The 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers famously won their last eight games, from the regular season into the playoffs, on their way to the Super Bowl LV championship, firing on all cylinders on both offense and defense through that stretch.
Right before that heady run, though, the Buccaneers hit some rough waters. The team had rushed out to a 6-2 start in Tom Brady's first season at the helm of the offense and appeared to be emerging as true title contenders. That idea was muted a month later after the Buccaneers had lost to the Saints, Rams and Chiefs during a 1-3 run that led into their Week 13 bye.
In retrospect, that was always going to be a challenging part of the schedule. The Chiefs were the NFL's defending champions, the Saints had recently become the Buccaneers' own boogeyman and the Rams were loaded with star-level talent and in clear win-now mode.
The Buccaneers survived that month-long dip, obviously, and came out the other end stronger than ever. However, had they won a few more of those games they might have had an easier path in the playoffs and perhaps even a division title. There's no use wasting time worrying about that now – there's a Lombardi Trophy that needs polishing – but the upcoming season could be defined by how well the Buccaneers handle another difficult stretch like that one in 2020.
And that's what Staff Writer/Reporter Brianna Dix, Digital Contributor Amy Schwartz and I are here to determine in our latest Roundtable discussion regarding the Buccaneers' 2022 schedule. Where does danger await the team and its playoff hopes? When will the players and coaches need to dig the deepest? Which portion of the schedule, once completed, will give the Buccaneers that just-finished-our-college-exams sense of relief?
This is the fourth of our five Roundtables so far. Here's schedule for the whole series:
Friday, May 13: What is your*most anticipated game*on the Bucs' 2022 schedule?
Monday, May 16: What is*one thing you would change*about the Bucs' schedule if you had the power?
Tuesday, May 17: What one thing would you most like to*thank the NFL schedule makers*for this year?
Wednesday, May 18: What is the toughest stretch of games on this year's schedule?
Thursday, May 19: Who is the top rookie the Buccaneers will face on their 2022 schedule.
In order to get a wider variety of responses, we have established the rule that picks cannot be duplicated among the three of us…and we totally violated that rule this time around. Given the very obvious top answer and the difficulty of finding two others to compete, I gave the green light to my two co-conspirators to back each other up. So it's not as critical, but we have rotated back to Brianna on top, with Amy batting second and me in the three-hole.
So please get this discussion started, Brianna? Where is the biggest test on this 2022 Bucs schedule?
Brianna Dix: Week One-Four Stretch
This is certainly the most obvious choice but it is, in my opinion, the hellacious stretch of the 2022 season. In the first four games, the Buccaneers play at Cowboys in Week One, at home against the Packers in Week Three and at home against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week Four sandwiched around a road trip to New Orleans to play a Saints team in Week Two that has had their number over the previous two seasons. All three present marquee matchups but daunting opponents to face in such a short timeframe. As a result of winning the NFC South crown last season, the Buccaneers receive games against other division-winners, including three in the first four games: Cowboys, Packers, and Chiefs.
Having to play both Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes, both regarded as top five quarterbacks in the league, in back-to-back games is a fearsome feat. That is quite the preparation for the team's new head coach, Todd Bowles, not to mention a challenging test for the Bucs' defense over the first month of the 2022 schedule. How they fare in the first four games of the season will be a telling factor in their chances for another Lombardi Trophy. In Week One, the Cowboys will be out for revenge from the season opener at Raymond James Stadium last season, won with a game-ending field goal by Ryan Succop. Dallas opted for a pass-heavy attack against Vita Vea and company, with Dak Prescott throwing 58 times for 403 yards. This year they will have home field advantage with a bolstered offensive line post-draft. The opener, along with the other three, will gauge where the Buccaneers are in their boosted secondary.
Week Four presents a rematch of Super Bowl LV, when the Buccaneers' four-man rush harassed Mahomes in the pocket for four quarters. The sequel is set in a prime-time slot as the anticipation builds for the contest. Despite the discussions surrounding the other heavy hitters, do not forget the Saints in Week Two, the team that has been the Bucs' kryptonite the past couple of years during the regular season. As a new era dawns with Bowles and Dennis Allen wearing the headset, the chess match begins. To be the best, you must beat the best. However, that reality kicks in sooner for the Buccaneers in 2022.
Amy Schwartz: Week One-Four Stretch
I have to echo Brianna on this one because the first four weeks of the season will by far be the biggest test for the Buccaneers this season. The schedule makers didn't take it easy on the Bucs and instead gave them the opportunity to face three of the biggest names in the NFL to start the season. The Buccaneers will have little room for error facing the Cowboys, Saints, Packers and Chiefs in just four weeks.
While these games will be some of the most exciting games of the season, they also have the potential to set the tone for the entire season. New Head Coach Todd Bowles and the Bucs begin their season on the road for back-to-back weeks facing three 2021 playoff teams in a four-week stretch. The Bucs won't open their home season until week three when they face the Green Bay Packers at Raymond James Stadium for the first time since the 2020 playoff run.
I see this first stretch of games as the biggest obstacle the Buccaneers will have to face this season ahead of the playoffs. In a way, this tough slate of opponents could be a measuring stick for just how successful the Bucs can be down the stretch of the season. While this will prove to be a challenge, I like that the Bucs will check these tough opponents off the schedule early.
Scott Smith: Weeks Eight-10
I'm not going to say that Brianna and Amy are wrong because I'm not blind. In fact, by strength of schedule, the Buccaneers have the hardest first four weeks of the season of any team in the NFL. Dak, Pat and ARod pretty much says it all, and that's not even including a trip to the hated Superdome.
I'm just going to say that I am also right, because the challenges keep coming on this schedule and one of the pivotal parts of the season will come right dead at its center, in Weeks Eight to 10.
It all starts with the Bucs' only Thursday night game of the season, which means this is the only time the team will play on a very short schedule. No matter the opponent, that adds a level of difficulty to the proceedings, but in this case the Bucs are going to be getting ready for one of the NFL's most unique tests, stopping Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. That such a challenge comes on a short week makes it doubly difficult.
As Brianna pointed out in a previous Roundtable, the NFL's schedule makers did the Buccaneers a little bit of a favor by putting the trip to Los Angeles right after this game. Yes, it will help that Tampa Bay has three extra days to rest up (the players) and game plan (the coaches) for the Rams, it's still the Rams, who are not only the defending champs but also the only team other than New Orleans that seems to have the Bucs' number right now.
And you know what comes next? A 4,991-mile road trip. The Buccaneers are understandably thrilled to be the designated team for the NFL's first game ever in Germany, with Seattle as the opponent, but that doesn't make a couple of 10-and-a-half hour flights any easier. All three of these games are wonderful individually in terms of giving the Bucs exposure and lining up some of the most interesting opponents, but all also bring their own specific challenges and lining them up in a row creates a very difficult stretch on the 2022 schedule.