It’s Tom Brady’s world. We’re just living in it.
The most wildly successful quarterback in NFL history, and perhaps the greatest athlete of any sport in any era, Brady continues to stretch the bounds of possibility. Even at age 44.
He comes off a remarkable seventh Super Bowl title, in his first year with the Bucs after a legendary 20-year career with the Patriots, and he shows no inclination to leave the sport any time soon.
Which leaves us looking — again — at Brady and Tampa Bay as the early favorites to win it all.
Welcome to NFL 2021, which in some ways looks a lot like NFL 2001, the year Brady began to build his legend into what might be the most remarkable sports story of our time.
Or of all time.
You want to bet against Brady and figure Father Time has finally caught up to him? Go ahead. We’ve learned not to underestimate a quarterback whose skills haven’t eroded, nor has his will to win. Brady is every bit as intense a competitor now as he was when he first took over for Drew Bledsoe. And he never, ever, takes anything for granted.
"This team, at the end of the day, has done nothing," Brady said of the 2021 Bucs.
The chase is everything to Brady. Even after all these years.
"It’s really fun for me," Brady said during training camp. "I love physically to train and put myself in a position to compete. I love that mental aspect of the sport, and I have a lot of fun doing it."
It won’t be easy to repeat, however. Brady knows better than anyone how tough that can be. In fact, he’s the last quarterback to win back-to-back titles after the 2003 and 2004 seasons in New England. No team has repeated since then.
There will be plenty of competition at or near the top of the NFC, even if the Bucs remain the class of the conference, Drew Brees is no longer playing and the NFC East remains mired in mediocrity. The team with the best chance of beating out the Bucs? The same team as last year.
Look no further than the Packers and their own star quarterback. It was an offseason of drama and intrigue for Aaron Rodgers, who took a page from Brady by setting himself up for a potential exit from the only team for which he’s ever played. But before Rodgers has the option of leaving Green Bay, he is focused on becoming a repeat Super Bowl champion. For all his individual accolades — he’s coming off a third career NFL MVP season — Rodgers has only one Vince Lombardi Trophy victory on his resume.
What better way to finish off his career in the place Lombardi made famous than capturing another championship?
Another Bucs-Packers matchup in the NFC Championship Game? Why not?
The teams in the talent-packed NFC West might beg to differ, and with the Seahawks a perennial playoff team, Russell Wilson has his own quest to win another Super Bowl title. But he also has to fend off the 49ers and especially the Rams, who have gone for broke by swapping Jared Goff for Matthew Stafford in hopes of getting back to another Super Bowl and getting a first championship ring for wunderkind coach Sean McVay.
It’s a bit more competitive at the top in the AFC, but you have to like Patrick Mahomes’ chances of getting back to the Super Bowl for a third straight year. Kansas City rebuilt an offensive line that collapsed under the weight of injuries last season, and Mahomes looks as good as ever. He’s the best the NFL has right now, and unless Kansas City flubs a shot at winning the AFC West yet again, he’s the odds-on favorite to get back to the big show.
Josh Allen’s Bills might be the biggest threat, as Buffalo continues to take major steps forward each year in hopes of getting to the top. And if the Browns can build on last year’s success under coach Kevin Stefanski, maybe long-suffering Cleveland fans can finally exult.
But unless and until the Bucs are no longer standing in the playoffs, it’s still Brady’s world. Even if he may not think so.
"We’ve got to keep earning it," he said. "I don’t think there’s any aspect of me that thinks what I’ve done last year means anything. I’ve got to do it this year."
And off we go.
Enjoy the best league going. The NFL rarely disappoints. Just like Brady.