By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In sports — and life, for that matter — there are storybook fantasies, and then there are impossible illusions. This pipe dream used to sit among the latter, but now it might be morphing back toward the former.
The vision, in this instance, is a Super Bowl featuring Tom Brady’s Buccaneers going head-to-head and toe-to-toe and hoodie-to-hoodie with Bill Belichick’s Patriots. It’s a dream scenario for the football world that … actually now has a chance of becoming a reality.
The Buccaneers beat the Colts on Sunday, improving to 8-3 on the season. The Patriots beat the Titans on Sunday, improving to 8-4 on the season. Both teams are within arm’s reach of the top seed in their respective conferences, and both teams are clearly hurtling toward playoff berths.
Obviously, what happens between now and Week 18 is anyone’s guess. What happens beyond that, in the unpredictable NFL postseason, remains a mystery.
But consider this: The Vegas odds give the Bucs the best chance of winning the Super Bowl. They also give the Patriots the third-best odds in the AFC to win the Super Bowl. MGM has the Bucs at +500 to win this year’s championship, followed by the Packers and Chiefs (each team being +700), Bills (+800), and Cardinals (+850). After that, the Patriots are at +1000 to win Super Bowl LVI.
DraftKings has similar numbers overall, with the Bucs (+500) having the best odds and the Patriots (+1000) at sixth overall and third in the AFC. DraftKings also has the Patriots at +450 to win the AFC, behind the Chiefs (+300) and Bills (+350).
Gambling numbers aside, the data crunchers also see this scenario as being plausible. FiveThirtyEight currently estimates the Bucs as having a 12 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl, third-best in the league behind the Packers (17 percent) and Cardinals (14 percent). Right behind the Bucs? That would be the Patriots, who now have a 10 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl, based on FiveThirtyEight’s calculations. And if the Patriots beat the Bills next week, that number jumps up significantly to 15 percent. If the Bucs beat Atlanta next week, their number climbs to 14 percent, too.
For anyone to focus on this possibility too closely at this juncture is likely a waste of time, of course. Between injuries and upsets and tipped interceptions and costly fumbles and bad calls and crazy weather and the general unpredictability of football, estimations and odds-making and data-based projections are far from an exact science. It’s much more probable that neither the Bucs nor the Patriots make the Super Bowl this year, let alone win it.
Yet, considering how far New England has come since losing to Brady’s Bucs in Week 4, it’s remarkable that what was once an absolutely farcical proposal — rookie Mac Jones vs. 44-year-old Tom Brady, Bill Belichick vs. Bruce Arians, a Lombardi Trophy on the line — is now a legitimate possibility.