It’s foolish to say Tom Brady’s first season in Tampa Bay has been a disappointment. The Buccaneers won 11 games and are favored in a playoff game this weekend, yet if there’s a lingering sense Brady has not lived up to preseason hype, it’s only because some of the expectations were unrealistic.
By the numbers, the reality is Brady has been a big hit. He finished the regular season tied for second in the NFL in touchdown passes (40) and ranked third in passing yards (4,633). The Buccaneers topped their season wins total (9.5) set by oddsmakers and went 9-7 against the spread. Still, his season will be defined by what happens next.
Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion, is about to take the stage for Super Wild-Card Weekend, an expanded six-game lineup that promises to be a betting blockbuster.
“What jumps out to me is we have three games Saturday and three games Sunday, which I think is fabulous,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said.
The stakes will stay high on Monday. As a bonus, the college national championship, with Alabama favored by 7.5 points against Ohio State, is expected to attract a larger wagering handle than some of the NFL wild-card games.
“I’m expecting that to be a huge betting game,” Avello said. “I know we seem to say this a lot now, but this is going to be the biggest-bet college football game of all time.”
This postseason could be the last time we see a couple of the NFL’s all-time great quarterbacks in action. Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger are nearing the end of their careers, but each has a shot to make another playoff run, beginning this weekend.
The Buccaneers are 8.5-point point favorites at Washington, which won the NFC East with a 7-9 record. At 43, Brady’s lack of mobility when faced with pass-rush pressure is a weakness that could make Washington a live dog Saturday night.
“Washington has the makeup with that defensive front to give Brady some trouble,” said Michael Lombardi, a VSiN analyst and former NFL general manager. “Potentially, you always see upsets. This is typically the round where the teams are so even.”
More often than not, this has been a season to take the points. Underdogs went 9-7 ATS on Sunday to finish 137-111-3 (55.2%) — with five games closing pick-’em — but favorites went 14-2 straight up in Week 17 to deal bookmakers a beating.
“It was our worst Sunday of the season,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “We got crushed. We took so many moneyline parlays and teasers with all of the favorites together, and Washington added to it.”
Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson did not win any bookmakers as friends Sunday night when he pulled rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts, who had two early touchdown runs, in the fourth quarter of a close game. Pederson was accused of tanking by opting to play third-stringer Nate Sudfeld, whose mistakes helped Washington escape with a 20-14 win.
“Pederson threw in the towel,” said Vinny Magliulo, a Las Vegas bookmaker and VSiN oddsmaker. “If there were fans at the game, there might have been a riot in Philadelphia. Moneyline favorites were golden, and almost everything went to Washington. It was definitely one of the better days for the bettors.”
The only underdogs to win outright Sunday were the Giants and Bills.
“We got waxed pretty good and it was a rough Week 17, but we had it coming,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “It wasn’t the end of the world.”
Win or lose this postseason, it’s probably not the end for Brady. But this could be the last run for Colts quarterback Philip Rivers, who’s not quite in the category of an all-time great. The playoffs kick off Saturday with Indianapolis as a 7-point underdog at Buffalo, the No. 2 seed in the AFC. Rivers is opposing Bills quarterback Josh Allen, a young gun who lost his only playoff start last year.
In the second game, Seattle is a 4.5-point home favorite over the Rams, who are uncertain if quarterback Jared Goff can play after thumb surgery. Whether it’s Goff or John Wolford as the starter — and Wolford might actually be the better option — L.A. should be able to keep things close with its running attack and defense.
The Buccaneers, seeded No. 5 in the NFC, and Ravens, seeded No. 5 in the AFC, are the only road favorites in the wild-card round.
“The bettors believed in Brady from the beginning,” Avello said. “The Bucs have been playing a lot better and scoring a lot of points. The Ravens are playing really well right now.”
Baltimore is laying 3.5 points at Tennessee on Sunday in a rematch of a playoff game the Titans won 28-12 as road underdogs last year. Derrick Henry, who rushed for 195 yards in the playoff upset at Baltimore, finished this season as the league rushing champion with 2,027 yards. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is winless in two playoff starts.
Brees and the Saints, the No. 2 seed in the NFC, are 9.5-point favorites over the Bears, who overcame a six-game midseason losing streak to finish 8-8 and push on their season wins total. New Orleans looks like a layup to put on a moneyline parlay at -450.
“It’s absolutely insane that the Bears get in the playoffs,” Avello said.
In Sunday’s finale, the Steelers are 4.5-point home favorites against the Browns, who took a 38-7 loss at Pittsburgh in October. Roethlisberger, one of many stars who sat out of the two-point loss at Cleveland in Week 17, needs an impressive showing to avoid hitting the end of the road.
My early bets are on the Colts + 7 and Washington + 8.5.
Indianapolis, which blew a 24-7 third-quarter lead at Pittsburgh two weeks ago, is 4-1 in its last five games. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 253 yards in the regular-season finale, is emerging as a force and will help Rivers move the ball against a Buffalo run defense that ranks 17th in the league by allowing 120 yards per game.
The Colts are somewhat of a contrarian play. Everyone is enamored with the Allen-led Bills and their explosive offense, and almost everyone expects them to take care of business at home, but the Jackson-led Ravens looked similarly impressive a year ago at this time. Rivers is typically at his best in the road dog role, so I’ll roll the dice.
Washington’s defensive front is not its sole strength. With veteran quarterback Alex Smith back on the field along with top running back Antonio Gibson and receiver Terry McLaurin, the offense has potential. This team is free-rolling with no pressure, and coach Ron Rivera will be ready to play the role of a riverboat gambler.
Tampa Bay beat only one team that finished with a winning record (Green Bay) this season. In Brady’s last 10 road playoff games with New England, he went 4-6 with one win by more than six points. The Buccaneers probably will survive and advance, but it might not be easy for Brady.