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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Buccaneers-Vikings: Top Storylines & Key Matchups in Week One

The Bucs kick off their 2023 regular season with a trip to Minnesota, where they'll unveil a new offense with Baker Mayfield at the helm, and where their defense will have to contend with the NFL's most prolific receiver


The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will launch their 2023 regular season on Sunday, September 10 with a road game against the Minnesota Vikings. Kick off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. ET at U.S. Bank Stadium, and the game will be broadcast locally by CBS.

The Buccaneers enter a new era after three playoff seasons and a Super Bowl victory with Tom Brady at the helm of the offense. Baker Mayfield won a training camp competition with a very game Kyle Trask to be the starting quarterback that follows the now-retired Brady, and he'll look to prove that a strong preseason performance was a harbinger of good things to come in the regular season.

Tampa Bay's defense, which finished ninth in the NFL in both total yards and passing yards allowed last year, will get an early test from a Kirk Cousins-led offense that put up the sixth-most passing yards in the league. With Shaq Barrett back to full health after his 2022 Achilles tendon injury and several new pieces added to the defensive front, the Bucs will try to limit the amount of time Cousins has to locate such weapons as Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson and rookie Jordan Addison.

Here are four major storylines and four head-to-head player battles to keep an eye on as the Bucs get their 2022 campaign underway in Minneapolis this weekend.


Time to Bake – Baker Mayfield is set to become the 21st quarterback to make a Week One start in Buccaneers history. He is immediately succeeding the most famous and accomplished of those 20 previous men, Tom Brady, but the Buccaneers are not asking to him to be the G.O.A.T. 2.0. They do think Mayfield's skillset is a good fit for an offense that isn't asking him to be a hero. The Bucs would be thrilled to get the version of Mayfield that produced a 26-8 touchdown-interception ratio for a playoff-bound Browns team in 2020. Offensive Coordinator Dave Canales believes Mayfield can succeed and the offense can thrive if the quarterback goes for the big plays at just the right moments but otherwise just distributes the ball as asked. "That's what I've been trying to sell to him — just be special " many times," said Canales, holding his fingers about an inch apart. "Be special in those small moments. Otherwise, just throw it to the open guy. Just check it down to the [running] back, make those decisions, play good football, and then when they put their gloves down, knock them out." He'll get his first Buccaneer start against a Vikings' defense that has completely reworked its secondary after allowing the second-most passing yards in 2022.

Pressure Points – After finishing the 2022 season with a very thin depth chart at outside linebacker, the Buccaneers addressed that issue in a number of ways – helping Shaquil Barrett and Cam Gill return from season ending knee injuries, re-signing potential free agent Anthony Nelson, selecting Louisville's Yaya Diaby in the third round of the draft and unearthing an undrafted gem in Charlotte's Markees Watts. Now they believe their edge rush group is one of the deepest spots on the depth chart, and indeed they went very heavy there with a half-dozen of them on the 53-man roster. Now, of course, those six have to demonstrate that the Bucs work has paid off with a more robust pass rush from the outside, after a 2022 season in which their leading sack artist was nose tackle Vita Vea, who had 6.5. Back from his Achilles tendon tear, Barrett appears ready to return to his 2019-21 form, when he racked up 41.5 sacks (playoffs included), third-most in the NFL in that span. The Bucs are also optimistic that 2021 first-round pick Joe Tryon-Shoyinka is going to take a big step forward in his third season by converting more of his pressures into actual sacks. The Vikings ranked 16th in sacks allowed per pass play last season.

Justin Jefferson, Job One – The Buccaneers have an opportunity to spoil the beginning of the season for millions of football fans…specifically those who are also fantasy football fanatics. The consensus top pick in fantasy drafts this year, Jefferson is a hot commodity because he is so unfailingly productive; his 4,825 career receiving yards are the most ever for a player through his first three NFL seasons, and last year he topped 100 yards in 11 of the Vikings' 17 games. There are other notable weapons in Minnesota's passing attack – T.J. Hockenson just landed a huge new contract and the Vikings used their first-round draft pick this year to replace Adam Thielen with USC's Jordan Addison – but there's no doubt that Jefferson is Kirk Cousins' top option. A year ago, Jefferson opened his All-Pro campaign by torching the Packers to the tune of 184 yards and two touchdowns as the Vikings ran away with a 23-7 win. The Buccaneers have a talented secondary featuring top-notch starting corners in Jamel Dean and Carlton Davis, both of whom have shown the ability to put the clamps on some of the best individual receivers in the game. They may not face a stiffer challenge the rest of the season, however, and containing Jefferson would give the Bucs a much better chance of starting the season 1-0.

Rebuilt Transmission – Offensive lines are often referred to as the "engines" of NFL offenses, as they provide the power that gets the wheels spinning. The Buccaneers spent the offense under the hood, refining the motor with a nearly complete overhaul of the starting lineup. Ryan Jensen's seemingly successful return from the knee injury that erased his 2022 season stalled out during training camp and he will spend this year on injured reserve. That makes center Robert Hainsey the only starting lineman from last year's opener to be in the same spot to open 2023. All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs has moved to the left side, 2022 second-round pick Luke Goedeke has kicked out to right tackle and the Bucs brought in two new guards in former Charger Matt Feiler and second-round rookie Cody Mauch. Tampa Bay allowed the fewest sacks per pass play in the NFL last season – admittedly with Brady frequently relying on quick-release passes – but finished dead last in the run-game rankings. This new starting five will be asked to operate quite a bit differently than last year, with a more varied run scheme that involves lateral movement on wide and mid-zone plays and a passing attack that will sometimes have the quarterback on the move as well. Few suspect Wirfs will have any trouble adjusting to his new position, but it's fair withhold judgement for a week or two on Goedeke and Mauch in their new spots given their relative lack of NFL experience.


1. Vikings WR Justin Jefferson vs. Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean

Jefferson is a challenge for the entire Tampa Bay defense, not just Dean, and it's always possible the Bucs will choose to shadow him from side to side with Carlton Davis. However, assuming the Bucs deep Dean and Davis on their respective sides, the former may see more of Jefferson, who took 59% of his snaps on the left side of the Vikings' offensive formation in 2022. According to safety Antoine Winfield Jr., Jefferson is a problem because he does everything well, and one of his greatest strengths is his route-running, which allows him to even beat the frequent double teams he sees. The Viking pass-catcher is a master at disguising where he's planning to go until the last second, so Dean will have to be on his toes to stick with him in man coverage. Dean does have excellent speed, which could allow him to catch up if Jefferson gets past him on a deep route. It's a sneakily powerful matchup – Jefferson led the NFL in receiving yards over expected in 2022, with an incredible 413, but Dean allowed the fifth-fewest receiving yards (386) among cornerbacks as the nearest defender.

2. Buccaneers T Tristan Wirfs vs. Vikings OLB Danielle Hunter

As noted above, Wirfs has a new challenge in 2023 after completely dominating at right tackle for his first three NFL seasons. He's now protecting Baker Mayfield's blind side and will be dealing with a quarterback likely to move around a lot more than Brady did in his Buccaneers stint. Wirfs is huge and powerful as a run-blocker but light on his feet in pass protection and a technician with his arm and hand placement. Hunter, who led the Vikings in 2022 with 10.5 sacks, is a savvy veteran edge rusher who has 71 sacks in 102 career games and 73 starts. Hunter rushed from both ends of the line last year, so he'll be an issue for right tackle Luke Goedeke, too, but the Wirfs-Hunter reps should be among the most hard-fought of the game. Hunter generated 53 quarterback pressures in 2022 and forced three turnovers from pressuring the quarterback.

3. Vikings C Garrett Bradbury vs. Buccaneers NT Vita Vea

The Buccaneers didn't necessarily want their top sack producer in 2022 to be their nose tackle, but they certainly didn't mind seeing Vea reach a career high 6.5 in that category one season after making his first Pro Bowl. The former 12th-overall pick is a load for any opposing lineman, and now he's got an electric new running mate in 2023 first-rounder Calijah Kancey. Vea moves surprisingly well for a 347-pound lineman when rushing the passer and is otherwise difficult for blockers to move off his spot. The Bucs are determined to return to the defensive form that saw them allow the fewest rushing yards in the league from 2019-21 before a slip down to the middle of the rankings last year, and that effort will begin up front with Vea. Bradbury also has first-round pedigree, going 18th overall in 2019 and settling in immediately as the Vikings starting center. He has opened all 57 games in which he's played since entering the league, though he did miss a handful of contests due to injuries in each of the last two seasons. Formerly a tight end, Bradbury is a very athletic center who moves fluidly and can get to the second level to contribute additional blocks in the rushing attack.

4. Buccaneers RB Rachaad White vs. Vikings LB Brian Asamoah

A third-round draft pick out of Oklahoma in 2022, Asamoah played only 119 snaps of defense as a rookie and did not make a start. However, after releasing longtime defensive linchpin Eric Kendricks in March the Vikings are turning to the second-year player as their starting middle linebacker. Minnesota's inside linebackers coach, Mike Siravo, calls Asamoah a "gifted athlete" who can be used all over the field, but one of his main tasks on Sunday will be containing White, the Buccaneers lead back. White will be seeing an increase in his playing time, too, as the clear number one after a rookie season in which he split time down the middle with Leonard Fournette. White is a patient runner who lets his blocks develop and then has the burst to get through to the next level. Asamoah has the speed to match White, and he's got Dean Lowry and Harrison Phillips up front to keep blockers off of him. The Buccaneers will be trying to establish a more productive rushing attack in 2022 to achieve offensive balance, and they believe White has star capability in their new offensive system.

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