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Bengals vs Buccaneers: Week 1 NFL preseason preview

The reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers will kick off their NFL preseason in Week 1 at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Even in an exhibition tilt, this figures to be a lopsided matchup in the Bucs’ favor. Continue reading for our full game preview and key battles to watch for on Saturday.

Bengals vs Buccaneers: What you need to know

Find out where the Bucs and Bengals check in as part of our latest NFL power rankings

Tom Brady vs Jesse Bates III

The word coming from Tampa Bay’s training camp is that the offense has had some growing pains. That means we could see 44-year-old Tom Brady suit up for “a drive or two” according to Bucs head coach Bruce Arians.

Even in the relatively low-stakes preseason atmosphere, it’d behoove the Bengals to get some reps against the GOAT and the loaded Bucs offense. That means star free safety Jessie Bates III will be counted on to match wits with Brady as he tries to beat Cincinnati’s coverage with downfield passes.

  • Tenacious Tom: Brady’s relentless pursuit of greatness is admirable, but the Bucs need to protect him from himself here a little bit. There’s no sense in risking Brady for longer than necessary, especially at his advanced age, with a 17-game season ahead.
  • Bates is a Baller: No safety had a higher overall grade in 2020 than Bates by Pro Football Focus’ metrics. With his future uncertain as he enters a contract year, Bates should embrace the challenge of facing Brady and Co., even in the preseason.

Advantage: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How far will the Bucs go in defending their Super Bowl title? Click here for our NFL playoff predictions

Bucs o-line vs Bengals young front seven

Bengals vs Buccaneers: Week 1 NFL preseason preview
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Bates and the secondary are pretty strong for the Bengals, but their front seven leaves a lot to be desired. They signed defensive end Trey Hendrickson in free agency, and rewarded Sam Hubbard with a contract extension. Hendrickson was an especially dubious move, and Hubbard has little upside as a pass-rusher.

The Bucs are returning all five of their offensive line starters from their Super Bowl run. That continuity should serve them well, and if the Bengals are taking away deep throws from Brady, Cincinnati’s inexperienced, no-name linebacker corps will have a world of problems trying to guard any of Tampa Bay’s weapons in space.

  • Buc Stops Here: Despite the frequency with which Tampa Bay throws the ball deep, its line ranked sixth-best in adjusted sack rate last season, per Football Outsiders. Cincinnati was DFL in this category.
  • Nose for the Ball: D.J. Reader was supposed to be the Bengals’ 2i-technique star when they signed him to a big free-agent deal in 2020. They still drafted Tyler Shelvin this year, and in camp, Josh Tupou has impressed at nose tackle. Maybe that trio can unlock something leading into the regular season.

Advantage: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Zac Taylor vs Bruce Arians

Bengals vs Buccaneers: Week 1 NFL preseason preview
Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It’s going to be an uphill battle for Zac Taylor in this one, as his counterpart Arians clearly has the edge in experience and roster talent. Making matters tougher is the fact that Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow won’t play, as he continues to be brought along from a major knee injury.

  • Hot Seat in Cincy: Taylor is already showing good discretion by sitting Burrow, rather than throwing him out there to try to knock some rust off. It’s more important that Burrow is healthy by Week 1. Nevertheless, if Taylor doesn’t show marked improvement in the win-loss column this year, he may be gone.
  • Laid-back BA: The fun-loving, no-risk-it-no-biscuit mentality Arians projects is clearly resonating with Bucs players. Even when adversity struck last year, Tampa Bay banded together and won a Super Bowl. It’ll be key for Arians to make sure his team doesn’t come out flat as it mounts a hopeful back-to-back championship campaign.

Advantage: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Rebuild vs Repeat

What’s crazy about the Bucs is that they retained every key player — not just their entire o-line, everyone! (cue the Gary Oldman clip from Leon: The Professional) — from their Super Bowl LV triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs. They have plenty of young talent in the pipeline, too, so it’s not like they’re fielding a top-heavy roster that lacks depth.

Meanwhile, Cincinnati really has its work cut out to contend any time soon. The other three teams in the Bengals’ AFC North division made the playoffs last season, and Cincy made only marginal improvements after posting a 4-11-1 record.

  • Vita Revitalized: What’s incredible about the Bucs’ run last year is they did it on the fly, with Brady transforming the culture basically overnight, and also were without nose tackle Vita Vea for much of the way. Vea played just five regular-season games, and Tampa’s elite run defense will only improve with him healthier.
  • Bengals Bungling: Cincinnati really could’ve made more of an all-in effort to surround Burrow with better talent over the past two years. The results of not doing that: a major knee injury that cut his rookie year short, and him entering his sophomore season rusty. Poof. There go two years of his first contract.

Advantage: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The bottom line: With a 4-0 edge in our head-to-head subsections, is it really a surprise that the Bucs are our pick to cover that big spread? Maybe Cincinnati will be inspired to stick it to the reigning champs, but more likely, any time its offense is on the field without Burrow leading the way, it’s not going to be pretty.

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