The fact that Tom Brady and the 2-1 reigning Super Bowl 55 champion Buccaneers are less than touchdown favorites in Sunday’s revenge game vs. the 1-2 Patriots is laughable. So is any thought of Bill Belichick and New England somehow spoiling Brady’s brilliant night with an upset.
The Bucs are coming off a tough 34-24 Week 2 road loss to the Rams so as much Brady wants to beat the only NFL team he has never beaten, he also wants to get his current team back on track in a tough NFC playoff seeding race. The Patriots got stomped by the Saints 28-13 last Sunday, falling to 0-2 at home with Brady’s first-round replacement Mac Jones looking every bit the rookie.
The contrarian will say Belichick is just at good at rebounding from a loss as Brady has been. Or that inside knowledge of Brady’s elite game will allow him to devise a defensive game plan to frustrate him like few opponents have ever done before.
But based on the initial 2020 results of their separation — Brady winning a Super Bowl in his first season with the Patriots and Belichick seeing his team miss the playoffs for the first time in a dozen seasons — everything else would tell you to side with the quarterback vs. his former coach, and it’s not even close.
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Because Brady and Belichick won’t be meeting each other on the field, this is really about how good the Buccaneers are as a team vs. how not good the Patriots are.
The Buccaneers’ passing game is red-hot and borderline unstoppable with Brady when everyone’s healthy. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin are both playing at a high level, but the re-established presence of former Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski has bumped up the matchup nightmare. Antonio Brown, another former Patriots pass-catcher, may return from the COVID-19 list to get on the revenge party, but if not Brady will keep looking to young Tyler Johnson as a complementary deep threat.
The Patriots’ secondary is missing Stephon Gilmore. Their top remaining corner, J.C. Jackson, has two interceptions and has covered well ahead of a big free agency payday, but they are vulnerable elsewhere. Former Raven Matthew Judon has added a jolt to the pass rush, but the Bucs are strong protecting the edges for Brady with offensive tackles Donovan Smith and Tristian Wirfs.
Early, the Patriots have been stingy against wide receivers and tight ends. But then again, they have played the questionable pass-catching corps of the Dolphins, Jets and Saints. They will be playing pick their poison all night while Brady picks them apart, knowing the schematic tendencies of Belichick and the game of several Patriots back seven defenders.
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You need to throw the ball downfield to beat the Buccaneers and outduel Brady. The Patriots are running game-dependent and will be without James White, Brady’s long-time reliable safety valve. Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers don’t form enough firepower against an injury-riddled secondary. Neither new expensive tight end, Jonnu Smith nor Hunter Henry, has had a Gronk-like receiving impact to boost Jones.
Don’t forget how inspired Brady’s new teammates will be to ensure he whips his old team. Gronkowski and Brown have their own personal motivation, but the rest of the pass-catchers, offensive linemen and running backs won’t want to let him down.
The defense, which has been maligned early not being able to re-create some of its domination of the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55, will come out flying all over the field. The Bucs like to call for a lot of blitzes under Todd Bowles, but look them to dial back knowing they don’t want to create easy one-on-ones vs. their replacement defensive backs. Jones will see many looks, with the goal of the Bucs getting to him with four rushers.
Jones didn’t respond well when the run was shut down and the Patriots fell into a big hole against the Saints. The Bucs can do the same thing to him with Brady staking them to a big lead.
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Most “Sunday Night Football” games are close to call with two even teams. This one is a pure ratings grab for the sideline drama, with the Adele soundtrack in tow. The matchup itself will be a lopsided celebration with the Bucs putting away the Patriots and doing it for Brady.
Quarterbacks on emotional nights tend to have extra fuel. Brady will have plenty of fire, but he still won’t stray from being cool and collected in the fact of anything Belichick throws at him.
Brady also will be aware the final pass he threw as a Patriot in New England was a pick-six in the wild-card playoffs. In likely his last time playing the Patriots as an opponent — unless he’s still playing at age 52 in 2029 — Brady will make sure he leaves his long-time home field in style.
Brady will lead the Bucs to a big win not only for the Patriots fans who came to get one last close look at their beloved GOAT, but for those who also resent him for not finishing his career in New England.
This isn’t like another Super Bowl, because Brady tends to lose in that game from time to time. This is the Brady Bowl and there is only one possible outcome: Sweet domination by the Buccaneers and a shrug emoji from Belichick.
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