It seems odd to be talking Super Bowl about a team that went 7-9 last season, has had one winning season since 2011, and hasn’t advanced to the playoffs since 2007. For some perspective, Jon Gruden was on the sidelines and Jeff Garcia was under center in 2007 — that was five head coaches and 10 starting quarterbacks ago.

But a lot has changed since the Buccaneers’ 2019 season concluded with a Jameis Winston pick-six. Winston, the 2015 first-overall pick, was not re-signed and is now in New Orleans, and Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl hopes and dreams will in large part be determined by a 43-year-old quarterback.

On the surface that seems like a horrible plan, but Tom Brady isn’t your garden-variety middle-aged man. He’s still one of the the NFL’s best players and it’s not much of a leap to think upgrading the quarterback position, even just a little bit, will be enough to get the Bucs from middle of the road to a legit Super Bowl contender.

1. It obviously starts with Brady

The Bucs landing Tom Brady was arguably the most surprising development of the offseason, perhaps second only to learning that after 20 seasons, Brady was, in fact, leaving New England. But despite all of Brady’s successes, there was the matter of him learning a new offense with new teammates and a new coach — all amid a pandemic.

Turns out, coach Bruce Arians has bigger things to concern himself with.

“Yeah, he’s probably the least of my worries right now,” Arians told reporters in mid-August, but added that Brady also doesn’t get special treatment because he’s a six-time Super Bowl winner and future first-ballot Hall of Famer: “He gets cussed out like everybody else.”

But as training camp gives way to the regular season, the praise for Brady’s grasp of the offense has only grown. Again, not surprising, but another box to be checked ahead of the 2020 campaign that could result in the team’s first winning record since 2016.

And while there’s no disputing that Brady is a clear and obvious upgrade over Winston, Brady is coming off a season in which he completed 60.8 percent of his throws for 4,057 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions. By comparison, last season Winston completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 5,109 yards, 33 touchdowns and 30 interceptions. But it’s that last number — the 30 picks — that was a bridge too far for Arians.

You might point out that Brady hasn’t thrown at least 33 touchdowns since 2015, but we’d note two things. First, the Patriots in recent years haven’t surrounded Brady with capable receivers, and second, if you combine Brady’s interception totals for the last four seasons, he’s thrown just 29. Again, Arians cannot stomach turnovers, and he knows the Bucs have the playmakers around Brady to remind folks that the three-time NFL MVP and four-time Super Bowl MVP is now calling the shots.

2. The Bucs have some of the best pass catchers in the league

Here’s a sobering exercise: compare Tampa Bay’s leading receivers to New England’s leading receivers from a season ago.

For the Bucs, Chris Godwin led the team with 86 receptions, followed by Mike Evans (67), Breshad Perriman (now with the Jets) and Cameron Brate (36), Dare Ogunbowale (35), O.J. Howard (34) and Ronald Jones (31).

For the Pats, Julian Edelman had 100 receptions, followed by James White (72), Phillip Dorsett (29 — he’s now with the Seahawks), Rex Burkhead (27), Mohamed Sanu (he was released) and Jakobi Meyers (26).

Put another way: Godwin ranked No. 2 among all wideouts in total value in 2019, according to Football Outsiders’ metrics, Evans ranked No. 6 … and Edelman was 55th.

It’s easy to understand why Brady was so frustrated last season, and why the Buccaneers’ skill-position players are a clear upgrade for the quarterback. In addition to Godwin and Evans, who can threaten defenses at every level, Brady, who loved targeting his tight ends in New England, has Brate, a rejuvenated Howard and has been reunited with an I’m-coming-outta-retirement Rob Gronkowski.

We’ll know in the first few games whether Brady’s lack of production in recent years was a function of his surrounding cast or him getting old. We’re guessing it’s the former.

3. Leonard Fournette will save the running game!

We’re joking — as much as one can joke about signing the former No. 4 overall pick to help a running game that ranked 26th a season ago. Stated differently: If Arians thinks he can motivate Fournette, who reportedly wore out his welcome in Jacksonville, and the Bucs’ offense is better for it, why not?

Tampa Bay has the leaders in the locker room to keep Fournette focused, and perhaps more importantly, this team is a playoff contender, something Fournette reached just once in Jacksonville. Worth noting: For as much as Fournette didn’t live up to the billing during his three NFL seasons, he twice rushed for at least 1,000 yards. And in the Bucs backfield he won’t be the franchise quarterback’s security blanket, which was his job description behind Blake Bortles. Instead he’ll be part of a group that includes Ronald Jones and LeSean McCoy (though things get cloudy after that), who will all be tasked with bringing some balance to a high-powered offense.

4. This defense is a top-5 unit

We’ve saved the best for last. Yes, it’s fun to talk about Brady and that offense, and what they can perpetrate against the rest of the NFL, but it was easy to overlook this defense a season ago that was at times dominant.

Football Outsiders ranked this group No. 5 overall, behind only the Patriots, 49ers, Steelers and Ravens, and the the Bucs were No. 1 against the run. Much credit goes to defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who was in his first year in 2019, especially since this defense ranked dead last the season before. Credit also goes to the front office, which used its first five 2019 draft picks on defensive players — four of whom played in at least 13 games.

And while the Bucs primarily focused on offense early in the 2020 NFL Draft, the team solidified one of its few defensive weak spots with second-round safety Antoine Winfield Jr., whose father played 14 NFL seasons.

The team’s top six defensive backs are 23 or younger, but there’s plenty of veteran leadership in front of them. The defensive line is anchored by Ndamukong Suh and Vita Vea, Shaq Barrett and his 19.5 sacks returns on the franchise tag, and Lavonte David and Devin White are two of the most athletic linebackers in the league.

For Bowles, continuity is one of the most important advantages this group has.

“You start over every year,” Bowles said of this defense back in the spring. “I know we ended up pretty good and played a few good games ending out the season, but every year is a new year. You can’t rely on the past. But the fact that we’ve got the same guys back, there’s some continuity and the fact that they’re starting to get it mentally with each other, as well as the opposition, is encouraging.”

Also encouraging: The Bucs defense won’t be playing with an offense that led the league in giveaways, which was the case the last two seasons.

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