Marc Daniels: Bucs May Be The Super Bowl Favorites

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Las Vegas Raiders

It was September 29th last season and the Tampa Bay Bucs handed the LA Rams their first loss of the season. The Bucs beat the Rams 55-40 to move to 2-2 on the season. Jameis Winston was 28-41 for 385 yards and tossed four touchdowns with one interception. One week earlier, Winston and the Bucs fell late to the New York Giants but still had a stellar day going 23-37 for 380 yards and three touchdowns with one pick. Those two performances led to the debate of whether Tampa Bay needed to get Winston signed to a new contract, a contract that might total north of $100 million with much of it guaranteed. 

It was hard to argue that the idea of a new deal for Winston was out of line. But did the Bucs need to rush to get a deal done. 

The Bucs opted to play out the season. They finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. Winston ended up throwing 30 interceptions. But even after the season, there was a sense Tampa Bay still might bring the former top pick back. The Bucs had the option of a franchise tag for $27 million. 

Meanwhile, few believed Tom Brady was really going to leave New England. Would he and Bill Belichik really divorce after two decades. And even if Brady was leaving, most thought possible destinations were Nashville, Las Vegas or possibly San Diego. What about Tampa Bay?

Well, on March 20th Tom Brady announced he was embarking on a "new football journey" and signed a two-year deal with the Bucs for $50 million. And with that signing, the Bucs became one of the most interesting teams in the league. But despite the signing, questions loomed about Brady. Are the skills declining? Can his line block? Was it a gamble on an aging quarterback for an aging coach? 

With no off-season workouts because of the virus and no pre-season, Tom Brady's team is not only 6-2 but one of the best teams in the NFL. After an opening season loss at New Orleans, the Bucs ripped three straight wins before a stinker of a game at Chicago. Since that loss, Tampa Bay has won three in a row again and Brady is playing as good as any quarterback in the league. He is completing 66% of his passes and tossed 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His offensive line has been superb and Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette are each averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The combination of Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Scotty Miller, OJ Howard and Gronk have supplied Brady with passing weapons he never had in New England.

Now, the Bucs have added Antonio Brown to the roster. No one knows what the gifted receiver will bring. But if Brown has any game left, Tom Brady just got better.

Sunday night's game with the Saints is for first place in the NFC South and it starts a second half of the schedule where the Bucs play no cold weather games. They are in Carolina next week and have remaining road games in dome stadiums in Atlanta and Detroit. The home schedule includes the Rams and Chiefs as well as Minnesota and a second game with Atlanta. 

A win over the Saints Sunday and the Bucs move to 7-2. Even if you split the home games with the Rams and Chiefs, the Bucs could win the rest and finish 13-3. A 13-3 record could mean the top seed in the NFC. And in case you forgot where the Super Bowl is...Raymond James Stadium...

Notes: Florida is in prime position to get a win against rival-Georgia tomorrow in Jacksonville. The Dawgs are wounded on defense and have several starters out. Georgia's quarterback Stetson Bennett has been adequate but not spectacular. Florida's Kyle Trask has a chance for a big day with the Gators big play offense. The key is whether Florida can get an early lead and force Bennett to have to throw often. The Gators defense has struggled in earlier games, but that defense may get its biggest help from Trask if he can be hot early...BYU(7-0) plays at Boise State(2-0) tonight. A win could make BYU a serious contender for the College Football Playoffs. This game is the biggest on the Cougars schedule against a ranked team. BYU's biggest wins are Navy and Houston and both may end up with losing records. BYU does not qualify for the G5 slot in a New Year's Six bowl because they are an independent. Meanwhile, Boise State can become a candidate for that big bowl slot with a win. The Broncos would need to likely run the table and become fans for UCF, who gets unbeaten Cincinnati in two weeks...Michigan(1-1) plays at unbeaten Indiana(2-0). The Wolverines still have games left with Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State. Could they finish 3-5? Would the Lions, Jets, Falcons or anyone else want Jim Harbaugh if that happens?...History is made tomorrow in the Pac 12 when a 9 am start finds Arizona State playing at USC. It marks the earliest start for a league game ever...

Final thought: Fire has no shadow. Go ahead. Light a match and hold up near a wall. No shadow

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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