Tom Brady answered all doubters by leading the Buccaneers to victory over the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55 on Sunday. So the next big question is, what are the Bucs’ chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions next season — something the Chiefs just fell short of doing in the 2020 campaign?
According to the latest earlier Super Bowl 56 odds from DraftKings Sportsbook, Kansas City is next year’s favorite at +550, while Tampa Bay and Green Bay are second, both at +900. In some other books, the Buccaneers are the clear solo No. 2 at 9-1, ahead of multiple strong playoff teams from 2020, including the Bills, Ravens and Rams.
Brady returning for another season to finish out his two-year contract at age 44 is the No. 1 reason for that. The Buccaneers were far from a perfect team in winning the Super Bowl as an NFC wild-card team at 11-5, but they peaked down the stretch and are riding an eight-game winning streak going into next season.
The top-heavy NFC, however, has had a lot of parity involving its best teams of late. Tampa Bay was the seventh NFC team to get to the Super Bowl in as many seasons. The last NFC team that had a real chance to repeat was the 2014 Seahawks, who were denied by Brady’s Patriots in Super Bowl 49.
Here’s breaking down how well the Buccaneers are positioned in their new quest to become the NFL’s first back-to-back champion in 17 years:
Who is the Buccaners biggest NFC competition?
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, whom the Buccaneers upset in the NFC championship game, are a good place to start. The Rams, who got to Super Bowl 53, think they can go further with their defense now with Matthew Stafford leading their offense. The 49ers, who got to Super Bowl 54, should be better in many areas with much better health and perhaps an upgrade at QB, too.
The Saints and the Seahawks, however, look ready for slides from their No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively. New Orleans is likely to see Drew Brees retire, opening the door for Brady and Tampa Bay to ascend to the status of NFC South champions. Seattle is changing offenses for Russell Wilson after its first-round playoff exit against Los Angeles.
Outside of that group, the best odds are with darkhorses such as the Cowboys, who have the potential to be a much different and more successful team with a healthy and re-signed Dak Prescott. With their recent history of getting to the Super Bowl with their young coaches, the Rams and the 49ers look like the greatest threats to the Buccaneers, and none has a great QB answer to Brady after he just went through Brees, Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes in the playoffs. The Buccaneers as the hunted seem to be better positioned than all the hunters.
By the odds and on paper, an AFC foe such as the Chiefs again or the Bills stack up better against the Bucs for now than any NFC team does.
What are the Buccaneers’ biggest personnel concerns?
The Buccaneers don’t have many holes, as witnessed by their defense’s rise in the playoffs through winning Super Bowl 55. They supported the No. 1 run defense two years running with an excellent pass rush, sound tackling and improving young coverage. Offensively, there wasn’t much they couldn’t do in the passing game with Brady and their deep, versatile receiving corps, and powerful running game when needed from Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones.
There are no major salary-cap issues, as the team has a projected $28 million plus available, per OverTheCap.com. That will likely keep them from cutting their two best sources of additional cap room with no dead money involved, left tackle Donvoan Smith and center Ryan Jensen.
There are some decisions to be made with the defensive front seven that dominated the Chiefs, however. Edge rusher Shaquill Barrett, who played on the franchise tag at $14.8 million guaranted in 2020, is the highest priority. Inside linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh would be next on the list.
The Bucs can make it work with Barrett to sign a long-term deal or tag him again. Suh likely can be retained for reasonable value at age 34. Based on the future contract values, David, at age 31, might be the odd man out, especially playing next to rising superstar Devin White.
It would be difficult for the Buccaneers to afford both Barrett and David because of needing to also re-sign wide receiver Chris Godwin. Godwin may be the stronger candidate for the tag. It makes sense to use it on either him or Barrett, with that value around $16 million to $17 million, and lock up the other long-term.
Also on the offensive skill front, the three key additions post Brady — tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Antonio Brown — are all pending free agents. Whatever Gronkowski decides, staying with Brady or not, the Buccaneers have a contingency in the healthy return of O.J. Howard to support Cameron Brate.
For Fournette, there are Jones and second-year back Ke’Shawn Vaughn for now. Should Brown not be retained for Brady, there are Scotty Miller and promising second-year player Tyler Johnson. In either of those cases, or the potential of David departing, they can find a good replacement or reinforcement with the No. 32 overall pick in the draft.
What is the Buccaneers’ strength of schedule for 2021?
Based on the combined 2020 winning percentage (115-140-1, .451) of next season’s opponents, the Buccaneers have it second-easiest behind the Eagles. That doesn’t guarantee the same level of weakness, as many of those bad teams will improve, but on the flip side, some of those good teams will regress, too.
Beyond their regular NFC South home-and-away slate with the Saints, Falcons and Panthers, the Buccaneers will also play the second-place wild-card Rams on the road and the second-place wild-card Bears at home. They also draw the entire weak NFC East, which can only get a little better, and the entire above-average AFC East. They get breaks there with the Cowboys, Giants, Bills and Dolphins coming to Tampa, with Brady’s “revenge game” against the Patriots set to be played in New England.
The Buccaneers should at worst match their win total and have a good shot to bump up to 13-3 to take over as the new top seed in the NFC, with home playoff games coming before the Super Bowl next year.
The Chiefs came close to matching their favorite odds and repeating. The Buccaneers have a great shot to exceed their high follow-up expectations with a clear, viable path to Super Bowl 56.