This week's Buccaneers-Patriots matchup has the aura of a Super Bowl heading into the game. Ever since the schedule was released, people have talked about this game non-stop.
And with good reason. The only thing that's missing to complete the vibe is a winning record from the Patriots. But that doesn't mean they will be a lesser, easier opponent to take down.
That's far from the truth. But what is true is that the following players will go a long way in helping the Bucs figure out how to come out of Foxboro with a win on Sunday night.
3. TE Cameron Brate
Brate will be needed in a big way since Rob Gronkowski isn't playing. The eight-year pro isn't as near as complete a player as Gronk, but he is very reliable in the passing attack and is a very good red zone target.
O.J. Howard is another option at tight end, but Brate has played 36% of offensive snaps compared to just 15% for Howard.
Brate showed last year during the playoffs that he can step up when needed. He led the Bucs in receiving through the first two games of the playoffs with eight catches for 130 yards on just 44% of snaps.
Make no mistake: The Bucs offense is missing a big weapon in Gronk, but Brate is good enough to keep things moving without too much of a drop-off.
2. RB Leonard Fournette
Bill Belichick is going to try and take away what the Bucs do best, which, if you haven't watched this team in 2021, is definitely the pass. The Bucs are one of the league's worst teams when it comes to running the ball.
What's even worse is the Bucs don't even try to run the ball. Running backs Ronald Jones II and Fournette average a combined 13 carries per game through the first three weeks. Not 13 carries each. 13 combined carries.
I'm not one to pound the table when it comes to establishing the run, but that has to change. And it should change this week. The Patriots are going to man up on the Bucs receivers and try to disrupt the timing on the quick passes that Brady loves. This will result in pressures, sacks, throwaways, etc. - things that will handicap the offense and could possibly force the Buccaneers to work from behind the chains.
A solid ground attack would help loosen the Pats defense up. With Giovani Bernard out and Jones II looking like a continuously-shrinking piece of the offense, expect Fournette to get the bulk of the work. How he performs will go a long way toward how much success the Bucs offense has on Sunday night.
1. QB Tom Brady
I know I said last week that I don't like to put Brady on this weekly list. It's low-hanging fruit, at the end of the day. But it's a requirement this week. Just like last week.
How can he not be here for this game? Brady is literally going back to the place where he created the legend that is himself. He's facing off against the man who helped coach him up to where he is and the man who helped set the table for success around him.
He's facing the man that helped cast him out of New England.
Brady has always been cool, calm, and collected. But it's certainly fair to wonder how much emotion will go into this game and how it will affect his play. It's usually a bad idea to buy into the whole "ex-coach and former player" storyline, but man, we are talking about two guys who were with each other almost every day for two decades. They know each other. And they know how to beat each other.
And based off what we've seen from the Bucs, they can't win this game without Brady. This game centers around in more ways than one and rightfully so. He's easily the top Buc to watch once this game kicks off.
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