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Welcome back, Tom Brady. NFL front loads Bucs schedule

The Bucs are at Dallas, at New Orleans and home against the Packers and Chiefs to begin 2022.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, left, and Bucs quarterback Tom Brady haven't met on the field since the 2020 season's NFC Championship Game.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, left, and Bucs quarterback Tom Brady haven't met on the field since the 2020 season's NFC Championship Game. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 12|Updated May 13

TAMPA — 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, in the schedule released Thursday.

But don’t think the folks in the league office on Park Avenue in New York took 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 gantlet of opponents to start the season that features three defending 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 the game is 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.

Bucs kicker Ryan Succop (3) smiles after making the game-winning kick against the Cowboys last season.
Bucs kicker Ryan Succop (3) smiles after making the game-winning kick against the Cowboys last season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

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. Five of the next seven Bucs games are at home.

At least the home opener will be worth the wait. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers renews his rivalry with Brady on Sept. 25 at Raymond James Stadium.

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 ago in Tampa and earning a 31-26 win in the NFC Championship Game at Green Bay that season.

The Tampa Bay Bucs' 2022 schedule is packed with top-tier matchups.
The Tampa Bay Bucs' 2022 schedule is packed with top-tier matchups. [ SEAN KRISTOFF-JONES | Times ]

One week after the Bucs face Rodgers and the Packers, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes visits Raymond James Stadium for a Super Bowl 55 rematch with the Bucs. That’s another Sunday Night Football game.

Brady retired Feb. 1 only to return to the team 40 days later. The NFL said 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 at Arizona. It is the first time the Bucs have played on that holiday. Tampa Bay also hosts the Saints in Week 13 (Dec. 5) on Monday Night Football. This is the third straight year the Bucs have the maximum number of prime-time games.

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Bucs quarterback Tom Brady is pressured in the pocket by the Saints back in December.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady is pressured in the pocket by the Saints back in December. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Tampa Bay is the home team against Seattle on Nov. 13 in Munich. The Bucs could protect one home game from being played in Germany and selected the Packers.

Rodgers edged Brady for his fourth NFL Most Valuable Player Award last season, 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.

The Bucs have the fourth-most difficult schedule. In addition to Rodgers and Mahomes, it includes games against other premier quarterbacks: 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.

One more game of note: The Bucs face the Super Bowl 56 champion Rams on Nov. 6 at home. The Rams ended Brady’s 2021 season with a 30-27 win in the division playoff game in January at Raymond James Stadium.

That’s what Brady called “unfinished business” upon announcing his return.

The Bucs open their preseason slate Aug. 13 at home against the Dolphins (7:30 p.m., NBC). No dates or start times have been announced for the preseason games at Tennessee and Indianapolis.

Contact Rick Stroud at rstroud@tampabay.com. Follow @NFLSTROUD.

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