Let’s be clear: The Buccaneers’ 2020 opponents were set long before Tom Brady made his free agency decision.
So, it’s not like the NFL cherry-picked who Brady and Co. would face in the quarterback’s first season with Tampa Bay in the hopes of guaranteeing a winner for the upcoming campaign.
Still, the Bucs’ schedule — released Thursday night — positions the franchise quite nicely as it embarks on the Brady era, and ESPN’s Louis Riddick can’t help but wonder whether that’s by design.
“I think quite honestly, if you believe in these kinds of things, I think the league wants Tampa Bay and they want Tom to really succeed this year,” the NFL analyst said Friday on “Get Up.” “They want Tampa Bay to really be one of those teams that are playing for it all late in the season, and they want people engaged with this football team, and the schedule is set up for them to do that.”
Maybe it’s a stretch to say the league did the Bucs a solid with how it mapped out the games on Tampa Bay’s regular-season schedule. Again, the opponents and locations of the games already were known in advance, and Thursday’s NFL schedule release simply unveiled dates and times for each matchup.
But Tampa Bay’s Week 13 bye certainly is helpful for a team with playoff aspirations. It’ll allow for Brady, who’s entering his age-43 season, to rest up ahead of a very manageable stretch run that includes two matchups with the unpredictable Atlanta Falcons, a road game against the lowly Detroit Lions and a home date with the Minnesota Vikings.
Not to mention the Bucs shouldn’t have to navigate much in the way of bad weather, as their four-game stretch leading into the early-December bye week includes three home games in Tampa Bay and a road game in Carolina.
“When you have a Week 13 bye, you really have a chance at that point to really assess where you’re at, and then you have a four-game push. You have a four-game push that you really have to make a run there,” Riddick said. “And what better way, if you’re Tom Brady, than to either play at home in Tampa or play in dome stadiums when you’re on the road? So, really you have ideal conditions. You have a late bye where you can assess, ‘Where are we at? And what do we need to do?’ You have a chance to recharge both physically and mentally.”
Now, it won’t be a total cakewalk for the Bucs, who are scheduled for an NFL-high five primetime games. They’ll have to deal with the New Orleans Saints on the road in Week 1 (and again at home in Week 9), and their home schedule involves matchups against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers by virtue of facing the AFC West and NFC North this season.
Overall, things don’t look too daunting, though. And that’s probably a good thing for the league given the Bucs’ spike in popularity with Brady and Rob Gronkowski joining Tampa Bay.