One of the most unusual seasons in the history of the National Football League ended in a way that has become very familiar over the last two decades: Tom Brady hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after winning the Super Bowl.
Despite being an underdog in the game and for the majority of the playoffs, Brady capped his first season in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers with a 31-9 rout of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs in the final game of the 2020 NFL season.
The championship was Brady’s seventh — and don’t be surprised if the NFL’s all-time winner ends up adding to that total before all is said and done.
Though the Chiefs have been installed as the favorites to win Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles at +600, Brady and the Buccaneers have an excellent shot at returning to the game and winning it again.
Listed at +1000 to win it all per BetMGM, Tampa Bay is only scheduled to play five games (Saints, Bills, Rams and Dolphins) next season against teams that finished the 2020 season above .500 as they will face the AFC East and NFC East in addition to their usual NFC South opponents.
One of those winning teams, New Orleans, will likely be in worse shape in 2021 than they were in 2020, as it is fully expected that longtime quarterback Drew Brees will retire and take a job working at NBC, and the team well in excess of the salary cap headed into what will likely be a busy summer. That means the Buccaneers will have a great chance to win their division after finishing in second place last season, with the diminished Saints, retooling Panthers and perennial underachieving Falcons not expected to present much of a challenge to the Super Bowl champs.
In addition to six games against those three teams and the aforementioned Bills, Rams and Dolphins, the Bucs will play the Eagles, Cowboys, Washington Football Team, Giants, Bears, Jets and Patriots. If the NFL adds a 17th game next year, Tampa Bay’s extra game will be against an AFC opponent not in the AFC East.
Brady has never played against the Patriots, but he spent two decades dominating the Dolphins, Bills and Jets and taking at least three out of four from the AFC East seems entirely reasonable. Though he’s less familiar with the NFC East, Brady should be able to accomplish something similar against a division that failed to field a team with a winning record last season. With a split with the Rams and Bears also seeming reasonable, the odds seem good Tampa will be able to equal, and probably surpass, last season’s 11-5 record. Doing that should put them in play for earning a home-field advantage in the postseason and maybe even a bye week, advantages they did not have this time around.
Though the Bucs will likely lose some players this offseason, including wide receiver Chris Godwin, inside linebacker Lavonte David and defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, all three players who scored touchdowns on Sunday (tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Leonard Fournette) expressed a desire to return to Tampa after playing last season on one-year deals. Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett, who just played under the franchise tag, has also said he’d like to be back.
Even if Tampa Bay can’t retain all of those players, the Bucs should be able to bring in low-cost veteran replacements who are willing to take short money for a shot at a ring, a practice the Patriots commonly employed while Brady was in New England.
Also, with 43-year-old Brady only under contract for one more season, the team may sign him to an extension that will allow them to move some money around in deferred payments in order to free up more space under the yet-to-be-determined salary cap for the ’21 season. As is, the Buccaneers will have an estimated $28.9 million in cap space, which should give them more than enough room to make some impactful moves.
It is admittedly early to speculate, but Brady becoming the first quarterback to repeat as a Super Bowl champion since he did it in ’03 and ’04 with the Patriots is squarely on the table.