Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Chicago Bears
Live on Sky Sports NFL
Brady reboots Tampa Bay
Those who've seen Tom Brady in recent years toil with weak receiving talent in New England might have greeted his move to Tampa Bay with some trepidation.
The legendary QB wasn't blessed with outstanding pass catchers at Foxboro lately, but aspects of his play suggested his own play was on the brink of a precipitous decline.
That he'd do so as a Buccaneer, a franchise that puts up strong competition with the Dolphins and Jaguars for the most dysfunctional NFL organisation in Florida, only added to the foreboding mood around his departure from the team where he'd won six Super Bowl rings.
But the first four weeks of TB in TB hasn't been overwhelmed by the crazy circumstances of this 2020 season, the Bucs tendency towards disaster, or the change in system or personnel. If anything, he is looking rejuvenated.
There have been bumps, naturally. A pair of highlight-worthy pick-sixes, against New Orleans in the season opener and the Chargers on Sunday last, might have grabbed attention, but the truth is Brady is looking more comfortable by the week in his new surrounds, and his five TD performance against LA as the team rallied to a 38-31 win reminds us of peak Brady in Patriots blue and white.
As with every team this season, Tampa has been beset by injuries to big players, so Brady has been deprived regularly of star receivers like Chris Godwin and Mike Evans for periods of play. Leonard Fournette is missing time, and OJ Howard is now gone for the season. While Rob Gronkowski, in theory, could take advantage of that, his return to the league to join Brady's crew has seen more headlines grabbed than touchdowns so far.
But players like Scotty Miller and Ke'Shawn Vaughn stepped up on Sunday. The offensive line has been improved by rookie Tristan Wirfs, meaning Brady hasn't become the crash test dummy many feared for opposing defences.
The Bucs defence is loaded with talent too, and in coordinator Todd Bowles has someone capable of harnessing it. They shut down the Chargers in Sunday's come-from-behind win, a fightback that bodes well for Brady's prospects of leading them into the playoffs come January.
Foles take the reins
The 43-year-old comes face-to-face with the only quarterback besides Eli Manning to have bested him in the biggest game of all.
Nick Foles is now the starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears after a brief stint in Jacksonville where he failed to rekindle that Philly Special magic that took down Brady's Pats in Super Bowl 52.
31-year-old Foles is playing with house money after writing his name in history with that playoff run, so it's easy to understand how he was content to sit behind Mitch Trubisky through the opening weeks of this season as the Bears gave their busted 2017 first-rounder one more chance to prove he was worth passing on Pat Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.
He didn't and was benched in Week 3 against Atlanta, where Foles stepped in and led Chicago to a spectacular comeback win in the fourth quarter.
It was always in doubt whether Trubisky had what the Bears front office saw in him when they made that pick, but there is some reason to wonder whether coach Matt Nagy has put him in the best position to succeed over the last year or so.
His new quarterback is a streaky player, but they do have a previous relationship from working together under Andy Reid, so if it doesn't work out now, the coach could be in trouble. The former Eagle does offer a more capable option under centre. However, as Sunday's drawn-out 19-11 loss to the Colts showed, there is a ceiling to what he can do against the best defences.
That's where the Bears defence should pick up the slack. They should be aiming to recreate 2018's efforts, when they terrorised offences, set records for turnovers and allowed Khalil Mack to run riot in opposing backfields. They couldn't muster the same return last season and that left Trubisky and the offence exposed. If that repeats, Foles will need to devise a few Chi-town Specials to compete.
This should be a battle between offence and defence. The Bucs, despite their injuries, will be expected to move the ball like they did in the second half against the Chargers. The first half of that game could give hope to the Bears though, where Brady was knocked off his game.
Though they're on the road and playing a shortened week, I'd rather side with the Bucs -4.5 at 1.9520/21 than the inconsistent offence of the Bears for a few reasons.
Firstly, scoring is up across the league. I think we can at least partly ascribe that to the lack of crowds, which generally help home defences. The Bears are a team designed to stop opponents scoring, and the lack of a home crowd for this game can only hinder their chances - the crowd can play a huge roll in confusing offences as well as inspiring defences.
In addition, the Bucs defensive line stonewalled the Chargers run game on Sunday, and the Colts did similar to the Bears rushing efforts. If not for the spark of rookie QB Justin Herbert, the Chargers would've been nowhere in that game. Foles could catch fire under primetime cameras again against his old rival, but I'd rather be on TB12's side this time.
The total line has settled around 44 points at 1.9520/21, which seems a low number given the general trends. The Bears offence are hard to love against a good defence, but the shortened week should have some impact on their effort.
For player bet, I would look at Tampa Bay players. Howard's injury could see Gronk more involved, but I'd rather look at the other tight end, Cameron Brate, who has had several productive runs in Tampa. He's not seen much action this season with Gronk's arrival, but now Howard is out he can be a contributor again.