Last year at this time, the NFL had just released its 256-game schedule for the fall of 2020, and the biggest question on everyone's mind was how many of those 256 games would actually get played. As it turned out, all of them did, leading to a postseason tournament that eventually crowned the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as Super Bowl LV champions.
So that was cool. This year the schedule is 272 games long, since a 17th game for each team has been added, but there is more confidence that it will go off as planned. Now, one of the bigger questions is if all the stadiums will be at full capacity. If so, there's little doubt that Raymond James Stadium is going to be full for every game as the Buccaneers seek their title defense. The champs are also likely to be a big draw on the road, and not just in Foxborough (but especially in Foxborough).
But let's say you could only be guaranteed to witness one of those 17 games. Which one would you pick? This week, Team Reporter Casey Phillips, Staff Writer Carmen Vitali and I are putting our heads together this week to discuss five different topics regarding the schedule, beginning right there: What is your most anticipated game of the regular season. Here's the Roundtable schedule for the week:
Monday, May 17: What is your most anticipated game on the Bucs' 2021 schedule?
Tuesday, May 18: Who is the top rookie opponent on the Bucs' schedule?
Wednesday, May 19: What is the most significant challenge for Tampa Bay's defense?
Thursday, May 20: What is the most significant challenge for Tampa Bay's offense?
Friday, May 21: What is the toughest stretch of games on this year's schedule?
To make things more interesting, we're going to establish a rule of no duplicating of picks, so order will matter in these Roundtables and we'll rotate that order from day to day. Casey drew pole position for this topic, with Carmen going second and me third.
So, what game on the Bucs' 2020 schedule is everyone looking forward to the most?
Casey Phillips: Week 4 at New England
Well if there was ever a time to have the first pick this was it! Considering reports indicating that this is already the most expensive regular-season game ticket ever, it's not like this was a tough choice. In years past when I've picked the matchup I was most looking forward to, it had to do with one-on-one player matchups or highly-touted draft picks I wanted to see us face. This time it's about a game that sounds like the plot of a sports movie when the whole movie has been leading up to this…big…game.
Cue dramatic movie trailer voiceover guy. The Brady-vs.-Belichick narrative has been discussed every which way to Sunday for the last year even when they weren't on the same field. Now throw in getting to watch Brady and Gronk face off against Belichick back in New England and the potential QB battle between Cam Newton and Mac Jones depending on how the Patriots season begins. All I have to say is sign me up.
Carmen Vitali: Week 1 vs. Dallas
Yeah, that was the only correct answer for the first pick, Casey. But hey, if there's a second-most obvious pick, it's likely my answer every year: the first one! There's nothing like that first-day-of-school feeling when Week One hits and this year the Bucs get to open the entire NFL season, given their defending champs status. It's also the first opportunity to defend said title and the team hasn't been shy about the fact they're 'going for two.' Heck, they brought back their entire Super Bowl-winning starting lineup just for good measure.
There is also no shortage of story lines with Dallas coming to town. Yes, Tampa Bay is 4-13 against the Cowboys all time but consider that defending champions are 18-3 in Week One since 2000. That bodes well for the Buccaneers. Also, the man under center has never lost to Dallas, touting a 5-0 record against them coming into the season opener. It'll likely also be quarterback Dak Prescott's first game back from injury, if all reports of his progress are accurate. It means he'll be facing off against the Bucs' pressure-happy defense that had the fourth-most sacks of any team last year. What a welcome back, right? Meanwhile, the Cowboys' defense is going to have to contend with Tampa Bay's potent offense that Brady now fully understands. It's going to be a good one – and it's only the beginning!
View photos of Buccaneers rookies arriving in Tampa for the first time.
Scott Smith: Week 14 vs. Buffalo Bills
Well, this seems like a tough topic to go third on but I'm secretly kind of happy about it because now I can skip over the Patriots and Cowboys game without inviting derision. See, the game that I'm actually most interested in is the Week 14 visit from the Buffalo Bills. It's obvious that I'm more excited about this one than, say, the NFL schedule-makers, since I thought it was the perfect choice for the Kickoff Game but they wanted "America's Team" to share the spotlight with the champs instead. Sigh.
Buffalo is a fascinating team. After a long, long period of irrelevance, they started to get over the hump in 2019 and then exploded into a fully-formed Super Bowl contender last year, going 13-3 as quarterback Josh Allen made one of the most remarkable season-over-season improvements you'll ever see. With his running ability and newfound accuracy, Allen figures to be one of the toughest offensive players the Bucs' defense will face all season, and like his counterpart in this game he's also surrounded with a very talented group of pass-catchers led by Stefon Diggs. I also think the Bills' defense, which was basically middle of the pack last year, will be better after addressing the pass-rush situation in the draft. What puts this over the top for me, though, is the game's date: December 12. This is where both the Bills and the Buccaneers will probably be entering the playoff stretch drive, making the game potentially critical to both conference races. We don't get to see the Bills very often at Raymond James Stadium, so it's exciting that the game will likely have such high stakes.