Even as they enter the divisional round with 14 wins and a seven-time Super Bowl champion at quarterback, I’d argue that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are still looking for their first impressive win of the 2021 season. That may sound like taunting the king of the jungle—Tom Brady has won Super Bowls with lesser teams around him than the current supporting cast—but before we jump to any conclusions let’s actually take a look at the Bucs resume.
Every week this season, I’ve told you “Everything you need to know” about the LA Rams’ next opponent. That included Week 3, just before the Rams defeated the Bucs 34-24, and that is unquestionably LA’s best win of the season. It’s a good ‘signature’ win.
Tampa Bay is the defending Super Bowl champions, they have Tom, and they brought back nearly the entire damn crew from the previous season. The Bucs may have had the best offense in the NFL over the course of 2021, but they were also led in targets by Chris Godwin (now on IR), got a heavy dose of production from Antonio Brown (free agent who went from the pit to the palace to an Uber), and they have two Pro Bowl offensive lineman questionable to start on Sunday.
Reinforcements such as receivers Cyril Grayson and Breshad Perriman, and running back Ronald Jones, also sat out practice on Wednesday.
But when the Rams beat the Bucs in Week 3, a game in which LA led by 17 points until the final minute, the only super notable absence on offense was Brown. Brady threw the ball 55 times and had 432 yards without a turnover and yet the Rams held off the attack and kept Tampa Bay under 20 points until there was 1:10 remaining.
Only four teams held the Bucs to under 28 points this year: The Saints (twice), the Patriots, the Football Team, and the Rams. Tampa Bay went 1-4 in those contests, with the sole win being a 19-17 victory in that New England game that NBC insisted we would love and cherish and tell our grandchildren about one day.
The Patriots are a fine team but certainly beatable, even in Foxborough: the Patriots were a 10-8 team that got swept by the Miami Dolphins and started 0-4 at home, until finally getting wins there over the Jets, Browns, Titans, and Jaguars. New England also lost four of their last five games.
I know quarterbacks are not teams, and yet most NFL writers and fans I know still boil most teams down to their quarterbacks, so who am I to deny that form of common sense?
Quarterbacks who lost to the Bucs this year:
Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, Matt Ryan (2x), Sam Darnold (2x), Carson Wentz, Mac Jones, Jacoby Brissett, Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Jalen Hurts (2x), Cam Newton
Quarterbacks who beat the Bucs this year:
Matthew Stafford, Taylor Heinicke, Taysom Hill, Trevor Siemian/Jameis Winston
Tom Brady is now 0-4 against the Saints since he joined the Bucs, having lost to all three New Orleans quarterbacks this year. The Bucs also fell to the Washington Football Team and got sliced up by Heinicke.
Tampa’s best wins then are a 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys—It was Week 1, the very first game of the season, and Dak Prescott ate lunch, breakfast, and dinner (in that order) against the Bucs defense. Tampa Bay needed a field goal at the end of regulation to win. The Cowboys were a good team this season, not great.
The only team that lost to the Bucs that remains alive in the postseason is the Buffalo Bills. That week, Tampa Bay nearly had an impressive signature win, leading 27-10 early in the fourth quarter. Then Josh Allen remembered what he did against the Rams last season and Buffalo quickly cut the lead to 27-24; the Bills had first-and-10 at the 14 with :41 seconds left and if Allen had managed a touchdown, Buffalo wins. They were that close. Instead, they settled for overtime and lost.
Tom Brady in a 33-27 OT win vs. the Bills : 31/46 for 363 yards, 2 TD's & a 105.6 QB Rating; 7 carries for 16 yards & a TD (Game-winning 58-yard TD pass to Breshad Perriman in OT. 1st QB to throw for over 300 yards against the Bills this season) pic.twitter.com/RvLlev3YqH— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) December 13, 2021
Every other team/QB that the Bucs beat in 2021 makes total sense to me. In 2020, Tampa Bay was a wild card but they did have a huge, impressive win over Aaron Rodgers and then they repeated that success by beating Rodgers in the NFC Championship game.
How does that win/loss compare to the Rams?
Quarterbacks who lost to the Rams this year:
Tom Brady, Kyler Murray (2x), Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson (2x), Daniel Jones, Andy Dalton, Davis Mills, Jared Goff, Tyler Huntley, Carson Wentz, Trevor Lawrence
Quarterbacks who beat the Rams this year:
Aaron Rodgers, Kyler Murray, Jimmy Garoppolo (2x), Ryan Tannehill
Every quarterback who beat the Rams this year is still alive in the postseason with the lone exception being the quarterback who lost to the Rams in the postseason on Monday.
But it doesn’t matter anymore who you beat and who you lost to in the regular season. This is the playoffs. Brady’s never beaten the Saints in the regular season as a member of the Bucs, but he did defeat New Orleans in the postseason last year and it wasn’t that difficult. Just because LA beat Tampa Bay in September, what does that matter in January?
It just means that the Bucs continue to look for a win that makes it clear they’re the favorite again. If the Rams repeat what they did to Tampa Bay however, perhaps Stafford, Sean McVay, and the Rams should be the new favorites.
Here’s everything you need to know about how the Bucs’ 2021 regular season stats and rankings ended up.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2021 record: 14-4
Head coach: Bruce Arians
OC: Byron Leftwich
The Bucs set a franchise record with 458 points scored in 2019, the first under the watch of Arians and Leftwich. It was the first time that Tampa Bay had ever hit the 400-point mark, with the previous high being 396 points in 2018.
Then the Buccaneers scored 492 points in 2020 and set a new franchise record.
Then the Buccaneers scored 511 points in 2021 and set a new franchise record.
Three consecutive seasons with a new franchise record in points scored and even if the 17th game had something to do with that, it would be crazy to ignore the fact that the Bucs are nothing like they used to be and unstoppable when in peak condition. As noted earlier, the Buccaneers are going to need to find help elsewhere because they are not in peak condition.
We know that Brown and Godwin are out, but Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen are key offensive linemen working through injuries right now. The Rams have Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski as known threats to defend, but the presence of Jalen Ramsey at cornerback helps assuage such fears. The Buccaneers would no doubt like to run the football more than they did in Week 3—however, not only is LA’s run defense ranked top-five in the NFL by DVOA and YPC, it’s probably now better than the Bucs run defense and Tampa Bay is just a year removed from having an elite unit in that regard.
2021 offensive ranks
Pass attempts: 1st
Rushing attempts: 31st
Net yards per pass attempt: 5th
Passing touchdowns: 1st
Rushing yards: 26th
Yards per carry: 15th
Rushing touchdowns: 9th
Points per drive: 3rd
Red Zone O: 2nd
3rd down: 2nd
Time of Possession: 24th
DVOA: 1st (1st passing, 4th rushing)
Offensive “strength of schedule”: 2nd
*Essentially, FootballOutsiders is saying that the Bucs offense has faced a really difficult schedule of defenses by DVOA.
Offensive Depth Chart
DC: Todd Bowles
The Buccaneers ranked fifth in defensive DVOA in 2020, including fifth against the pass and first against the run. The Saints were ranked second and the Rams were ranked third.
This season, Tampa has fallen to ninth overall, including 10th against the pass and 12th against the run. The Rams are fifth against the run and sixth against the pass. LA is also hopeful to return Ernest Jones to the field on Sunday and the front seven—with Aaron Donald, Von Miller, Greg Gaines, A’Shawn Robinson, Leonard Floyd among those lining up—is at its healthiest its been all season.
By no means do the Bucs have a bad defense but they did not face very many offenses of note in 2021. When they did, Tampa Bay surrendered points and had weaknesses exposed, including in Week 3 against the Rams. These are the teams that the Bucs held to 17 points or less, helping them finish fifth in points allowed:
Patriots, Dolphins, Falcons, Panthers (17 each), Eagles (15), Giants (10), Saints (9), Panthers (6), Bears (3).
But when the Bucs faced Prescott, Allen, or Stafford, they could be expected to give up 27+. Tampa Bay had the easiest schedule of offenses faced in the entire NFL, by DVOA.
The question for Sunday might be: Which team gets to 34 points?
2021 Defensive Ranks
Points Allowed: 5th
Yards Allowed: 13th
Turnovers Forced: 5th
Net Yards per Pass Attempt Allowed: 4th
Passing Touchdowns Allowed: 13th
Rushing Yards Allowed: 3rd
Yards Per Carry Allowed: 15th
Rushing Touchdowns Allowed: 5th
Points Per Drive Allowed: 6th
TOP allowed: 7th
Red Zone D: 10th
3rd down rate: 12th
DVOA: 9th (10th vs pass, 12th vs run)
Defensive “strength of schedule” rank: 32nd (easiest schedule of offenses)