When the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers met in Foxboro eight weeks ago, only one team was thought of as a legitimate Super Bowl LVI contender.
Yet as the calendar turns to December, the Patriots are just as deserving as the reigning champs when it comes to discussing contenders that can reach the NFL’s biggest stage.
New England has ripped off a league-best six straight wins behind a dominant defense, powerful running game and impressive quarterback play from rookie Mac Jones. The Pats also have the NFL’s best point differential at +146.
You can almost envision the Super Bowl promos now.
Highlights of young Tom Brady winning his first title at age 24 mashed up with video of a 23-year-old Jones celebrating a touchdown pass in the chilly New England night. Clips of Bill Belichick in 2001 and 2021. Past meeting present and future. Whoa.
“Forget the M*A*S*H* finale,” longtime Las Vegas oddsmaker Dave Sharapan told NESN. “A New England-Tampa Bay Super Bowl with Bill Belichick against Tom Brady would blow up Nielsen. It would be the highest-rated television show of all time.”
Odds are good that the game would clobber sports betting records, too. The American Gaming Association estimated that Americans wagered over $4 billion — legal and illegal — on Super Bowl LV between the Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs.
Sharapan believes a Pats-Bucs title game would be the biggest betting spectacle of all time.
“Sportsbooks would need to hire auxiliary ticket writers to accommodate all the bettors and all the foot traffic,” he said. “Everybody would bet it. That Super Bowl would shatter all the handle records.”
Super Bowl odds at Caesars Sportsbook
Buccaneers +525 ($100 wins $525)
Patriots +1100 ($100 wins $1,100)
Plenty of people across the sports betting landscape still don’t buy the Patriots as Super Bowl contenders and that’s fine. Everybody is entitled to an opinion in this racket. Just know that guys like Sharapan who make numbers for a living believe the hype.
“New England has the best defense in the AFC and it’s not close,” Sharapan opined. “It might be the best defense in the league. I saw it start to tighten up about four weeks ago and it’s jarring. And I’ll tell you what — the entire NFL will be rooting for Buffalo next Monday night. Teams can go to Buffalo and win in January, but nobody wants to go to Foxboro.”
So what’s the line on Brady vs. Belichick Part II?
“Somebody in the back will say you’ve got to make the Bucs favored because they’ve got Brady,” Sharapan explained. “Somebody else will gush over the Patriots’ defense. And then you go back and forth until you meet in the middle. Tampa Bay would probably open as a three-point favorite.
“I would be lower than that,” Sharapan added. “Tampa Bay closed -6.5 in Foxboro earlier this season. If these two teams played in New England this weekend, it’s Tampa -3 or -3.5. And that number should obviously be lower on a neutral. I wouldn’t want to give the bag guys anything over 3. They all bet Tampa last year +3.5 and +3 against Kansas City.
“And Brady’s gotta lose some time.”