Now is the time for Tom Brady and the Buccaneers to set the tone for the playoffs.
Short Chris Godwin, who is on IR, and Antonio Brown, who is no longer with the team, Brady will need to connect with regular stars Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski to pick up where he left off last week with Tyler Johnson and Cyril Grayson.
And, they need to get stand-up performances from Ke’Shawn Vaughn and Le’Veon Bell in the running game. It would be nice to add in some help from Cam Brate, OJ Howard, and Kenjon Barner.
Brady is capable of winning games with that group. Having had a couple of weeks to work with them and having them make significant plays over the past few games is typical of the Bucs work ethic and Brady’s ability to get everyone involved.
But it is most important that the Buccaneers take it to Carolina and not wobble through the game. Coming away with the win is one thing, but controlling the game from start to finish is what we fans need to see, and the rest of the league needs to understand.
If the pundits are to be believed, and their word is rarely gospel, then the Bucs have a very low chance of repeating from last year and securing another Lombardi. They tend to look at Tampa with a jaded eye, not believing that the Bucs have already won 12 games, and if it goes right, they will have number 13 Sunday night.
They look at how some teams played us really hard and we somehow, via Brady miracles, managed to come out on the W-side of the game. Tampa has 12 wins so far. No team in the AFC has 12 wins yet, and only the Packers and Rams have reached that plateau, and yes, the Packers have 13 already.
The pundits, and likely a lot of other teams in the league who will play next weekend, are thinking Tampa is not a solid team and therefore will likely bow out of the Lombardi ball early. They want to sit back and point at how we dropped two games to the Saints, lost to Washington, and skimmed past the likes of the Jets, New England, and Philadelphia.
But, good teams find ways to win, and heavy is the crown for the Champion Buccaneers.
It’s a different match-up when any team faces Tampa. For even the weakest team, an opportunity to knock off the reigning league champion can make a horrible record somewhat easier to bear.
In other words, the Buccaneers always gets their opponent’s “best” game. Going against the rest of the league doesn’t seem quite as daunting as it does to be playing Tampa. And nowhere is that truer than when they have to face a division foe, like Carolina.
Carolina represents a sinking ship as they have dropped their last five games. For them, notching a victory in the final game of the season against the vaunted Tampa Bay Buccaneers will somehow make up for the bruising season they just completed.
The pundits won’t have that in mind as they look at the final results come Sunday night. And, for that very reason, the Buccaneers have got to control this game. Start to finish, the Bucs need to be in charge, like they were against the Bears, the Eagles, and the Panthers, two weeks ago.
Tampa owes it to the League and its fans to show up big time, and skin the Panthers Sunday. They need to let the rest of the teams heading into the playoffs that they are ready, willing, and able to hoist a second Lombardi at SuperBowl LVI.