Brady, Bucs embrace challenge of repeating as SB champions

The Big Game

FILE – In this Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, file photo, Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady reacts after winning the NFC championship NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis. The Super Bowl matchup features the most accomplished quarterback ever to play the game who is still thriving at age 43 in Brady against the young gun who is rewriting record books at age 25. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke, File)

It’s Super Bowl or bust for Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who embrace the challenge of becoming the first team to repeat as NFL champions since the 2003 and 2004 Brady-led New England Patriots. The Bucs return all 22 starters. Brady has a plethora of offensive playmakers at his disposal and Tampa Bay’s defense is eager to do its part to help Brady hoist an eighth Lombardi Trophy. The Bucs went 15-5 last season, finishing on an eight-game winning streak that included postseason wins over Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (15-5, Super Bowl champions)

New faces: LB Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, OL Robert Hainsey, RB Giovani Bernard.

Key losses: None.

Strengths: Tom Brady turned 44 during training camp and is not showing any signs of getting old. He has a plethora of playmakers at his disposal, as well as one of the NFL’s top defenses to help him chase an eighth Super Bowl title.

Weaknesses: After finding a way to retain all 22 starters, the defending champs truly are a team with no perceived weaknesses. A young secondary that was a liability early last season not only improved steadily, but was dominant during a postseason run that included victories over Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes.

Camp Development: The return of O.J. Howard, who missed most of last season with an Achilles tendon injury, provides Brady with yet another talented playmaker to go along with receivers Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown and Scotty Miller, running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, and fellow tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate.

Fantasy Player To Watch: Take your pick, with Evans, Godwin and Brown all capable of posting impressive numbers if they remain healthy and Brady is able to keep everyone involved in the offense. Evans (70 receptions, 1,006 yards, 13 touchdowns) is coming off becoming the first player in NFL history to begin a career with seven consecutive seasons with 1,000 yards receiving. Godwin (65 catches, 840 yards, 7 TDs) is playing under the franchise tag and eyeing a long-term contract, and Brown (45 receptions, 483 yards, 4 TDs) figures to be more productive after sitting out the first half of 2020 while serving a suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

FanDuel Says: Win Super Bowl: 6.5-1. Over/under wins: 11½.

Expectations: It’s Super Bowl or bust. The team’s first NFC South title in 14 years is a short-term goal, but Brady won’t be satisfied with anything short of hoisting an eighth Lombardi Trophy. Neither will a ball-hawking defense assembled around linebackers Devin White, Lavonte David, Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett. No team has repeated as Super Bowl champs since the Brady-led 2003 and 2004 Patriots. A compelling argument can be made, though, that no reigning champion since then has been more equipped for the challenge than this year’s Bucs.

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