Well, not a wish list per se, but hoping how the final four games of this regular season pans out.
1) Having survived the overtime scare vs. Buffalo Bills, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are now - on paper - facing the easiest part of their schedule: all three teams these last four weeks have losing records and are noticeably banged up and struggling on life support.
1a) The next team this Sunday night is the most troubling one left on the sched. New Orleans may be at 6-7 but they're also the team that upset the Bucs before the bye week, relying on yet another backup QB to humiliate the team while the Saints defense made Brady's life miserable with INTs and a late Pick-Six. Going back to the Brees era, the Saints are arguably the last remaining regular season boogeyman the Bucs have to defeat (and don't forget the playoff game was a back-and-forth battle that the Bucs could have easily lost).
It's not going to be a question of who's going to be playing QB for New Orleans this weekend. It's going to be a question of the Bucs figuring out how to get past that D to eke out a win. Good news is, the Bucs own a sizable home-field advantage and they've got extra motivation - locking down the NFC South title - to win the game.
1b) The Bucs will face one more NFC South rival in the Carolina Panthers, both away and then finishing up the regular season at home. Panthers are well dinged-up at 5-8 and struggling on offense, with Cam Newton's return to QB turning into a sad relapse of bad play. The FA they brought in - Sam Darnold - had started off so well but quickly reverted to his Jets-crushed-soul ways. They can put up a fight vs. the Bucs, but they won't have the means to keep up if Brady gets the Bucs O into high gear.
1c) Leaving us with the last team the Bucs will face, the haunted and jinxed J-E-T-S in New Jersey. Ever since that Butt Fumble, the Jets team has been in the dreaded Cycle of Rebuild, where flashy coaching hires go nowhere and flashy QB draft picks get destroyed by getting thrown out to the wolves too quickly. Jets are already 3-10 and eliminated from postseason play, struggling now to stay in the top five draft picks for 2022 just in the hopes of drafting SOMEBODY good for either offensive line or defensive backfield help. The ONLY thing the Jets will have in their favor is homefield, playing against a warm-market team like Tampa Bay in the middle of winter. And even then, the Bucs could outplay these guys...
2) So it all looks like the Bucs - currently at 10-3 - could well reach 14-3 for the best regular season ever. On paper.
Of course, "Any Given Sunday" is at play. The Saints could well give the Bucs fits again, and the Panthers could sneak out a victory (most likely at home) to make the Bucs miserable (really?) at 12-5. Which is still a good record.
2a) But the Bucs have a lot to play for now, thanks to the Rams upset of the Cardinals this past Monday. Tied for the NFC lead with Green Bay and Arizona at 10-3 each, the Bucs are currently seeded 2nd overall, giving them nice home-field advantage for the first round of playoffs and with luck the second round (Bucs have never played home twice in a postseason before, by the by).
2b) All the Bucs need to do is win ONE game to clinch the NFC South. So in that regards, the way the Bucs have played all year, the postseason is kind of a given.
Still gotta win that game, though. And in order to have a good road back to the Super Bowl, they've got to keep winning to stay ahead of Arizona or even better move ahead of Green Bay for the overall conference lead.
3) The other big news for the Bucs heading into this weekend is the closing round of Pro Bowl voting going on by fans. It usually galls me in the years the Bucs are good that so few of our players get that level of recognition, and this year it feels like we're fighting uphill to have as many Bucs players win at least a second-team roster spot even as we're the star team of the entire league.
Keep seeing too many Packers and Cowboys and Giants and Washington No-Names and... sigh, argh.
Thing is, THIS year more than any other we've got so many great players deserving of Pro Bowl love. And yet, we're likely only going to see four or five make the list, which is a shame.
3a) The only certainty for the Pro Bowl is Tom FREAKING Brady, the GOAT at Quarterback who is seriously up for vote not because of his marquee name but because he's arguably the best QB this season in the NFC (if not the NFL). He's leading the league in a number of QB stats - above all TDs - and he's been consistent all year (even in the losses). Of the possible Pro Bowlers, he's the solid lock.
3b) "Playoff Lenny" Fournette may have been off the radar a few weeks ago, but after the Bye week he's become the second most important offensive player for the Bucs, and in the process he's sneaked up into voter consideration for RB. He's close to 1000 all-purpose yards, about 220 yards away from a 1,000 yard rushing season - he could make that by the Jets game - and he's scoring enough TDs to make the highlight reels. It kind of helps that some of the other big names at RB are currently injured for the rest of the season. He might not make it, but it'll be a pleasant surprise if he does.
3c) One of the things I would LOVE seeing is any number of our offensive linesmen make this year's Pro Bowl. One of the most unheralded yet important roster spots of any team, it's been rare for a good OL for the Bucs to make ANY Pro Bowl... and this year the Bucs have THREE great O-linemen that deserve the accolade. Ali Marpet has been one of the most touted Guards since his draft pick and has lived up to those expectations, and he's deserved the Pro Bowl honor every year he's started. Ryan Jensen is one of the more recognized (albeit questionably dirty) Centers in the game and he's been a steady presence for the Bucs OL. Above all is Tristan Wirfs: praised by all sports punditry as the best Right Tackle in the game today, one of the best First Round draft picks the Bucs have made since Mike Evans (more on that later), and statistically the best OT in the league, Wirfs getting the invite would be a huge boost for the OL and a sign the Bucs are recognized by fans (at last) as a home of great players.
This is also a good time to speak well of Donovan Smith: earlier maligned in his Left Tackle career for the Bucs, he's stepped up and improved as a pass blocker now that he's playing for a QB with better decision-making and release time than Jameis. He likely won't make it, but if he gets a Pro Bowl nod it IS well-earned.
3d) Speaking of draft picks, our primary Wide Receivers - Mike Evans and Chris Godwin - have been having more career seasons for the Bucs ever since they were both drafted by the team. Evans in particular is close to having one more 1,000 yard receiving year, which would be a league record setting EIGHTH time (no other receiver has done that), speaking to his durability and his ability to catch the ball in even rough situations and bad years (cough Glennon/McCown/Jameis cough). In terms of TDs, Evans is only behind Cooper Kupp for the Rams, and in decent situation to add a few more. Godwin, meanwhile, is fourth in the league in catches made, already has a 1,000 yard season with four games to go, and is having the kind of year that will make him the most coveted free agent (AGAIN) when the offseason begins. BOTH of them deserve Pro Bowl, but the odds only favor one of them as the roster spots are tight and too many other good WRs - Kupp already mentioned, but also Justin Jefferson for the Vikings and Davante Adams for Packers - are having slightly better years.
Still, the Bucs receivers corps right now is arguably one of the best in the league, is a big reason why Brady's numbers are so good, and respect should be paid. I'd argue Godwin over Evans, but Evans is the better-known veteran and making the highlight reels with more TD catches, so...
3e) Gronk would make a nice Pro Bowl invitee but it'd be for name only: Too many other TEs in the conference - George Kittle, Kyle Pitts - are having better years.
3f) Defensively the Bucs have a number of marquee guys but the uneven play out of the unit makes this a more questionable prospect for Pro Bowl consideration. There IS a good chance DT Vita Vea could get an invite, being one of the more consistent interior defensive guys in the NFC all season and finally getting some key sack stats to impress the kids back home.
3g) One of the greatest long-standing disappointments has been the Pro Bowl overlooking Lavonte David for his entire career. Only one Pro Bowl invite in 2015, and that was as an injury replacement. Even though he's been one of the leading tacklers in the NFL nearly every season, outplaying a number of Outside Linebackers who only got in because a) they were on winning teams and b) they played in more sack-friendly defensive schemes that got them gaudier stats. In the meantime, he's outlasted nearly every OLB who blocked him from the limelight. Granted, David's not leading the NFC in many stats this year, but wouldn't it be nice if just once, the fans thought of him...?
3h) Of the defensive players who would deserve Pro Bowl consideration, I'd argue for Shaq Barrett. He's close to hitting double digits in sacks, is one of the pre-eminent pass-rushers in the NFC, and he's been one of the more consistent defensive players for the team.
3i) I doubt Ryan Succop is winning the Kicker nomination, but it'd be nice if a Mr. Irrelevant draft pick would get the Pro Bowl honors as well...
4) Let's argue that the Bucs win out, they go 14-3 for the year, secure the 2nd overall seed (losing a tiebreaker to the Packers). How would this postseason fare for the Bucs?
4a) Currently the Bucs would host a game vs. the seventh (weakest) seeded team, right now the Washington No-Names. On paper it should be an easy win over a team we beat LAST postseason on that glorious Super Bowl run, except the regular season saw the No-Names upset the Bucs coming out of their bye week with a stinging loss. Granted, the Bucs were still dinged up defensively and Gronk wasn't there for Brady when he was needed most, but this is a game the Bucs CAN'T take for granted.
4b) If we survive that round, the Second round would have the Bucs host the next-lowest seed I think (Packers as top seed would get the lowest seed, which on paper would be Dallas) meaning we host the Arizona Cardinals. It would be a crazy game, playing against a defense that blitzes a lot like we do and against an offense with a reckless QB who makes miracle plays. It'll be like playing Kansas City Chiefs, only with a more dangerous defensive front line, and it could be the toughest game to squeak out a win.
4c) If the Bucs survive THAT, it would mean making the NFC Title matchup vs. THE GREEN BAY PACKERS ON THE FROZEN TUNDRA OF LAMBEAU FIELD.
Which the Bucs won LAST time. Bring it, Tom Grossi.
4d) If the Bucs WIN the NFC, they'll be traveling to glamorous Los Angeles to play at new SoFi stadium where the Rams beat us during the regular season, only this time we'll be facing the best possible AFC team... which could well be the New England Patriots.
(long dramatic pause)
OH... MY... GOD...
The Narrative would impact the globe like a planet-killer meteor.
BRADY VS. THE HOODIE. The GOAT QB vs. His Replacement Rookie. The Team EVERYBODY Hates Forever (the hated Patriots) vs. The Team EVERYBODY Hates Now (The Brady-led Bucs).
It could be the most-watched Super Bowl of ALL TIME. Gods help us if it's a nail-biter down to the last minute of the game...
5) Meanwhile, in other NFL news: Urban Meyer Is Toast t-shirts are selling now on Zazzle.
6) In other sports news: COVID IS COMING BACK FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GO BACK INTO LOCKDOWN AND TELL THE PLAYERS TO SELF-QUARANTINE AAAAAAAAA.
7) In Hawkeye binge-watching news: YES I WAS RIGHT YES YES YES KINGPIN IS BACK BABY THE DEFENDERS ARE PART OF THE MCU OH HELL YEAH THE SEASON FINALE IS GONNA BE LIT.
8) In Spider-Man news OMFG I JUST SAW THE SPOILERS I CAN'T BELIEVE THEY (redacted for national security concerns)
See you Sunday night, kids!