December is already the most important month of football for teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With all the pressure mounting in the world, the last thing a team like this one needs is distractions.
Yet, that’s what they have. But aren’t giving in to, according to their head coach.
“You start thinking about other things and you (will) have to win (the division) next week,” Arians said. “But we don’t have any problem focusing for the Saints - that’s for sure.”
What are these ‘other things’?
From a league-wide standpoint, the spread of COVID-19 has once again caused a reshuffling of schedules.
No games moved to later weeks, but the Las Vegas Raiders, Cleveland Browns, Washington Football Team, Philadelphia Eagles, Seattle Seahawks, and Los Angeles Rams have all had their games shifted to later in the week than originally planned.
Good news for football fans who now have two games to watch on Tuesday. Both with playoff implications.
Bad news for NFL franchises trying to keep their teams on a playoff track, while surviving the world of protocols and viral testing.
Arians wasn’t shaken by the developing situation, and is confident his team won’t be either.
“It’s really no news for us,” Arians said when asked about reacting to the enhanced protocols handed down from the league this week. “We’ve been doing a lot of these protocols anyway – on the road especially. For us, I welcome it. Our team knows how to do it. They conquered it last year and did a hell of a job with it. It’s really just whatever the league wants, we’ll figure it out.”
Perhaps an understated factor of bringing back so many players from 2020 is they all went through the worst of it together. Doing it again will feel more like familiar grounds.
Closer to home, the Bucs have plenty going on to potentially pull their attention from New Orleans and the task at hand.
Injuries to Jamel Dean, Leonard Fournette, and others threaten their ability to put the best product on the field in the first place.
Dean is already ruled out for Sunday, while Arians said, “He’ll play,” when it came to Fournette.
Just how effective the running back will be, is the question still to be answered.
Then there’s the Antonio Brown (and Mike Edwards) sized elephant in the room.
Speaking of COVID-19 and player availability, these two roll all of what’s happening in December into a nice suspended package, landing right on the doorstep of coach Arians and his Buccaneers.
But it seems the head coach already knows what’s coming.
“It’s just a matter of making a statement,” Arians said Friday when asked about the decisions to be made about Brown and Edwards’ futures with the team. “Whether I do it before this game or after, we’ll wait and see. I don’t want anything to be a distraction from this game.”
And a distraction it won’t be.
Win or lose, NFC South Champions or not, Arians will be asked about it again Sunday night after the game.
But the game comes first. And part of me hopes he makes us wait until Monday to find out, especially if Tampa Bay clinches its first NFC South title since 2007 while snapping a five-game regular-season losing streak to the New Orleans Saints.
There’s a lot happening around the league, and around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Thankfully, a lot of it is happening outside of the 52 men, and their coaches, who will take the field this Sunday night.
And all of them, have their focus right where it should be.