up against Patrick Mahomes? The (presumably) now-contending Bucs against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs? That’s a draw. I’m expecting this game to be placed somewhere in the earlier part of the schedule to maximize interest. Because, if for some reason, something goes wildly wrong and the Brady/Bucs hype fades, this won’t have as much drawing power in the latter part of the year. And while there’s plenty of star power here for Monday Night Football, this feels like a big-time Sunday Night Football game. Ooooooooh Sunday niiiight... (They’ve got to bring that back).
My Prediction: Sunday Night Football
New Orleans Saints (Home)
From the moment that Brady signed with Tampa Bay, the fact that we’ll get two Tom Brady vs. Drew Brees meetings per year became a hot topic. These are two absolute legends and surefire Hall of Famers battling for the NFC South crown in the final stage of their respective careers. Not to mention, the existing bad blood/divisional “rivalry” between the Bucs and Saints makes this even bigger. I think both Tampa Bay-New Orleans matchups will be considered must-watch television in 2020, so it’s somewhat of a coin flip as to which night either ends up on. It’s a pure guess, but I could see the meeting at Raymond James Stadium being earlier in the year and with the novelty of it being the first divisional Brady vs. Brees tilt, I’ve got this one wrapping up the weekend on ESPN.
My Prediction: Monday Night Football
New Orleans Saints (Away)
I figured we should go back-to-back here. I really do feel like both Bucs-Saints meetings will be highly anticipated. Obviously both fan bases are already chomping at the bit to see these two sides go at it, but I think there’s enough national interest for both games to be in prime time. Now, maybe they make the first one a prime-time Monday Night Football game and leave the other one as a potential flex game so that they can decide what to do with it after they see how the initial matchup and the race for the division goes. That might make more sense, really, but I’m not here to make sense. I’m here for the hype. And a potential late-season game between these two teams in the Superdome—with potential playoff implications— has intrigue written all over it. Give me that prime-time slot for this one too.
My Prediction: Sunday Night Football
Green Bay Packers (Home)
This is an interesting one as well, considering it gives us another marquee quarterback showdown: Tom Brady against Jordan Love. I’ve been dreaming about this one for years. ... I’m kidding, of course (for now). Brady against Aaron Rodgers is as prime-time as it gets. There’s obviously the added history between Tampa Bay and Green Bay dating back to the NFC Central days, which is bound to come up on the broadcast. This one I’m less sure about, however, as I could see this being scheduled for a 4:25 p.m. kickoff as one of the FOX Game of the Week matchups. But we’ve got to get a Thursday game on the list and this feels like a step up from the usual Thursday Night Football duds we’ve grown accustomed to. Let’s go for it.
My Prediction: Thursday Night Football
Las Vegas Raiders (Away)
Truthfully, I could’ve stopped after the first four. I’m not all that sure the Bucs will get FIVE prime-time games—Brady or no Brady. But this is one that’s been speculated about for a little while now, and for whatever reason, I’m buying into it. The NFL would love for the Raiders’ Las Vegas debut to be watched by as many people as possible. That’s why a Week 1 Monday Night Football game that features Brady’s regular season Bucs debut and the Raiders’ first home game in Vegas makes so much sense. Plus, there’s the added storyline about Tampa Bay looking to step back up to contender status and going for its first win against the team it beat to win its only Lombardi Trophy. I’m not 100% on this one, but it seems possible.
My Prediction: Monday Night Football
And that’s it for the true prime-time games. To recap, these projections feature two games on Sunday Night Football, two on Monday Night Football and one on Thursday Night Football. That being said, it certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see some FOX Game of the Week appearances for the Bucs too, maybe against the Vikings or Rams at home? Or perhaps against the Falcons, Panthers or Giants on the road? There’s bound to be a flex game late in the season as well. Regardless, we’ll probably be seeing a lot of the Bucs in the national spotlight.
One bonus feeling that I have and could see as a possibility is a Thanksgiving Day trip for Tampa Bay to Detroit. The Lions are on the road schedule and always have a Thanksgiving afternoon home game. Maybe the league likes the idea of putting the Brady-led Bucs on that stage.
The good thing about all of this speculation is that we should have our answers soon. But before that schedule drops, we want to hear your thoughts, Bucs fans! Which games do you think are going to be given prime-time slots? Let us know what you think in the comments down below.