By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We’ve all got our tenets and principles in this life. Without them, we are lost.
Occasionally, though, we must stray. And even though we may believe that spending time in September (or any month, really) discussing the possibility and/or likelihood of an NFL team going undefeated is a gargantuan waste of time … sometimes we’ve got to follow our gut and just say it.
The Bucs might go undefeated!
OK, ridiculous, silly, stupid — sure. No doubt. It’ll never happen. In the 40-plus years of 16-game NFL seasons, only one team made it through the regular season without a blemish, and that team couldn’t complete the job in the Super Bowl. (You must have heard of that story on the news or something by now. It was a big deal. People were so sad.) Now that the regular season is 17 games, the task of running the table becomes exponentially more difficult — which is really saying something when discussing something that was already borderline impossible.
Nevertheless, if you were to look at the defending Super Bowl champions’ schedule, you’d have a hard time doing anything but liking their chances in every single game on the ledger.
This exercise is made easier by the fact that the Buccaneers quite literally brought back their whole team from last year. Their entire offseason mantra has been about running it back. And with Tom Brady .. hey, I feel like he had something to do with that aforementioned failed bid at an undefeated season, let me Google that real qui– oh, oh God. What have I done?
Anyways, back to the story: With Tom Brady very clearly having just two years left in his career, the urgency in Tampa should be notably higher than it’s been for other defending champs in recent years. Throw in the fact that the Bucs are playing a second-place schedule after smartly not winning their division last year while obviously knowing they’d be getting Taylor Heinicke in the wild-card round, and the schedule accommodates a lot of winning for the reigning champs. (They also get a Week 9 bye, perfectly situated in the middle of the year, which should help.)
Drew Brees is out of the division, knocking the Saints down several pegs. The Falcons might have gotten … worse? The Panthers put their eggs in Sam Darnold’s basket, one year after putting their eggs in Teddy Bridgewater’s basket. The Bucs ought to run the table on the NFC South.
They also drew the NFC East, which was the NFL’s most embarrassing division last year. Washington won without a team name or a winning record. Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t exactly foretell a reversal of fortune for that division. Another four wins for Tampa.
With that second-place finish last year, the Bucs will get the Rams out of the West, and the Bears out of the North. The Rams with Matthew Stafford in Week 3 provides a challenge, no doubt. But the Bucs will still be favored. And provided Brady can remember how to count to four, he’ll take care of Chicago this time.
Their “extra game,” if that’s what you’d want to call it, comes against the Indianapolis Colts. Buddy, do you know who Tom Brady hates? It’s the Indianapolis Colts. Since Peyton Manning got out of the way, Brady is 7-0 vs. Indianapolis, including two playoff wins. He’s 15-4 against the Colts all time. He hasn’t lost to them since 2009. He’s not going to lose to the Colts. It’s not in his DNA.
The most intrigue, really, comes from the Bucs drawing the AFC East. There is, of course, the Week 4 showdown in Foxboro, a game that could be (and should be) the most anticipated regular-season game … ever? There will certainly be a lot of pressure on both sides in that game. The Bucs are obviously the better team, but the unique circumstances make that one intriguing, to say the least. Brady also has to play the Dolphins the following week, and he’s lost to the Dolphins more than he’s lost to any other team. Something about those helmets. Then there’s the Week 14 game against the Bills, who should once again be a top team in the AFC and who will be using that game as a mid-December Super Bowl to try to make a point about their own potency. That’s a losable game for Tampa, no doubt.
(The Bucs also play the Jets in Week 17. It’s nice that the NFL still gives Brady those scheduled relaxation days late in the season like that. Very polite and considerate.)
Obviously, the 2021 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not actually going to go undefeated. That’s ridiculous. If they do, I will eat the laptop that was used to write this story. I will eat it with a fork and a knife and some A1 sauce.
The point, though, is this: However you felt about Brady and the Bucs rolling through the NFL from December through February last year, you better get yourself ready for a whole lot more of it this year. Whether they end up with 13, 14, or 15 wins is the only question. What’s not a matter of debate is whether or not Brady and the defending champs will once again be in the spotlight all year long. The Bucs are built for another run.
And now, after sufficient ado, Week 1 picks.
(Home team in CAPS; Tuesday lines)
TAMPA BAY (-8) over Dallas
Imagine if I wrote that whole thing about the soon-to-be-undefeated Buccaneers, only to express doubt that they could blow out the Cowboys on a banner night in Tampa? That would’ve been a real David Duchovny-in-Zoolander moment right there.
The Cowboys deserve to get run out of the building for giving us the most boring season of “Hard Knocks” that’s ever existed. Shame on you, Dallas Cowboys.
Philadelphia (+3.5) over ATLANTA
I don’t anticipate having too many restrictions this year, but I do expect that I won’t allow myself to ever pick the Falcons as a favorite. I reserve the right to change my philosophy … but I won’t need to.
Pittsburgh (+6.5) over BUFFALO
Among the decent-to-good teams in the NFL, the Steelers had the quietest offseason of them all. Outside of Ben Roethlisberger’s official decision to return, it’s been … quiet. Maybe too quiet?
I do think the Bills are good, but after a summer of hearing how good they are, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them get blindsided with a gut punch here in Week 1. (The wild card, of course, is how insane that home crowd in Buffalo is going to be.)
CINCINNATI (+3) over Minnesota
You can understand why the NFL goes to such lengths to protect quarterbacks. Because if not for seeing Joe Burrow’s return to the field, do you have even the slightest desire to care about this game for more than 11 seconds of your life? I don’t. Not me. I desperately would like to not watch this football game. Personally speaking. Just my politics.
San Francisco (-7.5) over DETROIT
I’ve come all the way around on Dan Campbell, I think. From January’s kneecap-biting comments to now … I don’t know. Wouldn’t you like to see it kind of work out for him and the Lions? I might. I haven’t decided yet.
Having said that … I don’t think it could possibly work out for him and the Lions.
TENNESSEE (-3) over Arizona
Seattle (-2.5) over INDIANAPOLIS
HOUSTON (+3) over Jacksonville
CAROLINA (-5) over New York Jets
Los Angeles Chargers (-1) over WASHINGTON
NEW YORK GIANTS (+2.5) over Denver
Wait, I’m supposed to say something about every single one of these things? Sheesh! Need to have a word with my agent. This seems like a bad deal.
Cleveland (+6.5) over KANSAS CITY
Feels like a Week 1 Super Bowl opportunity for the Browns. Don’t sleep on it, folks.
Green Bay (-3) over NEW ORLEANS
Granted, most of it is Aaron Rodgers’ fault. If he had just not disappeared and acted like he’s the World’s Most Introspective Man, then people would have paid more attention. But I am nevertheless floored at how little attention has been given to Aaron Rodgers’ performance in 2020. It was RI-DIC-U-LOUS.
The fella threw 48 touchdowns with just five picks. He had five games with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. He only had four games all year where he threw fewer than three touchdowns. Forty-eight and five! Insane.
Anyways. I’ll write that every week if I have to. People need to have some respect for that season.
NEW ENGLAND (-3) over Miami
I originally had Miami here. There’s just something about a former New England defensive coordinator getting to welcome a rookie QB into the NFL that makes me feel like it’s best to lean Miami in this one. Add in the mystery that is the Patriots’ perennial trouble with the Dolphins, and it felt like a safe pick.
But then I remembered that it’s important not to get too lost in the QB story lines. It’s hard not to get sucked in. Yet in this game, the Patriots are going to run, and then run, and then run some more. Mac Jones will still have to make a few throws, but the Patriots are loaded up on big bodies up front, and they’ve got a deep and varied group of backs. They’re going to bulldoze their way through this one.
LOS ANGELES RAMS (-7.5) over Chicago
We all think the Bears are crazy for starting Andy Dalton over Justin Fields. But maybe they’re right! Maybe Justin Fields isn’t ready. Maybe Andy is just good enough for the Bears to pile up some wins and make the playoffs.
But … they probably aren’t? So let’s watch it all crumble in prime time, shall we?
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS (+4.5) over Baltimore
I’ve got this sneaky feeling that the 2021 Raiders might have a run in them like the 2016 Raiders had, right up until Derek Carr broke his leg. Jon Gruden has subtly hinted this summer that he’s not particularly enthused about being made fun of for being, well, Jon Gruden. The roster is good enough to win some games. And this 4.5-point-home-underdog business only makes me feel better about this absolutely-certain-prognostication-that-doesn’t-have-any-chance-of-blowing-up-in-my-face-and-making-me-look-very-stupid-right-off-the-bat-in-Week 1.
Absolutely love it when football returns. Let’s go.
Last year: 132-132-5