For the second straight season, the Buccaneers are 6-2 through eight games. After eight games of the 2020 season, they went on to lose three of their next four games to drop to 7-5 before the bye week. But this year, they get their bye in Week 9, allowing them to make some midseason adjustments before the final stretch run.
With the NFL moving to 17 regular season games this season, Tampa Bay is through roughly half of its schedule. That means the post-bye stretch run consists of nine games, five of which are away from Raymond James Stadium. The defending Super Bowl champions are in good shape at 6-2, but there’s still a long road ahead of them as they try to repeat.
Let’s take a look at which three games are the toughest on the team’s remaining slate of games:
Week 10: at Washington Football Team — 1:00 p.m.
Right out of the bye week, the Bucs head to the nation’s capital for a matchup against the Washington Football Team. It’s a rematch of the 2020 NFC Wild Card Round, and while Washington is just 2-6 on the year, this still feels like an important game for Tampa Bay. The defending champions haven’t played their best ball through eight games, but they’re still 6-2. In some ways, they will probably feel fortunate to be 6-2 given the inconsistency of the team as a whole, as well as the penalty problems and the number of injuries that have stacked up. And with their Week 8 loss in New Orleans, they hit the bye week on a down note.
With the second half of the season getting underway, the Bucs have something of a fresh start. They’ll have a chance to get healthy during the bye week, plus they’ll be looking to have the same kind of leap down the stretch that they made coming out of their bye in 2020. A year ago, Tampa Bay made adjustments during its week off and won its last four regular season games and rode that momentum to four more wins in the playoffs, leading to the franchise’s second Lombardi Trophy. This road matchup in Washington could prove tricky, especially with Ron Rivera’s team coming out of its own bye week. If the Bucs emerge with a win, they’ll be 7-2 and they’ll have the poor taste from Week 8 out of their mouths. A loss, though, would feel like a pretty big setback ahead of a Week 11 Monday Night Football game against the Giants, who always seem to play them tough.
Week 14: vs. Buffalo Bills — 4:25 p.m.
When the 2021 NFL schedule was released, this Week 14 contest between the Bucs and Bills was seen one of the marquee games of the entire season. Had things gone a bit differently in January, it could’ve been the Bills playing the Bucs for the Lombardi Trophy at Raymond James Stadium. That may not have happened, but coming into the 2021 season, many predicted a Tampa Bay vs. Buffalo matchup in this year’s Super Bowl. And that certainly could be in the cards, as these have been two of the league’s best teams so far this season. The Bills are 5-2 and the Bucs are 6-2, and the two seem like they’re on the path toward a big-time matchup in on Dec. 12.
This may not be a game that directly impacts the NFC playoff picture, but there are sure to be postseason implications involved. If everything goes according to plan, Tampa Bay might be approaching a clinching situation for the NFC South title. Not to mention, the Bucs will be looking to position themselves for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. And to have all of that on the line against one of the AFC’s favorites? That’s a tall task. Josh Allen has proven to be one of the league’s most dynamic and impressive quarterbacks, and he’s the kind of guy who will threaten Tampa Bay’s defense. Thinking back to Week 12 of 2020, the Bucs met the Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium and played a tight game that ended up being a preview of the Super Bowl in February. Might this be a preview of what’s to come in February of 2022?
Week 15: vs. New Orleans Saints — 8:20 p.m.
Just one week after a highly anticipated game against the Bills, the Bucs will complete their season series against the Saints by welcoming them in to Raymond James Stadium for a Sunday Night Football matchup. Of course, Tampa Bay hosted New Orleans on Sunday Night Football in Week 9 of the 2020 season, and no one needs a reminder of how that game went. The Bucs got the last laugh by eliminating the Saints from the playoffs en route to winning the Super Bowl, but there’s just been something about this division rivalry that has been tricky for Tom Brady and his team. The Saints swept both regular season games last year and while the NFC Divisional Round looked to be a turning point in the story between these two sides, the Bucs were once again beaten by the Saints in Week 8—and it was with third-string quarterback Trevor Siemian under center.
So, when Sean Payton and his team come to Tampa on Dec. 19, the Bucs will have something to prove. The Saints are without Jameis Winston for the rest of the season, so the team will presumably belong to Taysom Hill when this matchup rolls around. A Hill-led New Orleans team—for one reason or another—may very well give the Bucs some problems. On paper, it shouldn’t be a close game. Tampa Bay looks to be the far better team, but it will need to prove that to be the case. Where the Saints will be in terms of the playoff picture by Week 15 remains to be seen. They could ride their defense to some wins between now and December and, if that’s the case, this game will have serious NFC South implications. But even if it doesn’t and New Orleans is merely fighting for a wild card spot, the Bucs can’t afford to get swept in the season series again. They just can’t.
So, Bucs Nation, which game do you think is the biggest game left on Tampa Bay’s schedule? Let us know what you think!