Best and worst case for 2022

Welcome to FanSided’s 2022 NFL preview! It’s time to look into our crystal football and take a glimpse at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers season prediction.

Last year didn’t go the way anyone in Tampa Bay hoped or expected.

Tom Brady returned, as did every single starter from the team that won a Super Bowl the previous year. But unlike the magical 2020 season, the house started to fall apart once everyone was settled in and the honeymoon phase wore off.

Rather than ride off into the sunset with another ring, Tom Brady’s season ended with him clawing back in a playoff brawl against the Rams — one that ended in defeat. It’s rare to see Brady fall, but it’s naive to think that it isn’t possible. Last year was sobering for the Buccaneers, but with Tom Brady unexpectedly deciding to run it back at least one more time, there’s a buzz of excitement around Tampa Bay heading into the 2022 season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2021 season in review

  • 13-4 record
  • 1st place in NFC South
  • Lost in NFC Divisional Round to Rams

As far as Super Bowl hangovers go, last season went about as well as it could for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The highs were pretty great: An overtime thriller over the Bills, Tom Brady won his revenge game at Foxborough over the Patriots, and the offense scored 30 or more points 11 times, including a Wild Card win over the Eagles.

But the lows were wildly sobering: Getting shutout on national television by the Saints, Antonio Brown quit in the middle of a game, and a blown defensive call resulted in the Bucs season ending in the Divisional Round.

Last year was weird. This year isn’t lining up to be any more normal.

But sticking with last year for a few more moments, there were more things to like than loathe. Most notably, the Buccaneers were never far away from being on the right side of the breaks that went against them. In that Divisional round game, Tampa Bay came back from a double-digit deficit to nearly win the game, which was a grittiness that helped them win the Super Bowl a year prior and seemingly remains entering Year 3 of the Tom Brady era.

Sure, the Bucs got swept by the Saints (again) and lost a game to the Commanders in which Ron Rivera successfully did something no other team has done in simply beating Tom Brady by not letting him have the ball in the fourth quarter, but it was all a proper humbling.

That’s how last year should be viewed, as the Bucs are once again in a position to run it back and this time take it a little but further than they were able to the year prior.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL Draft class 2022

  • Rd 2: Logan Hall, DT/Houston
  • Rd 2: Luke Goedeke, OG/Central Michigan
  • Rd 3: Rachaad White, RB/Arizona State
  • Rd 4: Cade Otton, TE/ Washington
  • Rd 4: Jake Camarda, P/Georgia
  • Rd 5: Zyon McCollum, CB/Sam Houston State
  • Rd 6: Ko Kieft, TE/Minnesota
  • Rd 7: Andre Anthony, OLB/LSU

Nothing about the Buccaneers draft class lit the world on fire, but it didn’t really have to. If there’s one thing that Jason Licht has proven over both the course of his career and his time in Tampa Bay, it’s that he knows how to mine for gold in April.

After years of toiling, the Bucs won a Super Bowl thanks to the depth of talent that Licht identified over the last half decade, and a lot of the pillars in place to make another championship run were placed by him. So while it’s easy to cringe at Tampa Bay trading out of a position to draft Chiefs rookie standout George Karlaftis just to draft Logan Hall a few picks later, remember that Licht has built up enough credit for everyone to trust the process.

There have been swings and misses over the years, most notably Jameis Winston, Ronald Jones II, and a kicker who shall remain nameless, but Licht often finds ways to learn from those failures. Winston turned into Tom Brady, Jones II’s replacement is Arizona State sparkplug Rachaad White, and despite misses like Roberto Aguayo there was enough draft success to build a team that attracted the greatest quarterback to every play the game.

Luke Goedeke is going to get a baptism by fire on a banged-up offensive line, and Zyon McCollum could be a steal along the lines of Sean Murphy-Bunting in the Bucs secondary. White can atone for the sins of Ronald Jones, and Logan Hall should slide right into a suddenly young and revamped defensive line that has Joe Tryon-Shoyinka screaming off the edge and Vita Vea as its anchor.

Previewing Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense for 2022 season

  • Key offseason additions
    • Shaq Mason, OG
    • Julio Jones, WR
    • Russell Gage, WR
  • Biggest X-Factor: Tom Brady
  • Squeakiest Wheel: Offensive Line

Losing Rob Gronkowski hurts in that Tom Brady’s safety net is gone (we’ll get to his actual safety net in a second). There was something about having the Oscar to his Felix around that put him in a comfort zone. That’s gone, and hopefully, the Buccaneers don’t watch what happened to the 2019 New England Patriots happen to them. That’s the last time Brady played without Gronk in his offense and it wasn’t a pretty sight.

Granted, Brady’s non-Gronk weapons are infinitely better than what he had in 2019.

He still has Mike Evans, who hasn’t gone under 1,000 yards or caught fewer than 8 touchdowns his entire career and should be getting Chris Godwin back to full strength by the middle of the season (and should have him in the lineup well before then). Add to that the addition of Russell Gage and Julio Jones and all of a sudden things aren’t looking so bleak.

Of course, injuries can change that on a dime. Antonio Brown’s shirtless antics will be a lasting image of last season for the Bucs but it came about thanks to injuries. Godwin was lost to an ACL injury and the rest of the offense was hobbled throughout the year. Even Brown blamed an ankle injury for the reason he lost his mind against the Jets.

We’re already seeing that with the utter destruction of healthy bodies along the Bucs offensive front. Ryan Jensen is lost for most if not all of the season and was the anchor of Brady’s protection. Trading for Shaq Lawson was supposed to offset the loss of Ali Marpet but the Bucs are down two centers and already endured an injury scare with Tristan Wirfs. No matter who Brady’s weapons are, Brady needs time to throw or nothing else really matters.

When he returned to training camp in August, amid drama surrounding his lengthy absence, Brady quipped that he’s 45 years old and that there’s “a lot of shit to deal with”, which couldn’t be a better way to describe how thin the razor’s edge is that he and the Buccaneers offense is walking in 2022.

Previewing Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense for 2022 season

  • Key offseason additions
    • Keanu Neal, S
    • Carl Nassib, DE
    • Akiem Hicks, DT
  • Biggest X-Factor: Vita Vea, DT
  • Squeakiest Wheel: The Secondary

The defense suffered some key losses in the offseason, however, and it remains to be seen what effect they might have. Richard Sherman was more of a spiritual signing since he barely played a snap with the Bucs, but Jason Pierre-Paul and Ndamukong Suh are both gone and leave major holes on the defensive line. The return of Carl Nassib, the signing of Akiem Hicks, and (hopefully) a full season of Vita Vea will offset those losses, as should the additions of Logan Ryan and Keanu Neal to replace Jordan Whitehead as Antonie Winfield Jr’s co-pilot at safety.

It’s that secondary that could be the Achilles heel for the Bucs, as it has been so many times before. Even when the Buccaneers were having a historically great year defensively in 2020, the secondary was easily the squeakiest wheel. Blitzing to Todd Bowles is like cookies to Cookie Monster, and it’s a flaw in his schemes that hasn’t changed at all. It’s high-reward, winning the Buccaneers a Super Bowl by beating the living hell out of Patrick Mahomes, but it’s high-risk too as displayed by a zero blitz allowing the Rams to gain over 40-yards on a single play and set up a season-ending loss for Tampa Bay in the NFC Divisional Round last year.

Make no mistake, when everything is going right the BUccaneers have perhaps the best defense in the NFL this side of the Buffalo Bills. But there’s a lot that can go wrong and it’s a house of cards that is one bad blitz away from being totally destroyed — something that didn’t change this offseason.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff overview

  • Head Coach: Todd Bowles
  • Off. Coordinator: Byron Leftwich
  • Def. Coordinator: N/A
  • 2023 Head Coach Candidate: Byron Leftwich

Somehow the Buccaneers managed to return every single member of Bruce Arians’ coaching staff — except the man himself. Arians abruptly retired from his position as head coach in March which led to Todd Bowles taking over duties in his absence.

That sounds way more tumultuous than it actually was. Arians had always been extremely good and loyal to his close circle of coaching friends and Bowles was near the top of that list. Rather than walk away after 2022 and leave Bowles set up for potential failure, he left him with a Super Bowl-caliber team that has Tom Brady as its quarterback. Put that into the context of how poorly minority coaches are treated in a predominantly white NFL coaching circle, the move is even more incredible.

Beyond the sociopolitical aspects of the move, there’s also the football element to consider.

One potential hangup is the fact that Bowles is retaining his duties as defensive coordinator. That might have more to do with the timing of Arians decision, but it puts pressure on Bowles in ways that could hamper success. That being said, Bowles managed to find ways to succeed with the New York Jets, and he’s in a far better position to succeed now.

Arians may be gone, but the major pieces of his coaching staff that won a Super Bowl less than two years ago remain.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Awards Watch

Tom Brady, MVP

Let’s not spend this whole blurb talking about obvious it is that Tom Brady is in consideration for MVP. Let’s instead marvel at the fact that he’s still in the conversation despite the fact that he started his career before iPhones were invented and took his first snap while we still needed CD-ROM discs to access the internet.

Tom Brady is old, but he’s not getting any worse. He’s frustratingly youthful, and his misses are still few and far between.

Last year didn’t go nearly as well as anyone in Tampa Bay wanted and there were some pretty aggressive failures. But the fact that folks were legitimately arguing that Brady got robbed of MVP is just baffling when you think about how athletes almost always succumb to the heavy weight Father Time bears on their careers.

He might be 45-years old but Brady is entering this season with a fire in his belly. Not only was his season upended and his chance to ride off into the sunset stifled, but his retirement was spoiled before he would have his moment. Brady is back, and while offseason clicks were attained through huffing the fumes of drama surrounding his absence from camp or his apparent desire to leave the Buccaneers, it’s extremely stupid to bet against him until he gives everyone a legitimate reason. He’s the Jess screaming He Can’t Keep Getting Away With It meme if it were a Hall of Fame quarterback, and he’s been given ample reasons to perhaps finish his career with one of the best seasons he’s ever played.

Lavonte David, Defensive Player Of The Year

This one is a long shot, but it’s a satisfying narrative to think about.

David is what Gerald McCoy should have been for the Buccaneers in terms of legacy. He suffered through awful years most of his career despite being a cut above everyone else around him. The Buccaneers Super Bowl year was all about Tom Brady, for obvious reasons, but it was also the culmination of a journey for David that rewarded him in ways we never thought would be possible in Tampa Bay.

But as we near the end of the Brady Era, the sort of triumph that happened in 2020 for Brady could happen for David. He’s leading a defense in which he’s the elder statesman. Devin White is what David was when he came into his own in Tampa Bay and it won’t be long before the defense truly belongs to him (if it doesn’t already). David has a chance to ball out and plant his flag leading a unit that is going to need to carry its weight and then some if the Bucs are going to win a third Super Bowl, especially with Todd Bowles taking over the entire operation and splitting his duties between running the defense and being the head coach.

David stepping into a leadership role happened years ago. Winning the Super Bowl was the catharsis of having to suffer through all the losing he endured. What he can do this year is solidify himself as one of the best defensive players in the entire league — less a reintroduction than a reminder that there are two GOATs in Tampa and they play on opposite sides of the ball.

Biggest game on Tampa Bay Buccaneers schedule

This is sort of a copout, but the Buccaneers hardest game is actually a stretch of hard games.

Tampa Bay is going to be put thrown into a snake pit to start the season, and it’s going to both test the team and tell us a lot about how this season is going to go.

Here’s the Bucs first four games of the season:

  • at Dallas
  • at New Orleans
  • home against the Packers
  • home against the Chiefs

There’s a very real chance that the Buccaneers start the season 0-4 and the national media is feasting on their supposed carcass. You can see the First Take segments now, and hear the Colin Cowherd or Skip Bayless rants in your head.

We are going to learn a lot about this Buccaneers team right out of the gate, and one of two things will happen. They’ll either show up and remind everyone that they’re a Super Bowl contender that can hang with the best in the league because they are the best in the league, or they’re going to get humbled and use that as fuel to make everyone that crosses their path pay the ultimate price.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers season prediction: Best case scenario

If all goes well, the Buccaneers win the Super Bowl this year.

The NFC isn’t exactly stacked with immovable objects, and the Buccaneers don’t need a ton of breaks to go their way in order to be in the position they were last year. Had Tampa Bay beaten the Rams there’s a very legitimate chance they roll through the 49ers and Bengals to win another Super Bowl. The stars aligned, but fate stepped in the way.

What stands in the Bucs way this year is a Rams team that could suffer a Super Bowl hangover, a Packers squad that with Allen Lazard as Aaron Rodgers’ No. 1 option, a Cowboys team with no offensive line, and then everyone else.

It’s not exactly Bruce Lee and Game of Death; the Bucs just need to play up to their standards to be in a position to return to the Super Bowl. Anything above that and they can hang with just about anyone in the league (they embarrassed the Chiefs in the Super Bowl and bested the Bills last season, so this declaration includes the superior AFC and its group of elites).

Tampa Bay Buccaneers season prediction: Worst-case scenario

It feels like the Buccaneers have been flirting with the worst-case scenario ever since Tom Brady arrived back in 2020. He’s managed to somehow get better despite getting older but on a long enough timeline even the GOAT falls off.

That’s what everyone assumed would happen when he left New England, but now more than ever it seems folks are betting on it happening in 2022. Tom Brady is the linchpin of this entire operation, and everything hinges on his decline simply not happening.

If what happened to Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger finally happens to Brady — in which they simply lose the ability to throw the ball as magically as they used to — it’s all over. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean that Brady himself is the reason for the decline, as injuries can play a factor as well.

Chris Godwin’s absence last year was enormous, and all it takes is someone like Mike Evans or Devin White to go down for the season to come crashing with it. We’re already seeing it with the devastation of the offensive line. Ryan Jensen missing most if not all of the season is huge, and Tristan Wirfs is flirting with injury disaster based on how his season ended last year and how it’s gone in training camp. Brady wasn’t the most mobile quarterback even in his prime, and the last thing the Buccaneers need is a 45-year-old man running for his life trying to throw the ball.

There are other outside factors that put pressure on how perfectly things probably need to go for the Bucs. Namely, the Saints are the Thanos to everything joyous about the Brady era in Tampa. The Buccaneers have beaten the Saints once since Tom Brady arrived and haven’t come close to beating them in the regular season. New Orleans got better this offseason and very well could win the NFC South without trying too hard to do so. Aaron Rodgers is never safe to bet against, the Cowboys might finally figure it out, and teams like the Cardinals, Vikings, and Eagles could have a Bengals-esque about-face this season and ruin everything.

The margin for error is so slim, and as much as this season could end with the BUccaneers hoisting another Lombardi trophy it could also end with them limping into the playoffs and ending the Tom Brady era with a whimper.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers season prediction for 2022

  • 12-5 record
  • 1st place in NFC South
  • Playoff Prediction: Reach Super Bowl LVI

Reaching the Super Bowl is the floor for the Buccaneers this season, if everything goes right. The first half of the season is going to be a gauntlet and the best thing that could happen is for it to go poorly for the Bucs.

It’s very easy to see Tampa Bay starting the season 1-3, with losses to the Packers, Chiefs, and Saints (who Tom Brady remains winless against in the regular season). That sort of humbling at the beginning of the season — as opposed to the end — is the type of thing that could set the Bucs straight and put them and Brady on a war path to prove everyone who has already written them off wrong.

How that actually turns out is where the fun part comes in. It could end with Brady retiring after winning his eighth Super Bowl with the maximum amount of f-you energy he’s ever had or it could end with a whimper and reignite rumors that Brady will want to try and win one more Super Bowl somewhere like Miami or San Francisco.

At the end of the day this Bucs team, beyond all the offseason drama that got overamplified, is outstanding. Brady was in MVP form last we saw him, Chris Godwin should be healthy for the playoff push, Julio Jones was added to the mix, Vita Vea and Devin White anchor a defense that is among the league’s best and the competition in the NFC isn’t exactly stout. This team was a blown coverage away from potentially being in a position to beat the Rams and possibly on the path to winning another Super Bowl. That bitter taste won’t sit well with a team that all of a sudden has a chip on its shoulder.

Read more from FanSided’s 2022 NFL Preview here. For more Tampa Bay Buccaneers coverage, check out The Pewter Plank

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