In the regular season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a combined 8-0 against the Carolina Panthers and the Atlanta Falcons ever since Tom Brady arrived two years ago.

But, on the other hand, they’re 0-4 against the New Orleans Saints.

Despite the losses, the Buccaneers have been able to both win a Super Bowl and the NFC South. The Saints haven’t ruined any long-term plans, just yet.

That could easily change in 2022, however.

Yes, the Saints lost several key pieces over the offseason -most notably head coach Sean Payton- but they still have one of the NFL’s most complete rosters. Especially when considering who returns to the lineup in 2022.

Two of those returning players, quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Michael Thomas, are two of the Saints’ best players and will be key factors in how the race for the NFC South title plays out.

Both players are expected to play at some point in 2022, but it was still up-in-the-air as to when that would actually happen. According to NFL Network‘s Ian Rapoport, Winston has been cleared for training camp and Thomas is expected to be cleared, soon himself.

Saints training camp kicks off on July 27.

“It really seems to be all positive for Winston,” Rapoport said on the most recent episode of NFL Total Access. “Remember, he took part in some of the OTAs and some of the minicamp [and] didn’t seem limited, at all. And that is the expectation – in the pocket, he should look like Jameis Winston of old…

“The expectation is that full health is coming and it’s all positive for Jameis Winston.

“Meanwhile, for Michael Thomas … This also is heading in a positive direction. He didn’t participate in minicamp, but was in the building and he is on the same page with head coach Dennis Allen, which is extremely, extremely important. And there is some optimism that he’ll be cleared at some point early in camp and begin to look like the Michael Thomas of old.”

The Buccaneers are favorites to win the NFC South and rightfully so. They still have one of the NFL’s best rosters and of course, Brady is playing quarterback.

But it’s clear the Saints have the Bucs’ number. What we’ll find out in 2022 is if that was more a Payton thing or if it’s just the current nature of the rivalry. While the loss of Payton is gigantic, Allen has been in New Orleans since 2015 and Pete Carmichael Jr., the “new” offensive coordinator, has been there since Payton was originally hired in 2006. So, there is plenty of continuity and familiarity among the Saints coaches and players.

Both teams will have to play their own schedules. The NFC South won’t strictly be determined by which team wins the regular season series.

At the same time, however, if the Saints keep up with the consistency they’ve shown over the recent years and if both teams end up with the same record, then yes, the regular season series will play a major role in determining who wins the division.

And when a team is expected to return two of its best players, that hill only gets harder to climb for the Buccaneers.

Featured image via Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports