The biggest game of the 2021 season - sentimentally, that is - will be held on Sunday night when Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers head to Foxborough to take on Brady's former team, the New England Patriots.
Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Bill Belichick will say all the right things and tell you that the personal side of this matchup means nothing, it's all about the final score and obtaining a win for their respective teams. That can't be further from the truth, though: There's an obvious sense of pride that will come with a win for either side here, whether it's Brady and Gronkowski defeating the team they won numerous Super Bowls with, or Belichick "proving" that he can find success without Brady as his signal-caller.
Update: Gronkowski has reportedly been ruled out of the game due to injury since this story was posted.
But beyond Brady vs. Belichick, this game presents favorable matchups for both teams, suggesting that we're in for a well-fought contest on both ends. The Bucs are seven-point favorites entering the game, according to the SI Sportsbook. The over/under is set at 49 points.
You can find the AllBucs staff picks, predictions and takes below.
Zach Goodall (3-0): Buccaneers 27, Patriots 20
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are going back to New England and facing the Patriots for the first time. Haven't you heard?
Obviously, that aspect is what makes this matchup so intriguing, making it the biggest game of the 2021 NFL season - even if it's just for nostalgic purposes. But besides that point, I think this could end up being a good game from X's and O's standpoint, too.
The Patriots are a new-look team, having quickly and completely rebuilt their roster since Brady's departure. New England's offense can stand to improve and should as rookie quarterback Mac Jones gains more experience, and that could start on Sunday. Tampa Bay's pass defense has underperformed all season long, both rushing and in coverage, offering Jones a chance to impress with Brady watching him from the opposite sideline - I believe that will happen.
Which, naturally, would lead to dramatic reactions about New England's passing of the torch at QB.
Meanwhile, the Patriots own a stout defense that could help make this game a close one. I believe the Bucs' passing offense with Brady at the helm is overpowered and New England probably won't be able to do enough to slow them down consistently, however, the Pats' defense should be able to make enough plays to keep the game from getting too far out of reach. The seven-point spread in Tampa Bay's favor feels about right.
Jason Beede (3-0): Buccaneers 31, Patriots 21
In one of the most anticipated games this season, quarterback Tom Brady returns to New England for the first time since leaving the Patriots. I can't recall a game quite like this since LeBron James returned to Cleveland for the first time as a member of the Miami Heat and even then, King James hadn't won a title for the Cavs at that point in his career, let alone six championships.
With that in mind, I believe Brady will come out be same the quarterback, if not better than he was in New England. And I've got a good feeling that Brady will find his good friend and former Patriot tight end Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown if Gronk can find a way to suit up for Sunday's game.
The Pats will be lead by rookie Mac Jones, who I think will rise to the occasion and play a solid game. Despite this, the Bucs defense should be able to put together a strong performance causing issues all night long for the rookie quarterback.
Although I believe this matchup will be close for the majority of the game, I think the Bucs will maintain a lead throughout and win by 10 when it's all said and done.
Evan Winter (2-1): Bucs 23, Patriots 17
Just like the Bucs, I am coming off my first loss of the season and looking to make things right with a big win on the national stage.
Not really, but you get what I'm saying.
This game is one of the premier storylines in recent memory, even if it has been drilled into our heads ever since the schedule came out back in April. As it stands now, you're looking at a team in the Bucs that still has its core pieces, but the team is working its way through some issues, mostly on defense. The Patriots, on the other hand, are still trying to figure out who they are as a team, for the most part.
Tampa Bay's offense is good, but the defense isn't. New England's defense is good, but the offense isn't. Both teams struggle to run the ball and both teams are top-5 in giveaways. The biggest difference lies in the juxtaposition of the secondaries, the pass rush, and each team's tendency to commit penalties. The Patriots have one of the league's best secondaries, have a good pass rush, and are in the bottom-10 of penalties committed. The Bucs have one of the league's worst secondaries, little to no pass rush, and commit a bunch of penalties.
I do think the Bucs defense turns in a good performance this week, but that's mostly due to the Patriots offense. Regardless, I see a multi-sack and a multi-turnover day - let's say at least two of each - that gives the Bucs the slight advantage on Sunday night.
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