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Bucs set to defend title, kick off 2021 NFL season

Mark Parker

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Chris Godwin stiff-arms a Texans defender during the last preseason game. Photo courtesy of buccaneers.com.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers kick off the NFL season next week, and with the preseason and initial roster cuts completed, here are some storylines to follow as the defending champs begin their title defense.

The Schedule:

The 2021 NFL season starts where the 2020 season ended – in Tampa.

After closing out the 2020 season by defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl at home in Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs will open the 2021 season at home against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday, Sept. 9. That contest kicks off a 273-game season, as teams are now playing 17 regular-season games for the first time. Since 2000, the defending Super Bowl champions are 18-3 in Week 1, and the game will air at 8:20 p.m. on NBC.

For the second year in a row – thanks, Tom Brady – the Bucs are scheduled for five primetime contests this season. In addition to the first game of the NFL season, Tampa Bay will travel to New England in Week 4 to take on the Patriots for Sunday Night Football. This much-anticipated matchup will feature Brady and Rob Gronkowski returning to Foxborough for the first time since they began their illustrious careers there.

The Bucs travel to Philadelphia for another Thursday night game against the Eagles in Week 6 and then host Monday Night Football at home against the Giants in Week 11. Tampa’s final primetime game comes in their second matchup with New Orleans on Sunday Night Football in Week 15. The Saints recently announced that former Buccaneer quarterback and first overall pick, Jameis Winston, will be their starter – adding to the intrigue surrounding that contest. Tampa Bay’s two-year total of 10 primetime games now equals the number they were scheduled for in the prior seven years, combined.

While there are inevitably teams that will do better or worse than expected, based on last season’s records, the Bucs have the third-easiest schedule in the NFL. The Bucs also look set to face off against eight quarterbacks that are age 25 or younger, which will surely rekindle the “old legend versus the kid that grew up watching him” storylines that were so prevalent leading up to last year’s Super Bowl. Brady, who many consider the best quarterback in history, recently celebrated his 44th birthday and is entering his 21st season – with no signs of slowing down yet.

The roster:

The Bucs released their first 53-man roster for the 2021 season Tuesday, and fans of last year’s team have a reason to rejoice as every player that contributed to the Super Bowl run will be lacing up their cleats in Tampa again this year.

After Tampa Bay’s championship boat parade, Head Coach Bruce Arians and General Manager Jason Licht promised to break the tradition of Super Bowl winners being forced to let many of their best players go. On live TV, Arians told impending free-agent wide receiver Chris Godwin, “your ass isn’t going anywhere.”

However, many assumed it was the free-flowing beer talking as success in the NFL brings turnover. Lesser known players look for a big raise and their time in the spotlight. Players who were already stars look to break the bank as championship-winning superstars. That is why Licht and the organization bringing back all 22 Super Bowl starters is not just incredible, it is also unheard of.

No team in the free-agency and salary cap era of the NFL has ever brought back all 22 starters from a championship team. The last team to accomplish this was the 1977 Oakland Raiders. The Bucs did not just bring back the Super Bowl starters, either. The team also managed to keep all 32 players that started at any point in the season, including players that did not start but were key contributors – such as wide receiver Antonio Brown.

Many have pointed to Brady as the catalyst for such a feat, as right before the start of the league’s free agency period, the seven-time champion signed a new, restructured contract that will keep him in Tampa until 2022 – and saved the Bucs $19 million against their salary cap.

“In pursuit of 8…LFG @ Buccaneers we’re keeping the band together,” Brady tweeted at the time.

The Buccaneers were not content to rest on their championship laurels, and Licht was also applauded for another promising draft class. With the last pick in the first round of the 2021 draft, the Bucs selected pass rusher Joe Tryon-Shoyinka out of the University of Washington. Many draft pundits believe Tryon-Shoyinka only fell to Tampa because he opted out of the pandemic-shortened 2020 college season. He has been impressive in the preseason, and his coaches and teammates have been raving about his potential.

“Joe is going to be amazing,” said fellow defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul to ESPN. “He’s doing amazing stuff out there.”

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers open the 2021 season, they will look to become just the eighth team in the last 56 years to repeat as champions. The most recent team to go back to back was in 2003-2004 when the New England Patriots – led by Tom Brady – accomplished the feat.

 

 

 

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