Watching him play elsewhere is going to require a season of adjustment for Patriots fans. Watching him play against the team he co-piloted to unprecedented heights in NFL lore would be too much for now.
The NFL and its television partners would have done anything, up to and including sacrificing a team mascot on live television, to have Brady vs. Bill Belichick happen in the 2020 season. The rules and guidelines of NFL schedule construction didn’t allow for it this year.
But if the teams were scheduled to meet?
Let’s put it this way: The Patriots-Cowboys matchup in Week 12 last season, which aired in the 4:25 p.m. window on Fox, was the highest-rated regular-season NFL game (19.5 rating/40 share) on any network since 2007. The hunch here is that a Patriots-Bucs showdown would surpass that if it aired on network television, and make a run at it if it were on cable.
The NFL powers-that-be will have to wait until 2021 for the Brady-Belichick duel, since the Patriots are booked to play NFC South teams that season. And that’s assuming that Brady, who will be 44, or three years younger than Belichick was when he took the Patriots coaching job, will still be upright and effective.
Patriots fans can wait for that. They need time to prepare for that. And what they ended up with was pretty close to the best-case scenario for this season, which is this:
Patriots fans will have the opportunity to watch Brady and the Bucs almost every week, should they wish to, and get acclimated with that situation without it interfering with watching the Patriots (who, I will continue to repeat until you agree with me, even if I must wait until December, are still going to be a very good team despite the change at quarterback.)
How much will we see Brady and the Bucs in the Boston market? The exact number of games is uncertain right now, but it’s certain to be at least nine times (presuming there’s a full NFL schedule, which is no easy presumption obviously). The Bucs have five prime-time games – two on Sunday and Monday nights, and one on Thursday – and will also play in the national 4:25 p.m. window four times locally on Boston 25, the local Fox affiliate. All five of the Bucs’ prime time games are scheduled for between Weeks 5-12
We also know that they don’t play a game the same time as the Patriots until Week 15, when the Patriots visit the Dolphins and the Bucs are at the Falcons, with both slated for 1 p.m. kickoffs. The only later overlap is in Week 17, when the Patriots host the Jets and the Bucs host the Falcons, again at 1 p.m.
In 2006, the NFL introduced “flex scheduling” to make sure the best late-season matchups reach the largest audiences, but this will not affect the Bucs or Patriots this year since both are already scheduled for the maximum five games in prime time.
There’s the small possibility that a Bucs game gets cross-flexed from Fox to CBS, the AFC rights holder. In 2014, the league introduced this process that allows a select number of games that would have typically aired on Fox or CBS to be aired on the other Sunday afternoon network. That means that an all-AFC matchup could air on Fox, an all-NFC game could appear on CBS, and I’ll get a barrage of emails asking why this is happening. Cross-flexing needs a better publicist.
All of this leaves the Bucs with seven 1 p.m. games, including the aforementioned pair that kickoff the same time as the Patriots’ Week 15 and 17 games.
Ch. 25, the local Fox affiliate, would love to have as many of those games as possible, but there are variables.
For one thing, the station does not get a say in which game it shows on a given Sunday, and there is a “home” team already, sort of. The Boston market has long been considered New York Giants territory, with their games historically getting priority with the NFC rights holder in the market.
‘While the Giants aren’t officially the home NFC team of the Boston market, history shows the NFL has gone that direction more often than not dating way back to the late ‘50s and ‘60s when the NFL was on CBS and the AFL was on NBC,’’ said Tom Leyden, the Ch. 25 sports director, in an email.
“The Giants games were broadcast in Boston on CBS and many people from that generation still consider the Giants to be their favorite team, or favorite NFC team, at least.”
Leyden acknowledged he looked into the schedule when it was announced last Thursday and learned that there are three potential conflicts with Giants and Bucs games at the same time in the Fox 1 p.m. window
“The first test will be Week 10, when both the Giants and Bucs play at same time,’’ he said. The Bucs and Giants also play in that same window in Weeks 14 and 17.
“You could argue [the games in Weeks] 14 and/or 17 could move based on how important they are to the standings and, frankly, whether Brady is playing or not,’’ said Leyden.
That’s a good point. The appeal won’t quite be the same if football’s cruel nature catches up to Brady at age 43 and backup Blaine Gabbert ends up getting some starts.
But entering the new season, whenever that may be, the Bucs will be far and away the most appealing NFC team in the Boston market. Even if it will take time to get used to seeing Tom Brady in a new uniform – and on a new channel.