The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the Seattle Seahawks at Munich's Allianz Arena on Sunday in the first NFL regular-season game ever played in Germany. It's an important game for the NFL, which continues its efforts to spread America's most popular sport around the globe.
The Buccaneers' know that effort is important and are glad to be a part of it, but this game would have been a crucial one for them whether it was played in Tampa, Seattle or overseas. The Bucs have struggled more than expected, particularly on offense, and are around the midway point of the season with a 4-5 record, albeit one that is good enough for first place in the division. Tampa Bay broke a three-game losing streak last Sunday with a thrilling comeback win over the Rams and now hope they can use that outcome as a turning point for a season that still has championship aspirations. They want to 'stack' some wins, and that seems particularly with the bye week waiting on the Bucs' flight back over the Atlantic Sunday night.
"I think the frustrating part is we just haven't played to the way we're capable of playing, and that's for a number of different reasons," said quarterback Tom Brady at a packed press conference on the FC Bayern Campus Friday afternoon. "This is a very important game for us. We have a bye week after this and it gives you a chance to kind of evaluate where you're at, and I'd much rather evaluate being 5-5 then 4-6. So we've got to just win this game and it will take care of that, but Seattle's going to challenge us. They have very talented players, good skill players, they're great on defense, they're creating a lot of sacks and turnovers. It's a very good team and it's going to be a very tough, hard-nosed game."
In contrast to the Bucs' struggles, the Seahawks are riding a four-game winning streak into Germany and are in first place in the NFC West by a game and a half. If Tampa Bay has failed – so far – to meet preseason expectations, the Seahawks have exceeded theirs after trading away franchise quarterback Russell Wilson in the offseason. While Wilson and his new team, the Broncos, have stumbled to a 3-5 start, Geno Smith has taken over under center for the Seahawks and produced a sparkling 107.2 passer rating, third-best in the league.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 10 practice in Germany.
"He's making great decisions," said Brady of his Seattle counterpart. "He's passing the football very well; guys that are open, he's getting the ball to them. He hasn't had too many turnovers. He has enough athletic ability to extend some plays. I think they're doing a good job running the ball, throwing the ball. They've got DK [Metcalf], Tyler [Lockett] – they've got some really talented players. It's a very good football team. I've got a lot of history with Seattle, too."
Brady's final comments might be referring primarily to Super Bowl XLIX at the end of the 2014 season, which his Patriots won, 28-24, over Seattle, preventing the Seahawks from recording back-to-back championships. Much has changed in the eight years since. Smith was with the Jets in 2014, working uphill against Brady's usually dominant Patriots in the AFC East. Brady, of course, was still six years away from starting a new chapter in his NFL career in Tampa and immediately winning his seventh Super Bowl. And the NFL wasn't close to staging a regular-season game in Germany.
Brady says the specifics don't matter, however, and that Sunday's game would be a challenge no matter the venue.
"I think playing well is playing well, it doesn't matter where you're at, what stadium, what country," he said. "For us it's going to come down to how well we do our job. We've talked about execution quite a bit lately. This is a good team, they're good in all three phases of the game, so we're going to be challenged. They've got a lot of good skill players, Geno is playing great, they're very well-coached, a good team. We're going to have to bring our best."