There's a Catch
When Tom Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in early March, I was dubious of the pairing.
The schedule, the history of Bruce Arians offenses and his quarterbacks getting beat up, and if you want to get technical, offensive tackles that were average at best last year — I had legit issues with getting excited about the Bucs. I even said they would miss the playoffs.
A month later, Tom Brady has lured Rob Gronkowski out of the retirement, the Patriots shockingly traded him to the Bucs, and Tampa Bay is going to be an easy team to bet on the season win total over 9.5.
The breathless hype on social media, for once, is warranted. Who can argue it? We already knew Tom Brady was going to have one of the best pair of receivers in the NFL; now, he has the best trio of tight ends in the NFL, too. While the draft may change some things, it’s pretty clear that Tampa is going to be the team everyone bets to win the NFC.
But when the dust settles, we still don’t know what Tom Brady will look like at 43 years old, a season after he experienced a rough second half of the season. And given the quarantine, and teams certainly having a truncated offseason, we don’t know how much time Brady will have to learn a new system with his new teammates.
So, when it comes to valuing Tampa Bay, there's a catch: Yes, the Bucs are going to be outstanding. But they'll also be criminally overvalued in betting markets early in the season.
Remember, casual gamblers bet teams and players; professional gamblers bet numbers, like point spreads and point totals. And those numbers early in the season are going to be inflated for all Bucs games, because the books know the public is going to bet Brady & Co. (Obviously, we have to wait for the schedule to come out, but I will be looking to bet against Tampa early in the season.)
That was certainly my feeling about Tampa Bay before the trade for Gronk, and why I thought they’d miss the playoffs and win under 9 games. But Gronkowski is admittedly a game-changer. Yes, he’s turning 31, his career has been hit hard by injuries, and he’s going to have to bulk up after losing about 15 pounds not playing last season.
But go look at the last two games Brady and Gronk played together. Gronk is one of the most unguardable tight ends the league has ever seen. In the 2018 AFC title game against Kansas City — when everyone knew Gronk was going to be the target — he was unstoppable, and in the Super Bowl slug-fest against the Rams, Brady-to-Gronkowski set up the game’s only touchdown.
Brady’s security blanket will be his longtime teammate, one of the best tight ends in NFC history. And there will be times the Bucs use Gronk as a decoy, because whoever the other tight end is — Cameron Brate or OJ Howard; one is likely to be traded — is going to put up some big fantasy football red zone stats. Did I mention both of Tampa’s receivers, Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, went over 1,100 yards last season?
I’m not ready to deem the Patriots a juggernaut yet, not with the issues that defense has, the aforementioned problems at tackle and of course seeing what Brady looks like at 43. And there are other questions, too, if you want to get really critical: How will legendary party animal Rob Gronkowski handle the night life in Tampa? What is the consistently poor Tampa run game going to look like? Last year they were 26th in rushing offense efficiency; the year prior, 24th, and in 2017, they were 25th. What becomes of Gronkowski’s 24/7 WWE belt? (Okay, maybe not that one...)
Combine those questions with the public being all over the Buccaneers, and you're going to want to be careful when considering wagers on Tampa Bay. This Bucs team is undoubtedly going to be very, very good. They might end up as the betting favorites to win the NFC, and with good reason. But there's also a chance that as the season goes on, you can find better prices than you will today, tomorrow, or over the next few weeks.
Let’s see how the draft shakes out, and what the schedule looks like — no trips to the West Coast, just Las Vegas and Denver — before we crown anybody, but I do feel confident about the Bucs' season win total going over.