This NFL season is all about familiar faces in unfamiliar places. Two of the best examples are the GOAT, Tom Brady, playing in Tampa Bay with the Buccaneers and former MVP Cam Newton taking his place in New England with the Patriots. After Week 1, the Patriots are 1-0 and the Bucs are 0-1, so this week we debate which combo of Brady and Bruce Arians or Newton and Bill Belichick will find the most success over the course of this season.
No, the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints are not the same, but Cam Newton and the Patriots won and Tom Brady and the Buccaneers lost in each quarterback’s respective debut with their new teams. There’s no doubt Brady showed flashes of classic New England Tom, but the Buccaneers offense, with all their weapons and offseason hype, just never quite clicked. That’s understandable, given the fact that this is the first time in over twenty years Tom Brady has played for a team not named the New England Patriots, but Sunday’s 23-34 loss to New Orleans was never even as close as that score suggests. Brady threw for 239 yards with two touchdowns, and more damningly, two interceptions (one was returned for a touchdown). He connected with Mike Evans and Rob Gronkowski for a combined 13 yards on three catches. There’s still time to figure this thing out in Tampa, but that was not the start anyone in the organization wanted or envisioned. Meanwhile in Foxborough, for the first time in *checks watch* two and a half years Cam looked like CAM. Newton threw for 155 yards and rushed for 75 yards with two touchdowns, all with the classic Cam Newton swagger. This is the first time Bill Belichick, the smartest football mind of all time, has been able to redesign his offense around a new quarterback (who has an MVP trophy on his shelf) in over twenty years. That’s scary for opponents. Add in the fact that the New England defense grabbed three interceptions while allowing zero touchdowns, and New England could return to contention in a weak division very quickly.
I’ll admit, Sunday looked very promising for the Patriots and not so much for the Buccaneers. But you said it yourself, there’s still plenty of time to figure it out. 15 more games in fact. Brady didn’t look great on Sunday. He made a few horrible throws. But we’ve seen Brady get off to rocky starts in New England before, and by Week 8, it’s a distant memory. This was the first game in a whole new offense with all new players and coaches around him. Not to mention they were playing the favorite to reach the Super Bowl in the NFC, the New Orleans Saints. So I think it’s really unfair to hold this week against Brady and Arians. I believe they will build up a trust in each other, but they need a little more time than one game. It may not be anything like it was in New England with Brady and Belichick, but you still have the greatest quarterback of all time paired with a really good offensive mind in Arians and some great players to throw to on offense. They’ll be fine.
As for the Patriots, I’m not so sure. Sunday was good, but they still only put up 21 points against a horrible Miami team. This offense was so stagnant last year, and while Cam helps that a little bit with his running ability, there still isn’t a lot of talent around him. You can get by with read options and play action passes against the Dolphins, but against a good team (like the Seattle Seahawks, who they play this week), I’m not sure it will work. They have to play a real opponent before I buy any shares of Newton/Belichick stock.
In all likelihood both teams will be 1-1 by next week. You mentioned the Pats will take on Russell Wilson and the Seahawks while the Buccaneers should be able to handle the rebuilding Carolina Panthers with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm. Both teams have a gauntlet schedule aside from the Patriots having the New York Jets on the schedule twice and the Dolphins once more. But the Patriots, while clearly the less talented team, have an almost ridiculous track record of getting big contributions from unknown names, and Belichick has had some success without Brady before. Belichick’s record is 14-6 while playing Matt Cassel, Jimmy Garappolo and Jacoby Brisett. None of those guys are Cam Newton. I trust Belichik to get the most out of this team while practically the entire roster plays with a chip on their shoulder.
Meanwhile, in Brady’s first game without Belichick, he looked frazzled behind a struggling offensive line, who allowed him to be sacked three times and pressured on practically every other pass. Bruce Arians will need to get Brady into the quick rhythm offense he thrived in with New England if he wants to hide this offensive line from the great pass rushes lurking in the NFC. Both teams could be great, but I’ll never bet against Bill Belichick, especially with a former MVP behind the wheel in Cam Newton.
Don’t get me wrong, Belichick is the best coach ever. If anybody could make it work with the current Patriots roster, it’s him. But I just feel like their ceiling is so much lower than Tampa’s. If everything goes right (and rarely everything goes right) what are the Patriots? A 10-6 team maybe? Meanwhile, if Brady settles in and gets comfortable with his new teammates, the Bucs could sneeze and get 10 wins. Bill Belichick is twice the coach Bruce Arians is, so I have no doubt if both were given the same roster, Belichick would get more out of it. But Arians has such a better roster in his control without gaping holes at wide receiver, tight end and linebacker. The Buccaneers as currently constructed are built to win a Super Bowl, and they happen to have a quarterback that knows more about doing that than any other player in the history of the game. Belichick doesn’t have that luxury. It’s going to take some doing just to get the Patriots into the playoffs. So while I think both tandems will achieve success this season, that success is on different levels. I have the Patriots going 9-7 and getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs, while I have the Bucs going 11-5 and making it to the NFC Championship.