A changing of the guard of sorts appears to be coming to the NFC South. In fact, it’s already here.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers upset the Kansas City Chiefs to win Super Bowl LV. Granted the victory came with a 43-year-old quarterback, and their head coach is no spring chicken either. At 68, Bruce Arians became the oldest head coach to win the Super Bowl.
Those progressed ages aren’t exactly the signature of a budding dynasty. Adding in the fact that no NFL team has repeated as champions in nearly two decades, the Buccaneers’ chances of winning multiple titles appears quite unlikely.
But Atlanta Falcons fans know better than to count out Tom Brady. As the Falcons begin a new era, Atlanta fans can expect the Buccaneers to replace the New Orleans Saints as their biggest obstacle in the NFC South.
Despite being preseason darlings to win the Super Bowl, the Buccaneers were inconsistent throughout most of the 2020 season. One minute, they were world beaters and the next, they couldn’t get a first down. At Mercedes-Benz Stadium in December, it was vice versa.
There aren’t morale victories in the NFL, but with the amount of moving parts for the Buccaneers in a year without a full offseason, no one would have blamed them for losing at Lambeau or falling to the Chiefs. Not only did Brady have to learn a new system, so did Leonard Fournette, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, the latter two of which also had to get back into game shape. In Brown’s case, he didn’t join the team until midseason.
Furthermore, Pro Bowl receiver Chris Godwin dealt with a plethora of injuries and missed four games. As a result, he finished nearly 500 yards shy of his 2019 total when he averaged 15.5 yards per catch and nearly 100 receiving yards per game.
The talent on this roster was definitely there in August — the question was whether it could come altogether to win a championship. The Buccaneers answered that concern with flying colors by winning their final eight games.
Plenty of experts back in August said the Buccaneers would accomplish that feat. But in my mind, they won the Super Bowl a year early because of all the moving parts.
Hopefully, a full offseason returns to the NFL in 2021. Even if it doesn’t, one has to expect the Buccaneers offense will be better — more efficient and less inconsistent. The chemistry that arrived in December and January may exist starting in September next season.
That’s a scary thought. On the “inconsistent” 2020 Buccaneers offense, Brady had 4,633 yards and 40 touchdowns. Leading rusher Ronald Jones averaged 5.1 yards per rush, and Mike Evans set a new career-high with 13 touchdown catches.
Every team deals with free agency, and the Buccaneers are not different. But already in the first week after the Super Bowl, the team’s top free agents are committing to stay.
At the parade on Wednesday, Arians said to linebacker Lavonte David when a reporter tried to ask him about his pending free agency, “Your ass ain’t going nowhere.”
Clearly, everyone was excited Wednesday. We’ll see if those parade promises are actually fulfilled.
In addition to Barrett and David, who played pivotal roles on a defense that held Patrick Mahomes without a touchdown for the first time in his career, the Buccaneers must re-sign defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh along with Godwin, Brown, Gronkowski, and Fournette. Tampa Bay can’t possibly bring back all of them.
Still, if a majority of them return and the Buccaneers plug the holes with their draft picks in April, Tampa Bay will be favored to win something it didn’t this season — the NFC South.
With Drew Brees’ retirement also likely, the Buccaneers appear poised to become the Falcons’ biggest obstacle to winning the division for the first time since 2016.