It’s the start of a new NFL season. Thursday night, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, with things looking very different to when we were last there for Super Bowl LV seven months ago.
Firstly, and most notably following the Covid-affected 2020 season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will begin their title defence in front of a full house of fans when they kick off against the Dallas Cowboys.
September 10, 2021, 1:10am
Covid is still here and, despite some teams’ best efforts to get their playing staff fully vaccinated, it will still no doubt be a factor in 2021. But, after a year of football being played in front of vast, empty stadiums and cardboard cut-outs of The Rock and Queen Elizabeth II, fans being back is a beautiful thing.
Man it was good to watch football tonight. Defending champs looked great, all players kicked ass, that 17,000 made some noise 👏🏾 and my unique relationship with the Queen was revealed 🤣
Welcome back @NFL, coaches and especially, the players. ✊🏾🥃 🏈 https://t.co/5MMpQqGV8J
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) September 11, 2020
Also, this year, the numbers have changed; running backs, receivers, linebackers and defensive backs are now all allowed to wear any number between 1 and 49.
You’ll have DeSean Jackson wearing No 1, with fellow wideout Robert Woods No 2, while safety Jordan Fuller sports No 4 and cornerback Jalen Ramsey No 5. And that’s just for the Rams, let alone the confusion that will reign when added to the other 31 teams.
You have Matthew Stafford now the quarterback in Los Angeles too, following a blockbuster offseason trade from Detroit. Dak Prescott is back from injury for Dallas, as is Joe Burrow for Cincinnati and Christian McCaffrey for Carolina, where he will team up with former Jets quarterback Sam Darnold. Carson Wentz, meanwhile, has made the switch from Philadelphia to Indianapolis.
The Drew Brees-less Saints enter the ‘eating-a-W’ era of Jameis Winston in New Orleans; Ryan Fitzpatrick has another new team, upping sticks to Washington this season. Julio Jones is now a Titan, A.J. Green and J.J. Watt are now Cardinals and Cam Newton doesn’t even have a team, axed by the Patriots.
But, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And Tom Brady is, once again, a Super Bowl champion!
Brady won his seventh ring in 2020, his first season in Tampa Bay, as the Bucs bullied the Kansas City Chiefs to triumph 31-9 in Super Bowl LV. And he’s back again in 2021, now at the grand old age of 44, and with Tampa returning all 22 of their Super Bowl starters.
While the Chiefs’ win over the San Francisco 49ers in the title game the year before appeared to herald the dawn of a new era, the creation of a new dynasty, Brady proved – yet again – that this is still his league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Tale of the Tape
Leading the Bucs to an 11-5 record in his first season in Florida, Brady threw for 4,633 yards – the fifth-highest mark of his storied NFL career – as well as tossing 40 touchdowns, second only to the 50 thrown in his league-MVP-winning 2007 season.
Brady now needs just 1,155 pass yards to surpass Drew Brees (80,358) for the most in NFL history, and could potentially achieve the feat on his return to Foxborough as the Patriots host the Bucs in Week Four. Now wouldn’t that be something?!
Brady would need to average approximately 290 yards per game for that to happen; his 2020 season average, 289.5 per game.
Yet, as much as Brady would celebrate such an achievement and would, no doubt, love to do it in a stadium he called home for 20 years, in front of his adoring fans and a certain former stone-faced coach of his on the sidelines, it’s still all about one thing for him: winning.
This season, as with every season for Brady, has to end with confetti falling in early February for it to be deemed a success.
And he has given himself the best possible chance of doing that yet again this season, with this Buccaneers squad just as stacked as they were a season ago.
Of their 22 returning starters, Tampa applied the franchise tag to wide receiver Chris Godwin, they rewarded edge-rusher Shaq Barrett with a new four-year, $72m deal, ensured Devin White kept his partner-in-crime at linebacker by signing Lavonte David up to a new, two-year, $25 million extension.
They have also retained Rob Gronkowski – the second-highest-paid tight end for the 2021 season – as well as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, running back Leonard Fournette and receiver Antonio Brown, among others.
“All offseason, the one thing we heard about the Bucs is they’re bringing back all 22 starters,” said Good Morning Football‘s Peter Schrager this week. “Can the Bucs answer this hype?
“Last year it was this incredible uphill climb to start the season. They were dealing with a Covid-riddled offseason, where no one was in person and he [Brady] had to learn a whole new offense.
“They lost to the Saints, to the Rams, to the Bears. But then it clicked mid-season.
“Imagine that same team without that uphill climb, where it’s all smooth sailing? They’ve got everybody coming back. I think Brady is coming in dialled in and this Buccaneers team is ready to go.
“They should win this game [against the Cowboys] by 30. They should win every game by 30 – they’re that good.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2021 schedule
|Thursday September 9
|vs Dallas Cowboys
|Sunday, September 19
|vs Atlanta Falcons
|Sunday, September 26
|@ Los Angeles Rams
|Sunday, October 3
|@ New England Patriots
|Sunday, October 10
|vs Miami Dolphins
|Thursday, October 14
|@ Philadelphia Eagles
|Sunday, October 24
|vs Chicago Bears
|Sunday, October 31
|@ New Orleans Saints
|Sunday, November 14
|Monday, November 22
|vs New York Giants
|Sunday, November 28
|@ Indianapolis Colts
|Sunday, December 5
|@ Atlanta Falcons
|Sunday, December 12
|vs Buffalo Bills
|Sunday, December 19
|vs New Orleans Saints
|Sunday, December 26
|@ Carolina Panthers
|Sunday, January 2
|@ New York Jets
|Sunday, January 9
|vs Carolina Panthers
Not that Brady will be getting complacent. And he has already called on those returning team-mates of his to follow his lead.
“I think that’s what you’ve got to guard against [complacency,” Brady told the Tampa Bay Times this week. “You can’t think that it’s just going to go the way it went last year, so we already know what to expect and let’s just play with the same level of effort.”
Brady knows what it is like to repeat, and how difficult it is, with his 2003-04 Patriots squad the last team to do so. This year the NFL will be ready for Brady’s Bucs.
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, in particular, will be out for revenge, while the Buffalo Bills, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and even the Cleveland Browns can all consider themselves contenders from a stacked AFC.
And while the NFC arguably doesn’t run quite as deep, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are both back in situ, in Green Bay and Seattle respectively, while the Rams and a rejuvenated 49ers squad should be in the mix with the Buccaneers, who get the first test of their title credentials against a talent-rich Cowboys roster on Thursday night.
But, before the action on the field gets underway, this new-look 2021 NFL season will start in very familiar fashion, the sight of Brady watching on as yet another championship banner is unveiled.