TAMPA, Fla. — Their first training camp practice was July 26. The first regular-season game was Sept. 10.
But, come on, we all know the 2023 season begins this Sunday for the Bucs and their fans.
When you play in the NFL’s remedial division there is no other way to look at it. Of course, every game on the schedule matters but outlasting the other bystanders in the NFC South is the only way the Bucs can dream of quasi-glory.
And that’s why Sunday’s game against the Saints is as close to must-win as it gets in early October.
“We’ve got a big divisional opponent coming up this week,” coach Todd Bowles said Tuesday morning. “If we can get to the bye week at 3-1, nobody will be crying about that.”
He’s right, of course. A win in New Orleans would make the Bucs the team to beat in the South with nearly a quarter of the season behind them.
Carolina hasn’t had a winning season since 2017 and is 0-3 with a rookie quarterback in charge. The Falcons have managed to win two of their first three games, but they are also riding a five-season losing streak and a downturn seems likely if not inevitable.
That leaves the Bucs. And the Saints. Just like the past three seasons.
If you need a refresher course on the relative importance of this rivalry, consider their two games last season: Tampa Bay beat New Orleans 20-10 in Week 2 and 17-16 on a Monday night in December. Reverse the outcome of those two games and the Bucs would have been 6-11 and in last place in Tom Brady’s farewell season. Instead, they won the division and extended their playoff streak to a franchise-record three consecutive seasons.
All because they beat the Saints twice.
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