Perfect storm: Bucs-Pats Super Bowl?

December 14, 2021 06:04 PM
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Ten months after winning the Super Bowl, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are back on top. It might not mean a lot, because the NFL pecking order is a game of musical chairs, but the search for a solid favorite has circled back to Tampa Bay.

Brady’s bunch has overcome a minor midseason slump. The Buccaneers are 10-3 after a four-game winning streak and appear set to seize the NFC’s top seed with a weak schedule down the stretch.

The AFC’s No. 1 seed might just be the Patriots, who have won seven straight and can tighten their grip on the top spot with a win Saturday night at Indianapolis. Is a perfect storm set to bring Brady and Bill Belichick together for a February reunion?

BetMGM moved Tampa Bay back into the Super Bowl favorite’s role last week at 5-1 odds, and the number dipped to + 425 this week. Kansas City is the second choice at + 550, followed by Green Bay (7-1), New England (7-1) and Arizona (15-2).

“The Bucs need to be near the top,” said John Avello, sportsbook director at DraftKings, which lists Tampa Bay as the 5-1 title favorite. “Is there a dominant team out there right now? No. It’s still wide open, so it’s very good for futures. We’re still taking Tampa Bay money, and we’re taking Kansas City money again. The pot grows every week, and it’s a big Super Bowl handle. It’s still going to grow because we have a long way to go.”

One month ago, after Brady threw two interceptions in a loss at Washington, BetMGM elevated the Bills to 11-2 favorites on the Super Bowl futures board and dropped the Buccaneers to the 13-2 second choice. With quarterback Josh Allen hobbling on a bad ankle, Buffalo is barely clinging to the seventh and last seed in the AFC playoff picture while falling to 16-1 odds.

The Bills had an opportunity to change the storyline Sunday, when Allen rallied Buffalo from a 24-3 halftime deficit to force overtime in Tampa. Brady is as tough to put away as Michael Myers in the “Halloween” movies. Allen needed a touchdown drive to win at the end of regulation but had to settle for a field goal, and that was not enough. Brady bounced back, to no one’s surprise, passing for 363 yards and two touchdowns, including a 58-yarder to Breshad Perriman in OT for the 33-27 win.

“The Bills can’t finish,” Avello said. “You never want to give Brady a shot in overtime.”

It was a bad beat for the underdog getting 3.5 points, and beats are becoming a sore subject for Buffalo, which is 2-4 since the beginning of November with three losses by six points or fewer. The Bills’ sudden slide has coincided with the Patriots’ surprising rise.

Sunday of Week 14 was a bad time to be a dog bettor, with favorites winning 11 of 12 games and going 10-2 against the spread. While Avello said DraftKings avoided a “disaster,” it was an ugly scenario for most sportsbooks.

“The worst day in the history of Circa Sports, for sure,” said Circa owner Derek Stevens, who was hoping for a “miracle” upset in the Bears-Packers nightcap but did not get his wish.

The Buccaneers, Chiefs, Cowboys and Packers were the most popular favorites to win and cover. Fading the worst teams in the league is a wise strategy at this point, and dead dogs such as the Giants, Jets, Jaguars and Texans played their hapless roles.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “We were fortunate it was one of the slowest Sundays of the year. If we had these results within the first five or six weeks, call a medic.”

VSiN handicapper and host Brady Kannon, a former champion in the Westgate SuperContest, has updated power rankings that show the Buccaneers in the top spot, followed by the Cardinals, Patriots, Cowboys and Bills. He ranked Arizona No. 2 before its 30-23 loss to the Rams on Monday night.

“The Tampa Bay offense is probably the best in football,” Kannon said. “The defense can be beaten through the air, but the Bucs get after the quarterback and they are excellent at stopping the run. With a healthy defensive secondary, they will be very difficult to beat because they are so good everywhere else.

“Buffalo’s comeback against Tampa Bay shows this team can still compete with anybody. However, the Bills’ lack of a running game is a big problem, especially late in the season and in the playoffs.”

Kannon ranks the Packers at No. 6, followed by the Rams, Chiefs, 49ers and Colts to round out his top 10. He’s holding futures wagers on the Buccaneers to win the NFC (+ 250) and the Patriots to win the AFC (22-1).

Week 15 kicks off Thursday night with a high-profile AFC West matchup in Los Angeles, where the Chiefs are 4-point favorites against the Chargers. Patrick Mahomes is heating up, and the Kansas City defense has allowed an average of 10.8 points during a six-game winning streak.

“The Chiefs are probably a top-three team right now,” Avello said. “The Packers are still in the mix, and maybe the Packers are a top-five team. I don’t know if the Patriots are in that mix.”

I have suspected New England is in the mix since August, when I took 35-1 odds on the Super Bowl board. The Patriots are 2.5-point underdogs to the Colts, who are 3-4 on their home field and need to win to stay in the playoff hunt.

New England and Kansas City could be on a collision course in the AFC playoffs. If Aaron Rodgers’ fractured toe holds up, the Packers and Buccaneers could be headed for a rematch in the NFC title game.

DraftKings lists the 44-year-old Brady as the -150 favorite to win league MVP. Of all the storylines this season, nothing would top a Buccaneers-Patriots Super Bowl. A Brady-Belichick showdown is looking more likely with each passing week.

 

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