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With the 2022 season on the horizon, NFL handicapper Jason Yamaguchi takes a look at Tampa Bay's outlook.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Regular Season Wins
Over 11.5
ANALYSIS

2022 NFL Prediction: Are Tom Brady and the Buccaneers Equipped for Another Playoff Run?

In 2021, the Buccaneers had a stellar regular season, winning 13 games en route to the NFC's No. 2 seed. They dispatched the 7-seed Eagles in the Wildcard Round with ease, setting up a matchup with the eventual-champion Rams. In that Divisional Round bout, the Buccaneers trailed by a score of 27-3 early in the third quarter, but — aided by four(!) fumble recoveries — Tampa Bay scored 24 straight points to tie the game at 27 apiece. With under a minute remaining, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp drove down the field, putting them into position for a field goal that ended the Buccs' season.

Heading into 2022, there are a few question marks surrounding the Buccaneers. They lost a couple of starters to free agency and another to a season-ending injury, meaning that they will need certain players to step up and satisfy larger roles than they did in the past. There are also a few factors working in Tampa Bay's favor, such as a relatively light schedule and a roster that remains among the NFL's top tier. How do we reconcile those opposing forces with one another? Let's take a closer look.

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2022 NFL Prediction - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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A Relatively Manageable Schedule

Given that the Buccaneers won the NFC South in 2021, one might assume that their 2022 opponent list would reflect the difficulty level commensurate with that of a first-place schedule. However, they will be playing a surprisingly easy schedule, due in large part to their presence in the NFC South. Specifically, they hold the privilege of playing the Panthers and Falcons twice. For a team of Tampa Bay's caliber, those are four games with the probable result being a Buccaneers win. They also play the Saints — who project as a fringe wildcard team at best — twice.

Outside of their own division, the Buccaneers have a schedule that could vary in difficulty by a wide margin, based on the eventual quality of the teams that they face. They play every team in the NFC West, two of which are far below the Bucs' caliber — the Seahawks will be at the bottom of the league standings, while the Cardinals are likely to take a step backwards after losing a few key pieces in the offseason. The 49ers have a skilled roster, but I would be surprised to see the Bucs lose to them. As for the Rams, they will be a tough out for anyone in the league.

Tampa Bay will also face each team in the AFC North, which is where things get a bit more interesting. The Bengals will be one of the NFL's better teams, no doubt. After them, though, this division may offer an opportunity for the Bucs to stack wins. The Ravens will be solid, but their middling offensive line and lack of offensive weapons beyond Mark Andrews may limit their ceiling. The Browns will likely be starting Jacoby Brissett at quarterback when the Buccaneers come to town. The Steelers have one of the worst quarterback rooms in the league. In other words, Tampa Bay will probably snag two or three wins from this division, if not more.

Overall, my expected wins model is projecting the Buccaneers to face the second-easiest schedule in the NFL this season. In fairness, that ranking is slightly misleading — the average expected win percentage of Tampa's opponents is skewed down by the fact that they play the Falcons and Panthers twice apiece. They have difficult teams on their schedule, including the Chiefs, Packers, and some of the other (aforementioned) ones. Still, it's safe to say that the Buccaneers will have one of the league's easier schedules, especially for a team with their talent.

A Super Bowl-caliber Roster

When taking a look at the Buccaneers' roster, it quickly becomes apparent that there aren't many glaring weaknesses. Starting from the top, Tampa Bay has the advantage of elite quarterback play, something that not many teams have in their back pocket. Tom Brady is 45 years old, but he is still playing at a high level — he finished second in MVP voting last season. Ever since he landed in Tampa Bay, it has been crystal clear that he and the Buccaneers are a perfect fit. He has always required a rock-solid offensive line and a skilled group of pass-catchers to succeed — the Buccaneers aren't wanting for either.

It is true that Tampa's offensive line will be marginally weaker than last year's unit. Starting center Ryan Jensen will likely miss the entire season due to a knee injury, necessitating a leap in performance from 2021 third-round pick Robert Hainsey. On top of that, there will be a competition for one of the two guard positions due to the void left by Ali Marpet's decision to retire. Aside from those uncertainties, the Buccaneers have three-star offensive linemen rounding out their line. The reliable Donovan Smith remains their left tackle, and All-Pro Tristan Wirfs, who probably deserved serious consideration for Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2020, rounds out the right side. Additionally, Tampa Bay acquired Shaq Mason — one of the league's best guards — to replace Alex Cappa. Overall, this remains a top-10 offensive line with the upside to repeat as one of the league's elite units.

The Buccaneers boast perhaps the league's best-receiving duo in Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. According to my model, both grade out as top-12 receivers; with 10 1000-yard seasons between the pair, it's easy to see why. There are some concerns about Godwin's health due to the ACL tear that he suffered last December, but those concerns are overblown. Godwin is already practicing, and it seems like he's a good bet to make a positive impact on the offense sooner rather than later. On top of those two, Tampa Bay signed Julio Jones and Russell Gage, upgrading the team's depth at receiver. When you combine that group with the receiving threat provided by Leonard Fournette out of the backfield, the result is a formidable aerial attack.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Buccaneers are flush with talent. Tampa's three starting cornerbacks are all competent or better, and they also have a budding superstar in safety Antoine Winfield Jr. The linebackers are somewhat overrated due to the amount of unearned praise that Devin White receives, but he and Lavonte David still form one of the league's best linebacker pairings. Tampa's pass-rushing group is above average, and their defensive tackle duo of Vita Vea and Akiem Hicks may be the best in the entire league. Defensive output has a notoriously high year-to-year variance, but I believe that the Buccaneers defense is a near-lock to repeat as a top-10 unit.

Final Thoughts

The Buccaneers are a bit shallower than they were last year, and their roster has a couple of question marks that didn't previously exist. Still, it is arguably the most talented roster (at least in terms of starters) in the NFC — only the Packers and Rams can rival them, and both of those teams have question marks of their own. Given that the Buccaneers have a soft schedule and a championship pedigree, I think that they're a good bet to win 12 or more games at plus money. Injuries could derail their season, but the same could be said of any team in the NFL. My model has Tampa Bay projected to win just over 14 games (in terms of expected wins), giving me confidence that there's value on this bet.

2022 NFL Prediction - Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Over 11.5 Wins (+120) (Bet $100 to win $120)

*Odds available at BetRivers at time of publishing*

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Jason Yamaguchi is an avid New York sports fan. He has a proven record of providing +EV bets by combining traditional handicapping tactics with advanced statistics. You can follow him on Twitter @TopMoneyPicks to view all of his bets, including NFL, NHL, and MLB picks.

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