Welcome back, Tom Brady. NFL front loads Bucs schedule.
TAMPA, Fla. — Tom Brady’s decision to end his retirement made the NFL reconfigure its entire 2022 schedule.
No player moves the ratings needle like the seven-time Super Bowl winner, and the Bucs were rewarded with five prime-time games, including one at Arizona on Christmas night.
But don’t think the folks in the league office on Park Avenue were taking it easy on the Bucs or their legendary quarterback, who turns 45 in August.
They may be trying to make him regret his decision.
Brady and the Bucs face a four-game gauntlet of opponents to start the season that features three division champions and a team that has swept them in the regular season two years in a row.
For the second straight year, the Bucs open against the Cowboys, but this time it will be in Dallas on Sept. 11 on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. A year ago, the Bucs needed a late field goal to beat the Cowboys, 31-29, to kick off the NFL season.
In Week 2, the Bucs travel to New Orleans to play a Saints team that has swept them in the regular season the past two years. That game is at 1 p.m. on Fox. Five of the next seven Bucs games are at home.
At least the home opener will be worth the wait. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will renew his rivalry with Brady at Raymond James Stadium (4:25 p.m. Sept. 25, Fox).
Brady has gotten the best of Rodgers since arriving in Tampa Bay in 2020, beating the Packers, 38-10, in a regular-season game two years in Tampa and earning a 31-26 win at Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game.
Only one week after facing Rodgers and the Packers, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes will visit Raymond James for a Super Bowl 55 rematch with the Bucs. The game will be televised nationally on NBC’s Sunday Night Football at 8:20 p.m.
Brady retired Feb. 1 only to return to the team 40 days later. The NFL admitted it had to rework the 2022 schedule when Brady changed his mind.
“When Tom Brady returned, we were concerned about the strength of the NFC package because there were so many terrific Tampa Bay games we were looking at,” NFL broadcasting chief Howard Katz told the Los Angeles Times. “Then a month later, he unretires and we sort of started all over again.”
Those reworked games included a Christmas night game (8:20 p.m.) at Arizona on Sunday Night Football. It is the first time the Bucs have played on that holiday. Tampa Bay also hosts the Saints in Week 13 (Dec. 15, 8:15 p.m.) on Monday Night Football.
The Bucs could protect one home game from being played in Germany and selected the Packers. Tampa Bay will be the home team against Seattle on Nov. 13 in Munich, Germany (9:30 a.m., NFL Network).
Rodgers edged Brady for his fourth NFL Most Valuable Player Award, even though Brady led the league with 5,316 passing yards and 43 touchdowns. Brady has been named the league’s MVP three times. Rodgers, however, has won the Super Bowl only once while Brady has seven championship rings.
The Bucs have the fourth-most difficult schedule. In addition to Rodgers and Mahomes, it includes games against other premier quarterbacks such as the Bengals’ Joe Burrow, the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott, the Cardinals’ Kyler Murray, the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson and the Browns’ Deshaun Watson.
The Bucs beat the Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl 55, becoming the first team to win the NFL championship in its home stadium.
“Before last year’s Super Bowl, one or both of those guys (Brady and Mahomes) were in five consecutive Super Bowls. It’s about as good a quarterback matchup as you could have,” said NBC broadcaster Mike Tirico.
The Bucs return to NFC South play Oct. 9 by hosting the Falcons at 1 p.m. After games at Pittsburgh (Oct. 16) and at Carolina (Oct. 23), Brady and Co. return home to host the Ravens on Thursday, Oct. 27 (8:15 p.m., Amazon Prime).
That gives the Bucs 10 days before playing what figures to be a critical game against the Super Bowl 56 champion Rams (4:25 p.m., CBS). The Rams ended Brady’s season with a 30-27 win in the division playoff at Raymond James Stadium back in January.
That’s what Brady called “unfinished business” upon announcing his return. After playing the Rams, the Bucs make the long trek to Germany to face Seattle before their bye week.
Four of their final seven games at at home, including a Dec. 18 meeting with the AFC champion Bengals (4:25 p.m., CBS). The final two games could decide the NFC South — home vs. Carolina on New Year’s Day and at Atlanta either Jan. 7 or 8.
The Bucs will open the preseason slate at home Aug. 13 against the Dolphins (7:30 p.m., WFLA-Ch. 8 locally). No dates or start times yet for the preseason games at Tennessee and Indianapolis.