Dec 12, 2021 - Sports

The Bucs' path to Super Bowl LVI

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Buccaneers (9-3) are rolling, holding a four-game division lead that matches Green Bay's for the biggest in the league.

  • That means they can clinch the NFC South today with a win over the Bills and losses from the Panthers and Falcons.

How they got here: The defending champs opened their season with a last-second win over the Cowboys, won five of the next six, and are currently riding a three-game win streak.

  • By the numbers: Tampa's offense gains 403.7 yards per game, good for second-best in the league, and its defense allows just 84.3 rush yards per game — the best mark in the NFL.

State of play: If the Bucs fail to clinch today, they can rest fairly easy knowing their remaining schedule is the fourth-easiest in the league.

  • Their final four games in the NFL's inaugural 18-week season come against the Saints, the Panthers twice and the lowly Jets.

The big picture: A year after winning the Super Bowl in their first playoff appearance since 2007, the Bucs have the best odds to win it all again in February.

  • That QB of theirs may really have a future in this league.
3 players to watch
Vita Vea, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Photos: Todd Kirkland/Getty Images; Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images; Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

An NFL roster goes 53 players deep. These three have been the most impactful in getting the Buccaneers to this spot, and could dictate how far they'll go from here.

Tom Brady, QB: I mean, he's 44 years old and is heavily-favored to win his fourth MVP.

  • The seven-time champ leads the league in completions (347), attempts (508), pass yards (3,771) and pass TD (34), and his 68.3% completion rate is the second-best of his career.

Rob Gronkowski, TE: Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Leonard Fournette are the workhorses, but few are as important as the man who'll go down as one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history.

  • Wild stat: In the last four games that he's scored (Super Bowl LV, Week 1, Week 2, Week 13), he's done so twice. When Brady finds him once, he doesn't stop looking.

Vita Vea, DT: The six-foot-four, 347-pound lineman's stats may look pedestrian, but his impact is anything but.

  • His huge presence on the line welcomes double teams, plugs running lanes, forces holds and collapses the pocket to make life miserable for opposing offenses.
Tom vs. Dak
Data: ESPN; Table: Will Chase/Axios
Data: ESPN; Table: Will Chase/Axios

Since that wild Week 1 thriller — when Tampa Bay beat Dallas in the final seconds, and Dak told Tom, "We'll see y'all again" — fans have been floating both as MVP hopefuls.

The game itself begged it:

  • Tom: 379 yards, 4 TDs.
  • Dak: 403 yards, 3 TDs.

The bottom line: We think the stats since then speak for themselves.

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