As rumors float around about Tom Brady possibly returning to New England next year — a scenario that seems highly unlikely — the 45-year-old quarterback is busy trying to lead a bad Tampa Bay Buccaneers team back to the playoffs.
The Buccaneers (5-6) sit on top of the NFL’s worst division, a trash pile that includes the 4-8 Saints, who visit Tampa for something less than a marquee matchup on Monday night.
It’s inaccurate to say Brady is getting better with age, but he’s still an elite quarterback. Brady has completed 66.2% of his passes and ranks fourth in the NFL in passing yards with 3,051. What’s most impressive about Brady is he leads the league in passing attempts (470) and has thrown only two interceptions. The downside is he has only 14 touchdown passes in 11 games, and Tampa Bay’s problems scoring points are a big reason for its losing record.
The Buccaneers have failed to score more than 22 points in any of their past seven games and the offense ranks 27th in scoring at 18.2 points per game. In a 23-17 overtime loss at Cleveland, running back Leonard Fournette sat out with an injury and rock-solid right tackle Tristan Wirfs went down with a leg injury. Tampa Bay’s offensive line has leaks, the running attack often disappears and the receivers have struggled with drops. Brady is not mobile enough at this stage to overcome many of the offensive issues.
A defense that ranks No. 6 in scoring (18.5 PPG) is keeping Brady and the Buccaneers in games. The Saints’ string of scoring in 332 consecutive games -- the longest active streak in the league -- ended with a 13-0 loss at San Francisco in Week 12.
New Orleans is 2-5 in its past seven games, but coach Dennis Allen continues to start Andy Dalton at quarterback for unknown reasons. The franchise is headed for more major changes in the offseason, and it’s questionable that Allen, who’s on a hot seat, can motivate his players in December.
Brady had lost four straight regular-season games against the Saints before winning 20-10 in New Orleans in Week 2. The Saints have matched up well with the Buccaneers, and this remains a heated NFC South rivalry, so laying points is playing with fire. Still, Brady’s offense is sitting on a breakout game at some point, and maybe this is it.
It seems unlikely Brady would want to return to the Patriots, who are fading from relevance while Matt Patricia and Joe Judge pretend to be offensive coaching gurus. I think it’s more likely that Brady, who grew up a 49ers fan, finishes his career in San Francisco with a team that’s a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Pick: Buccaneers -3 (-145)
Four more plays for Week 13:
Jets (+3) over VIKINGS: Mike White is one of the best stories in the league, and the Jets are hotter ‘dogs with him starting instead of Zach Wilson. White passed for 315 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-10 victory over the Bears a week ago. New York’s defense, which ranks fifth in scoring (17.8 PPG), is equally important. Minnesota (9-2) is running away with the NFC North, yet it has a +5 point differential for the season and there are reasons not to believe in quarterback Kirk Cousins and the defense. The sharp money is on the Jets, who are 4-1 on the road.
Steelers (-1) over FALCONS: The favorite has flipped in this game, and the Steelers were more attractive as road ‘dogs, but I’ll stick with coach Mike Tomlin and his more reliable defense. Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett has been unimpressive in most of his starts, but the rookie did play error-free football Monday in a 24-17 win at Indianapolis. The Steelers have had problems controlling elite quarterbacks — Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts and Josh Allen, for example — and that’s not an issue in this matchup. Atlanta is 1-3 in its past four games and its offense averaged 15 points in the three losses.
Titans (+4.5) over EAGLES: Tennessee runs the ball and stops the run, a solid formula for winning. The Titans rank No. 3 in run defense, allowing 84.5 yards per game, and Derrick Henry is the No. 2 rusher in the league with 1,048 yards. Philadelphia has not played especially well the past three weeks, going 2-1 while falling to the Commanders and struggling to beat the Colts and Packers. The Eagles peaked in the first two months, so I’ll fade them until they show signs of heating up again.
Colts (+10.5) over COWBOYS: The situational spot favors Dallas, which has had a rest advantage since Thanksgiving and will be playing the second of three consecutive home games. The Cowboys will certainly put the heat on Colts quarterback Matt Ryan, who has little mobility and rarely escapes pressure. There are reasons this line was bet up to double digits, but it could be an overreaction to Indianapolis’ poor performance on Monday. The Colts can hang in this one with running back Jonathan Taylor and their improved defense.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread