Mon, 23 May 2022

Tampa Bay BuccaneersTampa Bay's 2022 schedule, which will be revealed on Thursday night, contains a long list of challenges, including games against eight of last year's playoff teams and some of the NFL's best quarterbacksScott Smith

On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will find out the date-and-time details on 94.1% of their 2022 game schedule. The Buccaneers got an advance notification on one of their destinations this fall - Tampa Bay will face Seattle in Munich on November 13 for the first NFL game ever played in Germany - but has to wait until the full league schedule release for their other 16 assignments.

Of course, the Bucs have known who their 2022 opponents would be since the end of last season. The missing information is the when. When will Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes share the field for the first time since Super Bowl LV? When and how often will Tampa bay play under the prime-time lights? When will they get their bye week? And so on.

Here's another question that will be answered on Thursday evening: When will the Buccaneers, as a team, face their toughest challenges of 2022? Overall, Tampa Bay is facing the fourth-hardest strength-of-schedule slate of all 32 teams, as their 2021 opponents had a combined 154-134-1 record. That .535 SOS is higher than every other team except the Arizona Cardinals (.543) and the two Super Bowl LVI combatants, the Los Angeles Rams (.567) and Cincinnati Bengals (.536). Here are some of the more specific elements to that challenging schedule:

2021 Playoff Teams

The Buccaneers will face eight opponents who made the playoffs last season, representing nearly half of their overall schedule. None of those are division opponents, who account for six of Tampa Bay's 17 matchups, which means eight of the team's 11 non-division foes are fresh off playoff appearances. Of the six clubs that joined the Bucs in the NFC postseason scrum last season, five are on the schedule for 2022; the only exception is Philadelphia, whom the Buccaneers beat in the opening round of the playoffs. Those eight 2021 playoff opponents include both teams that met in the most recent Super Bowl and all four teams that were in the conference championship games.

In addition, the three non-division foes on Tampa Bay's schedule who missed the playoffs last year haven't been out of contention long. All three - Baltimore, Cleveland and Seattle - were in the playoffs in 2020. New Orleans was in the postseason field in 2020, too, before being eliminated by the Super Bowl-bound Buccaneers in the Divisional Round.

Most Recent Playoff Appearances for Bucs' 2022 Opponents:

Arizona: Lost in 2021 Wild Card RoundCincinnati: Lost in Super Bowl LVI after 2021 SeasonDallas: Lost in 2021 Wild Card RoundGreen Bay: Lost in 2021 Divisional RoundKansas City: Lost in 2021 Conference Championship RoundL.A. Rams: Won Super Bowl LVI after 2021 SeasonPittsburgh: Lost in 2021 Wild Card RoundSan Francisco: Lost in 2021 Conference Championship RoundBaltimore: Lost in 2020 Divisional RoundCleveland: Lost in 2020 Divisional RoundNew Orleans: Lost in 2020 Divisional RoundSeattle: Lost in 2020 Wild Card RoundAtlanta: Lost in 2017 Divisional RoundCarolina: Lost in 2017 Wild Card Round

Top Defenses

In 2022, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers will face six of the NFL's top 10 pass defenses (in a total of seven games) and will have seven games against top-10 overall defenses from 2021.

These are the top-10 pass defenses on Tampa Bay's schedule, with their ranking and yards allowed noted:

Carolina - 4th, 192.1 (two games)Cleveland - 5th, 202.3San Francisco - 6th, 206.5Arizona - 7th, 214.4Pittsburgh - 9th, 215.1Green Bay - 10th, 219.1

And these are the top-10 overall defenses on the schedule:

Carolina - 2nd, 305.9 (two games)San Francisco - 3rd, 310.0Cleveland - 5th, 311.5New Orleans - 7th, 318.2 (two games)Green Bay - 9th, 328.2

Now here's the good news: As you may have heard, Tom Brady is returning for the 2022 season. And Tom Brady hasn't let a little thing like 'facing really tough pass defenses' slow him down much. Tampa Bay had five games against the NFL's top 10 pass defenses last year and won all five of them. Brady was the key, throwing 10 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in those games for an overall passer rating of 101.9. Only NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers played more games against top-10 pass defenses last season without losing, as he was 6-0 in such contests.

Top Offenses

Tampa Bay's defense will be seriously tested throughout the 2022 season as well.

The Buccaneers' own offense finished second in the league last year in both yards gained and points scored, trailing only Dallas in both categories. Of the other nine teams in the top 10, the Bucs are scheduled to play seven of them. That includes Dallas (first), Kansas City (third), Baltimore (sixth), San Francisco (seventh), Arizona (eighth), the Los Angeles Rams (ninth) and Green Bay (10th).

In terms of points scored, the Bucs will go up against five of the other nine teams to finish in the top 10 last year: Dallas (first), Kansas City (fourth), Cincinnati (seventh), the Los Angeles Rams (eighth) and Green Bay (ninth). And it's a good thing the Bucs have Brady on their side because they are going to see a murderer's row of the league's most dangerous passers on the other sideline.

Tampa Bay's 2022 schedule features potential matchups with seven quarterbacks who finished in the top 10 in one or more of these categories - touchdown passes, passing yards and passer rating. Here they are, with TDs, yards and rating from 2021 indicated:

Matthew Stafford, L.A. Rams (4,886, 41, 102.9)

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City (4,839, 37, 98.5)

Joe Burrow, Cincinnati (4,611, 34, 108.3)

Dak Prescott, Dallas (4,449, 37, 104.2)

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay (4,115, 37, 111.9)

Kyler Murray, Arizona (3,787, 24, 100.6)

Jimmy Garoppolo*, San Francisco (3,810, 20, 98.7)

(* If Garoppolo remains the 49ers starter or starts for another team on the Bucs' schedule.)

The Buccaneers have put up a 29-10 record, postseason included, over the past two seasons and fully expect to be prime title contenders again in 2022. It will not be an easy road back to the top, however.

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