Patriots

What NFL experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Buccaneers game

Tom Brady and the Buccaneers come into Foxborough as strong favorites to win Sunday's game.

Tom Brady fires a pass against the Atlanta Falcons Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. AP Photo/Jason Behnken

After the game is over, after Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and the rest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers douse Gillette Stadium in a heavy dose of retribution propellent, how do the Patriots move on? 

After Brady breaks the career passing record in the first quarter, after Gronkowski and Antonio Brown deliver Roger Clemens-like glares to the Patriots’ sideline, and after Patriot fans have finally dealt with the inner turmoil that has been eating at them since St. Patrick’s Day, 2020, what’s left? 

Sunday’s Buccaneers-Patriots showdown has been the event we’ve waited forever since Brady announced he was moving south. It has been the one date Patriot fans have had to look forward to, suffering through a 7-9 campaign, and now, watching a product that might be lucky to have that many wins at the end of the season. Brady is back. Then, he’ll be gone. Again. 

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What then? 

The Patriots are in a rebuilding mode, and by the time Brady finally does hang them up, Mac Jones might turn into one of the league’s most consistent signal-callers. But it’s not happening in 2021, and Sunday is only going to be an extension of the confusion that the kid suffered through last Sunday against New Orleans. 

The Patriots are on the ground floor of the process. Their free agency frenzy didn’t help move the elevator any quicker. 

The game itself would be much better if it were an even matchup. Brady vs. Belichick will go to the pupil, with the teacher saving face by keeping it close. That’s great and all, but what does that mean when the Patriots face the likes of the Cowboys, Chargers, Browns, or any other team with a competent gameplan? 

Brady is here to prove everyone in the building was wrong about his longevity. The way his former team looks, it won’t take much to make that abundantly clear. 

This week’s predictions

Boston Globe staff: Four of six pick Tampa Bay (-7). 

Emmanuel Morgan, The New York Times: Patriots (+6.5). “Teams have not run effectively against Tampa Bay’s front seven and have instead exploited its defensive backs. The Bucs’ secondary has allowed opponents to throw for over 300 yards twice, including in a loss to the Rams last week, when Matthew Stafford tossed for 343 yards and four touchdowns. Brady will be motivated to win, and the Bucs most likely will, but the secondary’s struggles give Mac Jones and the Patriots a chance to cover the spread.” 

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The Athletic staff: All Bucs. 

Jim Derry, NOLA.com: Buccaneers, straight-up, Patriots against the spread (+6.5). “So who do we like? That’s easy. It’s no different than last week. When it comes to the betting public, Drunk Joe is all over Brady, which means I’ll take the robot. (And it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if New England wins it straight up.)” 

Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Patriots (+6.5). “What a stage. What a night. What a return. Tom Brady will be a man on a mission, especially early in this game. But that Buccaneers defense is suspect. I won’t be surprised when the home team covers.”

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Buccaneers 28, Patriots 19. “This is the Brady Bowl as Tom Brady faces his former team and former coach. The emotions will be high for Brady. But when it gets down to playing football, Tampa Bay is the much better team. They are playing consecutive road games, but it won’t matter. Brady gets the best of his former team and rookie quarterback Mac Jones struggles.”

Will Brinson, CBS Sports: Buccaneers 31, Patriots 17. “Obviously it’s Tom Brady vs. Bill Belichick here. On Sunday night. In Foxborough. It’s the Game of the Century of the Week of the Year of the Millennium. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to predict anything other than a Buccaneers blowout: the Pats want to run and the Bucs are great against the run. New England has a good defense but they’ll need to be GREAT in order to slow down the Buccaneers. The Bucs defense can be exposed in the pass game but the Patriots aren’t exactly a team full of deep threats. Mac Jones will need to be perfect and limited in this game if the Pats want to win. It’s just too hard to envision, although if you want to be contrarian the Pats are a great play here. Public is going to mash the Bucs.”

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Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: New England (+6.5). “Brady, winning on Sunday night, at Gillette Stadium? It’s inevitable.” 

ESPN staff: Ten out of 11 (Seth Wickersham) pick the Bucs. 

Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Buccaneers. “While Tom Brady is inarguably the best quarterback in NFL history at this point, we’re watching as Bill Belichick’s GOAT status is being tarnished. To begin, he’s a recidivist cheater, but now it’s also looking a whole lot like he needed Tom Brady more than Brady needed him.” 

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Buccaneers 38, Patriots 10. “You may have heard that Tom Brady is returning to New England with his new Super Bowl champions. Although Brady vs. Bill Belichick is the marquee attraction, this is more about the Bucs being a superior overall team, save for their injury-depleted secondary. They will stop the run and pressure Mac Jones, while the Patriots can take away only one or two of Brady’s myriad weapons. Brady makes sure Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown (if healthy) also have plenty of fun as ex-Pats. It’s about time they could live free and party in Foxborough as ringed champions.”

Bill Bender, Sporting News: Buccaneers 31, Patriots 21. “This should be the most-watched SNF game of all time. Tom Brady makes his return to Gillette Stadium, and it will be similar to when Brett Favre made his first return to Lambeau Field with Minnesota. The great ones always deliver on that stage. Brady gets the Bucs back on track.”

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Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 24, Buccaneers 21. “If Tom Brady gets too emotional, the Patriots have a chance. Look for the Patriots to do everything they can to activate the waterworks, and possibly to steal the win.”

Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Buccaneers 30, Patriots 20. “Tom Brady will shine in his return to New England.”

FiveThirtyEight: Buccaneers, 64 percent (-4). 

Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Buccaneers 30, Patriots 22. “If you have ever enjoyed rooting against the Patriots, have I got the game for you! A mutiny is brewing among a blessed fan base angry to see Tom Brady on top of his game while New England turns into just another team. (That team: The 2000 Patriots?) The banged-up, boom-or-bust Bucs defense offers Mac Jones a better chance for some big plays, but not enough to keep up with Brady. It’s a matchup where the Patriots will sorely miss Stephon Gilmore.”

NFL Pickwatch: Ninety-seven percent Tampa Bay. 

It says here: Buccaneers 27, Patriots 16. In the aftermath of Brady’s return to Foxborough, the 1-3 Patriots will be left asking, “What now?” 

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