There are signs everywhere that the 2020 NFL season is just around the corner. Whether it’s literal signage in the form of the new player murals adorning Raymond James Stadium or the presence of football talk all over social media, it’s finally starting to feel real. Football is just a few weeks away.
Another sign that the new season is upon us? NFL preview magazines all over the shelves at local stores. I noticed that for myself when I ran to pick up some bubble wrap at Walgreens on Saturday. I noticed some of them on the shelf, and one caught my eye in particular, as its cover featured the Buccaneers’ two biggest additions of the offseason: Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.
The preview magazine was from Athlon Sports. I picked it up and decided to buy it, and after a quick glance through some of the predictions pages, it became clear that the love for Tampa Bay in 2020 is very real.
The “16 Things to Watch in 2020” section led off with back-to-back storylines concerning Brady—his reunion with Gronk and the question of who will have more success without the other: Brady of Bill Belichick. Then, there were some predictions that favored the Bucs in a pretty big way.
NFC Power Rankings? The Bucs are No. 2. Playoff Seedings? They came in at No. 5, which resulted in a Wild Card Round matchup in Dallas against the No. 4-seed Cowboys. The predictions go on to favor Tampa Bay over Dallas on the postseason’s opening weekend, then there’s a Bucs win over the No. 2-seed 49ers, giving them a trip to the NFC Championship Game. For a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs in over a decade, that’s pretty big.
However, that’s where the postseason love for Tampa Bay comes to an end. Athlon has the Bucs falling to the top-seeded Saints, who are predicted to follow up with a Super Bowl victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The division rival Saints winning a Lombardi Trophy at Raymond James Stadium? The possibility sounds like a true nightmare for Bucs fans, especially if their team just came one win away from being the first team to ever play for a Super Bowl in its home stadium.
Nightmare scenarios aside, that’s a pretty lofty prediction for the Brady-led Bucs. A trip to the NFC Championship Game, while it’s not the ultimate goal, would still be pretty special for this team. But the run ending with a loss to the Saints would probably destroy any semblance of perspective within the fan base, at least for a little while.
Beyond the playoffs, a couple of Bucs were predicted by Athlon as 2020 award winners, with Gronkowski being picked for NFC Comeback Player of the Year and Bruce Arians earning the nod for NFC Coach of the Year.
And finally, as for Athlon Sports’ “Final Analysis” of the 2020 Bucs, there’s this:
“The Bucs became instant contenders in the NFC with the signing of Brady and are expected to break their streak of 12 seasons without making the playoffs, second longest only to the Browns. Brady has a cache of weapons and a familiar target in Gronkowski. Brady will protect the football, but will the Bucs be able to protect Brady? If so, this Last Dance could be at Raymond James Stadium in Super Bowl LV.”
Thoughts on Athlon’s 2020 predictions, Bucs Nation? Even if you think they’re rubbish, at least they’re a reminder that football is—somewhat unbelievably—almost here.