2021 NFL Super Wild Card Predictions

By Saransh Sharma, Rohan Krishnan, & Pranav Thiriveedhi

For the first time in the NFL’s history, we will be seeing a playoff with 14 teams, as opposed to the usual 12 teams, with each conference having 7 representatives, and one team in each conference receiving a bye week, bringing us our first-ever Super Wild Card Weekend, where we get to see 6 games between Saturday and Sunday played to decide who moves throughout the playoffs. Here are our predictions for who will prevail in the Super Wild Card.

AFC Predictions

#7 Indianapolis Colts @ #2 Buffalo Bills

Saransh’s Prediction: The Buffalo Bills have at times looked like the scariest team in the NFL not named the Kansas City Chiefs, and it is no secret as to why. Josh Allen has played like an MVP candidate all year and drastically improved and like the Chiefs with their QB-Receiver duo of Mahomes and Kelce, Allen has found his duo partner in Stefon Diggs, who was acquired this past offseason. 

Meanwhile, for the Colts, they signed QB Philip Rivers to a 1-year, $21M deal, which surprised many, but his consistent play in the late-season stretch, along with the elite defense, helped Indianapolis secure the 7-seed in the AFC. This game features two defenses that have been hot for the majority of the season, but the Bills’ offense is far superior and more consistent than that of the Colts, propelling them to a win. Final Score: 31-21, Bills

Pranav’s Prediction: The Buffalo Bills are your AFC East Champions! That is something the world has not been heard in over 20 years, but after an upsetting season from the New England Patriots, who placed 3rd in the division, the Bills not only filled the seat but also took the #2 seed in the AFC conference. The Bills are a scary team on all sides of the ball. A very dynamic yet work-in-progress quarterback Josh Allen is the leader for arguably the best wide receiver core in the league. Stefon Diggs, the NFL’s leader for receiving yards and receptions, is finally on a team with a quarterback that can reach his ceiling. 

On the other side, the Indianapolis Colts have proven to be an excellent team, especially with their destructive defense. They ranked first or second in the categories that matter, including points and rushing yards allowed. Matching up a weaker secondary against a strong suited receiving core, though, could prove to make the difference in a win or loss. The Bills are going to take the dub here, but watch out for the Colts next year. 

Final Score: 38-31 Bills

Rohan’s Prediction: The Bills will be hosting their first playoff game in 24 years! A lot has changed for the franchise as they have returned to relevance thanks to HC Sean McDermott, GM Brandon Beane, and MVP candidate Josh Allen. Allen has shattered franchise records this year, throwing for 4,544 yards and 37 touchdowns. Stefon Diggs, who was acquired in a trade this past offseason, was a big part of that and became Buffalo’s first player to lead the NFL in catches (127) and yards receiving (1,535). Furthermore, the Bills are perhaps the hottest team in the NFL as they are winners of six straight to end the regular season. 

On the other side, Phillip Rivers, who was signed on a 1-year deal, is a veteran passer who can take the offense down the field. He needs to hit on all cylinders Saturday and put the ball into the endzone as the Bills’ offense is dangerous. The run game and defense are the highlights of this Colts squad. The defensive unit is fantastic and has not allowed more than 90 rushing yards in any of the last five games. Furthermore, Jonathan Taylor is a joy to watch and became the third rookie in Colts history to have 1,000-plus rushing yards and 10-plus rushing TDs in a season. The run game will be key to the Colts victory, and if they can find leaps of success, they can pull off the upset. The Bills defense is poor against the run but tightened up recently and has played much better in the 2nd half of the season. It will be a close battle, but the hot Bills will take this one and get their first playoff win since 1995. Final Score: 24-16 Bills

#6 Cleveland Browns @ #3 Pittsburgh Steelers

Saransh’s Prediction: If the Cleveland Browns did not have their head coach, along with four other players out for this game due to them having tested positive for COVID-19 or having been in close contact with those that did test positive, I would pick Cleveland, but without them, especially without your head coach, that will be a difficult task. Pittsburgh started as maybe the most underwhelming team ever to start a season with 10+ wins and be undefeated, with losses to the Washington Football Team, Buffalo Bills, and Cincinnati Bengals, and big losses at that proved exactly why. The offense was simple and easy to figure out for defenses after a while, there was no run game, and the defense never missed a beat all year, until that Washington game. 

Cleveland, meanwhile, looked like they were headed for a bit of a downfall when they had gotten their season back on track, but then Odell Beckham Jr. tore his ACL, but they found themselves finishing the season 11-5 and having a Week 17 rematch with the Steelers as their Wild Card matchup. This game will come down to the wire and Cleveland will earn the respect of the NFL, but Pittsburgh will take advantage of the players out for Cleveland. Final Score: 34-27, Steelers

Pranav’s Prediction: Cleveland is going into their first playoff game in a very long time. That is hard to win with a team that has no playoff experience. Cleveland is going into their first playoff game without their head coach, without their best player [Odell Beckham Jr], and four other players. The Browns are an exceptional team who have proved to show that they are not quitters. They have the guts and talent to win games against any team. But being matched up against their division rivals, who they barely beat after the Steelers rested many starters, is not a welcoming entry into the playoffs. 

I have to congratulate them for doing what would have been the impossible two years ago, and even though they possess the running power to beat many teams. The Pittsburgh defense, along with Cleveland’s vacancy in the head coach position will cost the Browns their first playoff win in a long time. 

Final Score: 28-13, Steelers

Rohan’s Prediction: Browns fans have been waiting nearly two decades for their team to return to the playoffs, and it finally happened. Sadly, Cleveland will be without COTY candidate Kevin Stefanski, safety Ronnie Harrison, and LG Joel Bitonio, the longest-tenured player on the team and made three consecutive Pro Bowls. They could also be without tight end Harrison Bryant and cornerback Denzel Ward as they are still on the COVID-19 list. Moreover, the team has not practiced all week and their facility remains closed, which is brutal for Cleveland considering the magnitude of this game. 

It is difficult for me to pick Cleveland to win here despite the Steelers finishing the season 1-4. To be fair, Pittsburgh took Cleveland to the final minutes in Week 17 without Ben Roethlisberger, TJ Watt, and Cam Heyward. The Steelers will win this one comfortably. Unfortunately for Browns fans, they will have to wait a little longer for a playoff win. Final Score: 24-13 Steelers

#5 Baltimore Ravens @ #4 Tennessee Titans

Saransh’s Prediction: The whole ‘Lamar Jackson is 0-2 in the playoffs’ narrative has been the biggest topic of discussion coming into this matchup, but the real talk should be about how the Titans beat them in the playoffs last year, and that this year they may be even better. Titans RB Derrick Henry rushed for over 2,000 yards this season, Ryan Tannehill had a career-high in passing TDs and won 11 games and the AFC South, and Mike Vrabel continues to be one of the NFL’s premier coaches. 

One big advantage that Tennessee has had is to have fans (14,500 total) since October. Having fans during the playoffs will give them a true home-field advantage. The Ravens defensive line will do their job to stop Henry, but it will come down to which QB will make more big plays, and I will take the most underrated QB in football in Ryan Tannehill, in what should be the most exciting game of the weekend. Final Score: 41-37, Titans

Pranav’s Prediction: I agree with Saransh that Tennessee is a good team, but Baltimore is better on paper. I will wait for him to prove that Lamar Jackson truly is a playoff quarterback so I will keep this short and sweet. Final Score: 28-21, Titans

Rohan’s Prediction: The Titans stunned the Ravens in last year’s postseason and the Ravens are looking to get their revenge, this time in Tennessee. This will be an exciting matchup as two of the NFL’s most explosive offenses go head-to-head, with the spotlight being on Lamar Jackson and Derrick Henry. Tennessee built off of last year’s playoff run and got better this year. Derrick Henry had another impressive 2,000 rushing yard season, and Ryan Tannehill had the best season of his career, throwing for a career-high 33 touchdowns and leading the Titans to an 11-5 record. The receiving core of AJ Brown and Corey Davis is no joke, and the Titans defense is very talented. 

Meanwhile, the hungry Ravens are looking to redeem themselves and are entering the playoffs on a 5-game winning streak. Lamar Jackson endured a midseason slump but bounced back in December thanks in part to an easy schedule. The Ravens also have a great rushing attack like the Titans, averaging 191.9 yards per game with Jackson, rookie J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards. I think it will come down to the defenses. Baltimore has a far superior defense, and the Titans just gave up 38 points to a Texans team that had nothing to play for. The defenses will prove to be the deciding factor, and the Ravens will come out on top this time around. Final Score: 34-30 Ravens

NFC Predictions

#7 Chicago Bears @ #2 New Orleans Saints

Saransh’s Prediction: Alvin Kamara tweeted on Thursday evening ‘See y’all Sunday,’ signaling to fans, as well as the Chicago Bears, that he should be back on Sunday evening after having tested positive for COVID-19 last Saturday. Chicago’s offense has been explosive as of late, and Drew Brees has had his playoff struggles the past few years, but with the return of both Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas, Chicago may not have much of a chance. Final Score: 38-28, Saints

Pranav’s Prediction: This is a very complicated game for me to predict. On one side, the New Orleans Saints are a heavily talented team on both sides of the football, but even with Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas returning to the lineup, Drew Brees has not played like his former self. I think a strong Chicago defense can step up and steal a few possessions from the Saints. While I do not believe an inexperienced Mitch Trubisky will be enough to take down the Saints, I will call the upset thanks to that defense.

Final Score: 17-14, Bears

Rohan’s Prediction: Alvin Kamara is a huge factor here. He is currently on the COVID-19 list but the Saints are hopeful that he plays and he recently tweeted “See y’all Sunday”, suggesting that he plays. Drew Brees loves to depend on Kamara, who leads the Saints with 83 receptions, and Brees still looks shaky after returning from his rib injury. 

The Bears and Saints met in the regular season and went into overtime, but things are different this time around. Mitchell Trubisky is now the starting quarterback for the Bears, and both Drew Brees and Michael Thomas are back for the Saints. The Bears defense is elite and is among the best at stopping their opponent’s wide receivers, but I do not see their offense giving enough firepower to win this game. With Michael Thomas back and Kamara likely to play, I think the Saints will move on. Final Score: 26-10 Saints

#6 Los Angeles Rams @ #3 Seattle Seahawks

Saransh’s Prediction: What if I told you that since Week 11, the Seattle Seahawks had the #1 scoring defense in the NFL? After the historic start to the season for the offense, setting multiple scoring records and such, the defense was on pace to a historically tragic start, and at one point could have allowed the most yards per game on average. The return of Jamal Adams and the trade for Carlos Dunlap has changed the fortune of this defense and has made them lights-out, but their offense has sputtered since. The offense that could once put up 30+ effortlessly every week can barely even score 20, and this Rams defense that ended the season as the #1 defense in the NFL will hold that Seahawk offense in check, but potentially without QB Jared Goff or Jared Goff at 100%, the Rams defense may be asked of too much, and we all know that Russell Wilson and this offense always finds a way. Final Score: 23-20, Seahawks

Pranav’s Prediction: Is it just me, or has the Seattle Seahawks offense been playing badly recently. So bad that the defense that once was atrocious is now winning them games. I like Russell Wilson, but he has not been meeting any marginal expectations, regardless of his record. A strong Rams defense against a weaker Seattle offense will sputter points for Seattle, and an explosive offense (even if Goff does not start) will be the deciding factor for whether the Rams can pull off the playoff upset. But for my prediction, I will be taking the Rams. 

Final Score: 21-20, Rams

Rohan’s Prediction: The Seahawks got off to a hot start to begin the season, but the offense, led by Russell Wilson, started to run out of gas and became inconsistent. The defense, however, is the complete opposite, as the unit is improving and was responsible for the Seahawks winning 6 of their last 7 to finish the year. No matter what the records were, games between these two teams were always tight, and I expect a close game once again. The Rams have an elite defense and held Wilson and the Seahawks’ offense in check in both games. 

A player to keep an eye on is quarterback Jared Goff who did not play in Week 17 due to a thumb injury and is questionable for this wild-card matchup. The problem with Los Angeles is poor QB play, limiting their potential. Even though Goff has had a subpar year, he is better than backup John Wolford and gives them the best chance to win. Due to the inconsistencies at quarterback for the Rams, I am going to go with the Seahawks here. Final Score: 20-14 Seahawks

#5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ #4 Washington Football Team

Saransh’s Prediction: The Washington Football Team, who would have thought that after everything they endured, such as Alex Smith’s near-death injury, Ron Rivera’s battle with cancer, Dwayne Haskins being one of the most immature football players of recent memory, and a major scandal involving owner Dan Snyder, that the Washington Football Team would host a playoff game? Well, not any of us, as you can see from our preseason predictions. The NFC East was not great, but teams like Washington and New York both played better than what their record shows. Washington sports the #2 defense in the NFL with the most intimidating front-4 that we have seen since ‘Sacksonville’ in 2016. Alex Smith is 5-1 as a starter, and even without the most impressive numbers, one thing that has stayed consistent with him is that he is a winner. He battled back to the playing field, and Ron Rivera, who battled through cancer, got this team from 2-7 and the bottom of the division to the playoffs. 

Meanwhile, the Bucs acquired Tom Brady, and they have had a mostly consistent season, with most of their mishaps coming in primetime games against strong blitz defenses, which bodes well for Washington. Brady also may not have Mike Evans, but Antonio Brown, Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski are plenty to work with. Washington’s defense will pressure Brady all night and slow down this offense, but the Bucs defense, who has been solid all season, should slow down the injured Alex Smith, and backup QB Taylor Heinicke. It will be a slugfest, but Tampa should pull it out. Crazier things have happened, however. Final Score: 24-22, Buccaneers

Pranav’s Prediction: The Washington Football Team has a top-five defense that is like none other, and Chase Young is my vote for DROY, but their offense is atrocious compared to any other playoff team. I know the saying, “Offense wins games, Defense wins championships,” but a 7-9 Washington Football Team that doesn’t even possess a mascot, has not won a sufficient amount of games to show me that they belong in the playoffs, regardless of how the playoffs work. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the far better team here. With future HoF quarterback Tom Brady, who is the greatest of all time, and a crazy offense to counterpart (even without Mike Evans), Washington’s defense is like a wall with a big door. Tampa Bay also has a top-10 defense to complement themselves as well. And against a weak WFT offense, who will not move the ball, expect a playoff blowout Saturday night.

Final Score: 38-7, Buccaneers

Rohan’s Prediction: You could say that Washington only made the playoffs due to how atrocious the NFC East is, but they are the best team in the East, and it is very impressive how big of a leap they made from last season to this season. Ron Rivera is a Coach of the Year candidate, fighting cancer at the beginning of the season and taking Washington from 2-7 to 7-9 and a division title. They also have the Comeback Player of the Year, Alex Smith, who has inspired millions of people with his road back from his devastating injury and was a big part in taking the team to the playoffs. 
Washington’s defense is tremendous, ranking 2nd in the NFL, with a phenomenal pass rush that should force a lot of pressure on Brady this weekend. However, this is going to be a tough task as the Buccaneers have a crazy loaded offense that has Tom Brady coming off a 40 touchdown season. They arguably have the best receiving core consisting of Chris Godwin, Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski, and potentially Mike Evans will be a handful for Washington’s secondary. Also, Alex Smith is still nursing a calf injury that has affected the offense as a whole. Washington’s run game, headlined by Antonio Gibson, keeps the offense alive, but Tampa has the number-1 ranked rushing defense. WFT has the defense to make this a battle and shock the world, but I feel that their offense just will not give enough to win. Tampa takes this one. Final Score: 31-20 Buccaneers

How the NFC South Became the League’s Most Stacked Division in 4 Days

By Saransh Sharma & Pranav Thiriveedhi

The NFC South for many years was the most QB-driven division in the NFL, with the record-breaking quarterback and Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees leading the Saints, and NFL MVP’s Matt Ryan and Cam Newton leading the Falcons and Panthers, respectively (somehow Brees has never won an NFL MVP award). For years, it was a division which saw Newton and Ryan’s teams going on playoff runs, and Brees being left out to dry with no help, or having to pull a Houdini act just to get to the playoffs, and then there’s the Buccaneers, who had famed 2015 No. 1 pick and National Champion Jameis Winston at QB, and despite some up-and-down seasons from him, the team hadn’t gone to the playoffs since 2007. However, since Newton and Ryan’s Super Bowl chokes, Brees and the Saints have built themselves through the NFL Draft, Ryan and the Falcons cannot get over their 28-3 blown lead in Super Bowl LI, Newton is being scapegoated for getting injured in one of the most dangerous sports in the world, and Winston throws nearly as many interceptions as he does touchdowns. Newton and Winston are currently free agents, and have been replaced by Teddy Bridgewater, and Tom Brady, the Greatest of All-Time. So now, the ship is re-written, with the NFC South back to being elite and QB-driven, but these weren’t the only big moves in the division:

Tom Brady Chooses the Florida Beaches

Let’s start with the obvious: Tom Brady. If it wasn’t for the Coronavirus pandemic, the Buccaneer’s signing of the six-time superbowl winning quarterback would be the top headline across the United States. Tom Brady joined the NFL in the year 2000, where he won six Super Bowls, nine AFC Championships, and 17 Division Titles with the New England Patriots. But now, in the year 2020, in one of the craziest offseasons in as long as I can remember, Tom Brady is leaving the team he played on for almost half of his life. Even though it is still months before the regular season’s start, no one can tell if this move was worth it for Tom Terrific. On March 16th, when free agency opened its door, several teams were in the bidding race for Brady, including the Patriots (of course!), Titans, Chargers, Broncos, Raiders, and Buccaneers. But on March 20th, Tom Brady officially signed a 2 year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His new contract in Tampa guaranteed a $50 Million deal, also included with $9 Million in incentives. But the most interesting part of Brady’s new contract with the Bucs is the prohibited clause. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not allowed to use their franchise tag or trade Tom Brady while he is under that same contract. 

So, why did Tom Brady join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? It obviously wasn’t for the money because other teams were offering Brady $30 Million per year or more. I think, and I’m going to go on a limb here and state that Tom Brady joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his fit on the team, and the elite group of receivers the Buccaneers possess. The Buccaneers are home to two of the most explosive, elusive wide receivers in the game today: Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Last season, the previous starting quarterback, Jameis Winston, threw for an astounding 5,109 yards with those two firing on all cannons on the offense. Now imagine what would happen if you were to take a league average Jameis Winston out of the center and replace him with arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. What are the odds Tom Brady and the Buccaneers don’t do something special next season? Tom Brady finally got his A grade receivers for the first time since he had prime Wes Welker, his top 10 offensive line, and a team more younger and healthier, something he never got on the Patriots. If the Buccaneers and Brady don’t make a run for the playoffs next season, I wouldn’t even know what to tell you.

Todd Gurley Goes Back to Georgia

Just two years ago, Todd Gurley was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year after having over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns. That season was the best season of his career and the Sean McVay Rams offense looked like it was going to be dominant for years to come, despite an early Wild Card loss to the Atlanta Falcons. In 2018, Gurley had over 1,800 scrimmage yards and 21 total touchdowns, and this time, led his team to the Super Bowl, where he and the offense could get nothing going, getting embarrassed and putting up just 3 points total. Going into that game, however, the big storyline was that Gurley had some knee issues which slowed him down a bit in the playoffs, but mainly in the Super Bowl, where Super Bowl 50 hero CJ Anderson took the majority of the carries at Running Back. Just a month after the Super Bowl loss, Gurley was told by doctors that he had arthritis in his right knee. Gurley got surgery, yet the ‘arthritic component’ to the knee injury still remained, meaning that the arthritis could cause him to be injured yet again. Gurley went into the 2019 season with the possibility of being benched for guys like Malcolm Brown or Darrell Henderson, and there was even trade talk during the season. Gurley finished with career lows in carries and yardage, but was still 5th in the league in touchdowns. The lack of carries and yardage played a big role in the Rams lack of success this past season, going 9-7 and missing the playoffs. 

However, despite the rough year and the arthritis issue still looming, Gurley still is amongst the top in the league in terms of carries, yards, and touchdowns for running backs since he was drafted in 2015. The part that is hard to put together about him getting released is the fact that he produced great stats even with the injury scares and such, and even in his down year, it was his team that lost faith in his ability, as he just simply did not get the ball enough. 24 hours after being released, Gurley signed with the Atlanta Falcons for a 1-year prove-it deal, but I expect this to become long-term and a lethal combination for years to come, with Gurley being the clear favorite in the backfield, and QB Matt Ryan and WRs Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Gurley now has the best offensive line he has had since 2018, has an offense that is Super Bowl-caliber when healthy, and is very balanced. Expect Head Coach Dan Quinn to have the offense run through him early on in the season, and Gurley to just cruise to another great season from there.

Teddy Bridgewater is Officially a Starting QB Again

580 miles north of Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the Panthers in Charlotte have also grabbed a new franchise quarterback, at least for the next three years. Teddy Bridgewater, star on the Minnesota Vikings (before his devastating injury), and savior on the New Orleans Saints, just signed a three year, $63 Million deal with the Carolina Panthers. The deal included a signing bonus of $15 Million and a number of incentives sprinkled in. Teddy Bridgewater just got his bag in Charlotte, but that means the exit for one the best quarterbacks in the NFC South, Cam Newton, who has been on the decline the last few years with the Panthers. I love Teddy Bridgewater’s new signing with the Carolina Panthers, but something feels wrong for me. The Carolina Panthers are not exactly the New Orleans Saints or Minnesota Vikings, both teams with one of the biggest and loudest fan bases in the country. And the way Teddy has moved throughout his NFL career, he has thrived on loving fanbases, something I feel Carolina won’t give him immediately. 

Teddy Bridgewater is also the man under center for one of the few teams in the NFL, where the fanbase believes a running back, in this case Christian McCaffrey for the Panthers, can lead their team to success. Bridgewater needs to “bridge” a great relationship with CMC off and on the field, because a great tandem of players in the backfield would really help the Panthers move ahead in an already stacked NFC South. Bridgewater also has great depth and deep threats through receivers DJ Moore, Curtis Samuel, and newly signed Robby Anderson (wideout who played for the Jets last season). With an offense possessing the ability to do really great next year, only time will tell for Bridgewater. A strong start to the season and no injuries will propel Teddy Bridgewater into the limelight with his new Carolina Panthers. 

Emmanuel Sanders Tries to Go for 4 Super Bowls with 4 Teams

As seen by the headline, Emmanuel Sanders has the chance to go to his 4th Super Bowl and for his 4th NFL team, something that no NFL player has ever done. Sanders’ career resume is one of the most consistent you will ever see in terms of stats, but he has not had his chance to shine ever since Peyton Manning retired from the NFL in 2016, leaving the Broncos with limited talent at the quarterback spot, hindering Sanders the most. Despite all of that, Sanders gave it his all in Denver for the next 3 seasons, before getting traded midseason this year to the San Francisco 49ers, who were 7-0 at the time, and eventually became the NFC Champions, and if Jimmy Garoppolo did not overthrow him in the 4th quarter of the Super Bowl, he probably would have won a Super Bowl with them, and stayed with the 49ers.

The move to go to New Orleans was a rather shocking one by Sanders. Many believed he would go to Dallas or Washington, the teams that showed lots of interest in him and needed a veteran presence at the wide receiver position, and were pass-happy offenses. But Sanders instead went to the most pass-happy offense in the NFL in New Orleans, and he has the chance to play with Drew Brees, the 3rd quarterback that will be a future-Hall of Famer throwing the ball to him. Much like in Pittsburgh and Denver, Sanders will play second fiddle behind Michael Thomas, as he was behind Mike Wallace and Demariyus Thomas in Pittsburgh and Denver. That being said, Brees now has Thomas, Sanders, Jared Cook, Tre’Quan Smith, and Alvin Kamara as his targets, which presents the scariest core of receivers in that department. With Sanders now in the mix, the Saints receivers have the edge over teams like the Buccaneers, but the big question will be, can Brees outplay Brady, and can he keep the Saints as not only NFC South favorites, but Super Bowl favorites? Sanders will play a huge role in deciding that, and consider his luck in the NFL, he will probably go to a Super Bowl as a Saint as well.

TB12 to TB: How Brady’s Move Down South Affects His Legacy

Tom Brady might not have shocked the world by saying he was leaving the New England Patriots just two days back, but if you said that to me after he signed a 2-year, $41 million extension in 2016 after a season where Brady was one drive away from yet another Super Bowl appearance, I would have said you were crazy. If you said that his destination would be Tampa Bay, I would think you were even crazier. Either way, Brady in 2020, did just that, but he earned that right. Since that extension, Brady went to 3 Super Bowls in 4 years, and won 2 of them. Though he just left New England, here’s when the dominos started to fall, which led to the door opening for Brady to leave:

The First Fallen Domino: Jimmy G

Through all that, he endured the Deflategate suspension, nagging injuries to guys like Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, a new face in town in Jimmy Garoppolo, whom coach Bill Belichick loved, and much more. Keep that name in mind, however. A guy who was drafted in the second round in 2014 by New England after having won another Super Bowl, their first in 10 years. When Brady accepted his 4-game suspension in 2016, however, Belichick put in Jimmy G, who won his first 2 games, and then led the Pats to a third straight win before getting hurt and handing the ball over to rookie QB in Jacoby Brissett. But Belichick seemed to have fallen in love with Jimmy G and found his successor to Brady. Brady felt disrespected, and it fueled him to win another Super Bowl, in the infamous 28-3 blown lead by the Atlanta Falcons.

The Second Fallen Domino: The Unsung Hero, Danny Amendola

I wrote back after Super Bowl LII that New England’s demise had begun, as Brady had lost to backup QB Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles in what is, in my opinion, the best Super Bowl I have ever seen. That offseason, he ended up losing receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks in free agency. The big name here is Amendola. Amendola for years had been the ‘third guy’ behind Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman, but he may have been the unsung hero for Tom Brady and the Patriots. Through the Super Bowl runs where New England beat Seattle and Atlanta, and lost to Philadelphia in an epic, Amendola was the one whom Brady used to always find in the clutch, his ‘Ol’ Reliable’, per se.

To me, I thought New England made the mistake of letting Amendola go instead of Julian Edelman or Chris Hogan because Amendola was a guy Brady counted on and was close with on and off the field. Amendola seemed to be the guy that would make the big catches and touchdowns in 4thquarters of close ballgames, most notably his game-winning touchdown catch against Jacksonville in the AFC Championship Game in 2017 to save Brady from being beaten by… Blake Bortles. Funny, right? Amendola wound up going to Miami, then Detroit with former Pats Defensive Coordinator Matt Patricia, and he’s still there now. Looking back on the past two years, however, and seeing how the offense played, Brady could have used Amendola in many clutch moments.

The Third Fallen Domino: Antonio Brown

I understand what Bill Belichick was thinking back in October 2018 when Antonio Brown got released. Great player, but we need to know if this guy is well-minded. The last thing Belichick wanted was to get a guy on his team that would be a distraction to the team, like Aaron Hernandez. At the time, AB had been lashing out many times on social media, such as with his former teammates in Pittsburgh, and at that time, when he hired marketing agents to get himself off the Oakland Raiders. Safe to say that Belichick doesn’t normally think players like AB would fit in ‘The Patriot Way’, but somehow, he signed him. AB lasted 11 days on the team before getting released again after sexual assault allegations (which had been going on when Belichick signed him).

But Brady grew a chemistry with AB in the short time. While the stats did not show it, their love on Twitter certainly has, when Brady showed respect for AB even after his departure from New England, and even now, with Brady now in Tampa, Antonio Brown still shows up on Brady’s radar. But this was where it all fell down for Brady in New England. Brady was not happy that a guy with the talent of AB was released, but by ‘The Patriot Way’, he was not the right guy. But with Gronkowski retired and AB gone (along with Chris Hogan gone in free agency and Demariyus Thomas traded midseason), Brady just had Edelman and James White to rely on. Those guys did not stay relatively healthy, the offensive line Brady relied on got hurt as well, and Brady wilted under the pressure a bit after the 8-0 start. He had a great last season in New England, but the team had no pieces around him to keep him from leaving.

So, Tampa is Home. Now What?

Well the legacy of Brady does not require him to win a Super Bowl necessarily. Like LeBron James when he went to the LA Lakers, Brady is putting himself in the toughest position possible, going into an NFC South division with Super Bowl contenders like the New Orleans Saints, who by the way, are led by Drew Brees, a top 5 QB of all-time, an Atlanta Falcons team that just signed Todd Gurley, and a young Carolina Panthers team. Brady easily just put himself in the most stacked division in the NFL, and with the new 14-team playoff (so 7 per conference), all 4 of these teams can be playoff and Super Bowl contenders in Brady’s way. Not to mention that the NFC also has Aaron Rodgers, another top 5 QB of all-time, a near-MVP in Carson Wentz, and the defending NFC Champs in San Francisco. (Side Note: My top 5 All-Time QBs are: Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Steve Young, Drew Brees). Brady is definitely not expected to win a Super Bowl, but as a 43-year old who has shown he can still win 10+ games every year and win Super Bowls, the expectations are high. Brady will probably have to at least get Tampa Bay to the playoffs, something they haven’t done since ’07, and then a playoff win (or more). This is a team that before Brady never had hope, but he brings it. Fans are already flocking to get season tickets, players want to play for Tampa, life is good in Tampa right now. I mean, warm weather, a stadium with a pirate ship, and Tom Brady, what more do you need?

To me, Tampa can contend for a Super Bowl with Mike Evans and Chris Godwin as Brady’s weapons, his best since he had Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but the task is rather daunting. It’s hard to keep expectations low with Tom Brady, so I believe that he probably will take Tampa to at least one NFC Championship Game throughout his current contract (he signed a 2-year deal for $50M, fully guaranteed, with $9M available in incentives) to keep his legacy cemented as it is right now, which is as the Greatest of All-Time.