Brady, Bucs on rise as Patriots plummet

In early March, a couple of weeks before the sports world was shut down and turned upside down, Tom Brady was set to announce a big decision. At that time, there was no buzz about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sportsbooks still were open for business, and a bettor showed up at the South Point to wager $10,000 on the Buccaneers to win the Super Bowl at 60-1 odds. Most amateur psychics and NFL insiders were predicting Brady would stay with New England or head west to sign with the Chargers or Raiders — Hollywood and Las Vegas seemed like attractive options.

Someone knew something, or maybe it was just a lucky bet on a long shot, but the 43-year-old quarterback stunned the football world by signing with Tampa Bay. Even more surprising might be the reality that the Buccaneers, who have not won a playoff game since 2003, are now serious Super Bowl contenders.

“Brady is going to win a lot of games,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “I would say right now Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh are the best teams in the league.”

Vaccaro added Baltimore and Kansas City to the debate, and Aaron Rodgers’ revival makes Green Bay a threat. But the point is that Tampa Bay suddenly looks like the team to beat in the NFC, and Super Bowl futures boards have been adjusted accordingly. At the South Point, the Buccaneers’ odds are down to 5-1. At the Westgate SuperBook, the Buccaneers are the third choice at 7-1 odds, behind the Chiefs (4-1) and Ravens (5-1).

As recently as Oct. 8, Brady was getting ripped by critics after a ragged performance in a 20-19 loss at Chicago. He threw a game-ending incompletion before holding up four fingers, apparently unaware that fourth down had just passed. It was a sign of old age, right?

But in blowout victories over the Packers and Raiders the last two weeks, Brady passed for a total of six touchdowns with no interceptions. He also influenced the Buccaneers into signing troubled but talented wide receiver Antonio Brown, who could make coach Bruce Arians’ offense even more powerful. To complete the puzzle, Tampa Bay ranks No. 1 in rushing defense and eighth in scoring defense, and that’s what separates the Buccaneers from New Orleans and Seattle.

“The Buccaneers have made a big statement, there’s no question about it,” said Vinny Magliulo, Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director and VSiN oddsmaker. “Right now, to me in the NFC, it’s between Tampa Bay and Seattle.”

Brady’s next stop is New York. The Buccaneers (5-2) are 10½-point favorites over the Giants on Monday night.

When the most dynamic coach-quarterback duo in NFL history broke up in March, a media-driven competition was born between Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Brady. Who would fare better, or worse, without the other? At the end of Week 7, we have the answer.

New England is obviously getting the worst of the split. The Patriots were pounded 33-6 by the 49ers on Sunday in the most lopsided home loss of the Belichick era. Belichick’s defense was shredded for 467 yards, and quarterback Cam Newton was benched in the second half after throwing three interceptions.

Betting on Belichick after a loss is no longer a reliable handicapping angle. The Patriots (2-4) have lost three consecutive games for the first time since 2002. New England closed as a three-point favorite over San Francisco, but the Patriots were pathetic on both sides of the ball and never had a shot. 

“There were a lot of sharps on the Patriots,” Magliulo said.

For bettors who like to buy on bad news, the Patriots will be a tempting play as four-point underdogs at Buffalo in Week 8. The public will likely look the other way, though the Bills did not exactly set the world on fire Sunday in an 18-10 victory over the Jets.

“The Patriots’ numbers are trending in the wrong direction in almost every statistical category,” said Michael Lombardi, a VSiN analyst and former NFL executive. “It was 33-6 and it looked worse. Can they get it turned around? Bill’s got his work cut out for him. The quarterback, I don’t know what happened to him from the Seattle game to now.”

Newton was sensational in a 35-30 loss at Seattle in Week 2 while passing for 397 yards, rushing for 47 yards and accounting for three touchdowns. We were all a little fooled by that performance, and Newton has struck no Superman poses lately.

He looks rattled in the pocket, and his throws lack zip. Newton is 12 years younger than Brady yet has a weaker arm. Newton has two touchdown passes and seven interceptions this season, and he was briefly sidelined after a positive COVID-19 test. Belichick is sticking with him this week, but Jarrett Stidham is warming up in the bullpen.

Brady has 18 touchdown passes and four interceptions. It made sense that after a limited offseason and no preseason, he would start slowly in a new offense with unfamiliar receivers. I was higher than most on the Buccaneers going into this season, despite it being considered a square opinion.

Before the season, Tampa Bay’s regular-season win total was posted at 9½ (Over -120) at the South Point, where New England’s win total was 9 (Under -140). These are teams headed in opposite directions.

I was not high on the Patriots this season. Belichick’s last three draft classes have been disappointing, and he has a bigger rebuilding job than probably even he thought. On the positive side, New England still has two games against the Jets, so a few wins will come. But this season will be written off as a lost cause unless Belichick can find a way to upset the Bills.

All summer, most sharp bettors strategically planned to fade Brady and the Buccaneers, who drew support from the public. Chalk this one up as a win for the public.

“The Patriots’ power rating continues to plummet,” Magliulo said. “Those people who said Belichick was as good as he was because of Brady are starting to look prophetic.”

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