The Prodigal Old Man returns on Sunday night.
Tom Brady returns to Foxborough on Sunday to face off against the Patriots and Bill Belichick, in what should be an entertaining stroll down memory lane, if nothing else. On paper, the game is enticing in drama, but there’s a lot under the hood that says it might not actually be the slobber-knocker football fans are pining for.
The Buccaneers (2-1) are coming off a loss and bringing their high-powered offense to face off against Mac Jones and the 1-2 New England Patriots in Foxborough, but this one might not be close — at least, not if Sporting News experts have anything to say about it.
The theme of the story: While Belichick usually has a trick up his sleeve, the talent disparity between the two sides is just too wide for New England to overcome. Here’s how SN thinks Sunday night’s game will shake out.
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Buccaneers vs. Patriots predictions
Tom Brady’s revenge game isn’t much of a game. This is a terrible matchup for New England, which won’t be able to run and take pressure off Mac Jones or exploit Tampa Bay’s secondary issues, either. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick can take away one target from the GOAT, but Brady’s got plenty more, including motivated ex-Pats Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown, to rip apart a defense he knows better than anyone else. Buccaneers 38, Patriots 10
This will have the same energy as Brett Favre’s first season with Minnesota when he faced the Packers, and Favre delivered in that spot. Brady will, too. New England ranks second in the NFL in pass defense, so the Bucs will attack through the ground early. Brady will throw for two TDs, and the defense will press into a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers. It’s an entertaining homecoming, but it won’t be a full-fledged blowout. Buccaneers 31, Patriots 21
The Patriots are going to turn Mac Jones loose this week similar to how the Cowboys attacked the Bucs. The gamble here is the rookie is ready for it, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will put him in position to succeed. Brady’s big-game chops are unquestioned, but he’s not been infallible. Patriots will need some luck, and they’ll get it in front of the home crowd. Patriots 34, Buccaneers 30
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It’s hard to see a way the Patriots win this game, even at home. Mac Jones has been “Captain Checkdown” through his first three starts, and his last was about as bad as bad can get. The Patriots defense is good, but it’s not going to be good enough to match up with a returning Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and the rest of Tampa Bay’s firepower. Oh, and to tack it on, a motivated Brady is a scary thing. Expect the Todd Bowles defense to put some pressure on a confused Jones with Brady surgically picking apart New England’s defense. This one won’t be a total blowout, but it’ll teeter on the edge of becoming one. Buccaneers 30, Patriots 17
The Bucs may be able to eliminate the Patriots’ run game, but they haven’t been able to stop anyone through the air so far this season. Mac Jones won’t make enough big plays to win this one, but if he can efficiently move the ball on a Tampa Bay defense that is allowing a league-high 338.3 passing yards per game, New England should keep this closer than people think. However, as good as the Patriots’ defense is, Tom Brady knows Bill Belichick’s scheme and plans better than any other quarterback in the league. He should ultimately help the Buccaneers pull away late. Buccaneers 31, Patriots 24
Cool Dad Brady FTW. Buccaneers 31, Patriots 18
Mac Jones has looked solid, not great, and his two best games have been against two of the worst teams in football — the Jets and Dolphins. He doesn’t have a 300-yard passing or multi-touchdown game yet. That, coupled with poor performance from his skill position players thus far, doesn’t inspire much confidence that things will drastically improve against a Tampa Bay team that’s been among the league’s best on offense. Buccaneers 35, Patriots 14
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