Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2021 schedule highlighted by Tom Brady's return to Foxborough

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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 with the Buccaneers facing the Dallas Cowboys at Raymond James Stadium. ESPN will have a Monday Night Football game on Sept. 13 featuring the Baltimore Ravens at the Las Vegas Raiders (8:15 p.m. ET)

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played January 9, 2022. The playoffs begin January 15, 2022 and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022 at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here's what's in store for the Bucs:

Schedule

Sept. 9: vs. Cowboys

Sept. 19: vs. Falcons

Sept. 26: at L.A. Rams

Oct. 3: at Patriots

Oct. 10: vs. Dolphins

Oct. 14: at Eagles

Oct. 24: vs. Bears

Oct. 31: at Saints

Nov. 7: Bye

Nov. 14: at Washington

Nov. 22: vs. Giants

Nov. 28: at Colts

Dec. 5: at Falcons

Dec. 12: vs. Bills

Dec. 19: vs. Saints

Dec. 26: at Panthers

Jan 2: at Jets

Jan. 9: vs. Panthers

Strength of schedule: 29th (.465)

Biggest takeaway

Once again the Bucs are getting five nationally televised games this season -- the maximum number allowed by the NFL -- including the NFL Kickoff Game for the first time in franchise history. This schedule is conducive to what Tom Brady does best -- build as the season progresses. The Bucs only face one 2020 playoff team in the first six weeks of the season -- the L.A. Rams. But after that, they face six playoff teams: the Bears (Week 7), at New Orleans (Week 8), at Washington (Week 10), at Indianapolis (Week 12), vs. Buffalo (Week 14) and vs. the Saints (Week 15), with a team-friendly Week 9 bye, although it’s not the latest in the NFL like last year, which was Week 13.

One storyline to watch

The marquee game will be Brady’s return to Foxborough in Week 4 to face Bill Belichick, the man he spent 20 years with -- the most by any head coach and player duo in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL history, according to Elias -- and won six Super Bowls with. While the timing of that game -- on the heels of a cross-country road trip at the Rams -- isn’t ideal from a scheduling standpoint, you couldn't draw up a better plot line: Brady may set the NFL's all-time passing record in New England. He enters the season 1,154 yards behind Drew Brees.

What Vegas thinks

The oddsmakers have the Bucs’ win total at 11.5. But they reached 11 wins last year during the regular season despite no offseason, a truncated training camp and no preseason. With Brady being in his second year in Bruce Arians’ offense and a weaker schedule in 2021 -- 29th with opponents finishing a combined 126-145 in the 2020 regular season, versus the 16th ranked schedule last year (128-127-1, .502) -- the Bucs’ path to a higher win total and a second Super Bowl with Brady seems easier this go-around.

Bold prediction

It isn’t very bold to predict that a Super Bowl champion returning all 22 starters on offense and defense -- the first in the salary-cap era -- can actually “go for two,” as coach Bruce Arians puts it. Every Super Bowl champion thinks they can. The Kansas City Chiefs nearly "ran it back" last year. But few have done it (eight teams to be exact). One of them happens to be a team Brady played on though. This team can -- it'll be hard to count Brady out.