Sunday, December 10, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs' 2017 schedule lets Jameis Winston take on a parade of great QBs

TAMPA — Here comes the Lord of the Rings. Here comes Captain Comeback. Here comes Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

His first regular-season visit to Raymond James Stadium will be Oct. 5 for a Thursday night nationally televised game against the Bucs on CBS.

Brady is Leonardo DiCaprio with a chinstrap. Model wife. Drives a Brink's truck. He has won five Super Bowls, more than any quarterback in history. FBI agents deliver his shirts.

Brady provided the sports performance of the year by engineering the greatest comeback in an NFL title game, overcoming a 28-3 deficit against the Falcons to win Super Bowl LI 34-28 in overtime in February.

In August, Brady will be 40. He looks 30. Plans to play until he is 50.

But Brady isn't the only face on Mount Passmore that appears on the Bucs' 2017 schedule, released Thursday.

When Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston entered the NFL in 2015, he said he wanted to be compared to the greats of the game. He will get his wish — all in one season.

Here comes Eli Manning, younger brother of Peyton, who will lead the Giants into Tampa on Oct. 1. Manning has two Super Bowl rings and was named most valuable player of XLII and XLVI. Just don't ask him to sign a game-worn helmet.

Here comes Drew (Cool) Brees. He won Super Bowl XLIV and was named MVP of the game. Brees, 38, has passed for 66,111 career yards, third all time and the most of any active quarterback.

On Dec. 3, the Bucs will visit the Packers and take on Aaron Rodgers, who won Super Bowl XLV and is a two-time NFL most valuable player. His most memorable loss in Green Bay has been ex-girlfriend Olivia Munn.

Here comes Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the last two MVPs of the league, who led their teams to the Super Bowl by winning NFC championships.

"It's just a personal goal for me just to know what we're playing against," Winston said. "I'm really competing against these quarterbacks in this division, so I definitely have to step up. … There's a lot of expectations. When you're facing guys like Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan week to week, you've got to elevate your game or you're going to get left in the dust."

All told, the quarterbacks on the schedule have combined to win nine Lombardi Trophies, make 13 Super Bowl appearances and earn six NFL most valuable player awards.

But this is the NFL. Good quarterbacks are on every team. Well, many of them, anyway.

But Brady, Manning, Rodgers, Brees, Ryan and Newton can be considered among the elite. Looking for a possible breather? Mike Glennon leads the Bears into Raymond James Stadium in Week 2.

It's true that football is a team game and Winston won't personally be going against all those great passers. He will have to compete against the defenses of the Patriots, Giants, Packers, Saints, Panthers and Falcons.

But he has to win the pitching matchups and might not be favored in any of them.

Winston is only 23 and in his third season. Brady is entering his 18th. Ryan was 30 before he reached a Super Bowl. Rodgers was 28. Manning was 27.

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter loves how competitive Winston is and that he won't give up on a play. It's what makes him good. But he has committed 42 turnovers (33 interceptions, nine fumbles) in two seasons. It's what makes him and the Bucs vulnerable.

"Some of that's play-calling," Koetter said. "I have to do better in that area if I'm the play-caller. But the top quarterbacks in this league … I think that's something with experience. Think about how much more experience they have over Jameis. Sixteen years, in some cases."

So Winston will have to grow up fast this season. Because in 2017, the Bucs will be caught in an arms race.

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