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Joe Santoro: Tampa Bay a Super Bowl favorite?

By Joe Santoro For the Nevada Appeal
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) during an NFL football training camp practice Friday, Aug. 28, 2020, in Tampa, Fla.
AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it seems, have become a Super Bowl favorite. Sportsbooks, according to media reports, are getting a lot of money on the Bucs to win the title. An average team (at best) adds a 43-year-old quarterback and suddenly people think that team can win the Super Bowl. Only in America. But the Tom Brady mystique defies rational thinking. If Brady even gets the Bucs to the Super Bowl it will be the greatest season of his career. If the Bucs actually win the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, well, they should tell whoever wins the Nov. 3 election “thanks, but no thanks” and make Brady president. Instead of going to Disneyland, he can go to the White House. The Bucs do play an easy schedule. A couple games against the Saints and one each against the Rams and Chiefs are their toughest challenges, so Brady could win a 10-12 games with this rag-tag collection of players. But he’s 43. Bill Belichick won’t be running his defense. Simply surviving the season will be a challenge.

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It will be difficult for the San Francisco 49ers to get back to the Super Bowl. The Niners were under the radar almost all of the last year, starting 8-0. The Niners went 15-4 with the four losses coming by a total of just 24 points. The Niners basically had the Super Bowl won until Patrick Mahomes started to work his magic. It was truly a great season. But the Niners might not even win their division this year. The NFC West is the toughest division top to bottom in the NFL. The 49ers then went out this off-season and did very little. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo still has tight end George Kittle but the rest of the weapons around him remain questionable. Figure on 11 wins in the regular season.

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This weekend will be historic for the state of Nevada as the NFL arrives. The Las Vegas Raiders (it still sounds weird) will play their first game at Carolina on Sunday. The Raiders, though, might struggle to equal last season’s seven wins. The Raiders play an extremely difficult schedule and could be looking at a 3-7 start. The first 10 games include matchups against New Orleans, New England, Buffalo, Kansas City (twice), Tampa Bay, Cleveland, Atlanta, Carolina and the Chargers. Derek Carr is still the Raiders quarterback and his supporting cast is young and unproven. Expect an 8-8 year if a lot of things go right.

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Former Nevada Wolf Pack baseball player and Hug High graduate Rob Richie showed how thoughtful and insightful he was at the ripe old age of 19 when he sat down for an interview with the Reno Gazette-Journal in late August 1984. The RGJ was doing an in-depth story on what it was like for black athletes to compete in Northern Nevada and Richie, who was just entering his sophomore year at Nevada at the time, said, “Black athletes around here, there’s so few of them so there’s a focus on you. It’s pretty hard for a black person to tell white people that he’s a nice guy. It seems like you have to be better than everybody. Halfway in between isn’t enough. If you’re not the best, you’re not given your due.” Richie was nearly four decades ahead of his time. Wolf Pack football coach Jay Norvell said similar things a few months ago as Richie said 35 years ago. “I don’t think much of our community understands what it means to be black in this country,” Norvell said in a prepared statement on June 1. “Like many black children I was told by my parents that you have to work twice as hard and I had to be twice as good to succeed.”

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Just so we can all have a good laugh in January, here are our NFL playoff team predictions: The AFC division winners will be Buffalo (East), Baltimore (North), Kansas City (West) and Houston (South). The AFC wild card teams will be New England, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. The NFC Division winners will be Dallas (East), Minnesota (North), New Orleans (South) and San Francisco (West). The NFC wild card teams will be Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay. The Super Bowl will be Kansas City over Dallas. It is OK to start laughing now.

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The focus in Tampa, of course, has been on Brady and the Bucs. But the team that will likely bring the city its only championship in the next few months might be the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning have won 10-of-12 NHL playoff games so far this season and are just two wins away from playing in their third Stanley Cup Finals (they beat Calgary in 2004 and lost to Chicago in 2015). The Lightning are the best team in the NHL right now. It’s doubtful anyone will say the Bucs are the best team in the NFL at any point this season.

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Oregon Ducks offensive lineman Penei Sewell, the brother of former Wolf Pack players Gabe and Nephi Sewell, announced this week that his college career is over. Oregon’s Pac-12 season has already been canceled and Sewell, a junior, has decided to concentrate on the NFL draft instead of playing in a possible season this spring. Penei Sewell just might be the best football player available in this year’s draft. He won the Outland Trophy in 2019 as a sophomore. If Penei would have come to Nevada like Gabe and Nephi the Pack likely would have won the last two Mountain West titles.

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Dan Gavitt, the NCAA Senior Vice President of Basketball, said this week that he is against allowing all Division I teams into this season’s NCAA Tournament. For once we agree with the NCAA. Allowing every team into the NCAA Tournament would make the regular season meaningless. The NCAA tournament should be a treasured prize, not simply a juice box and an orange slice for everybody after a soccer game between a bunch of 7-year-olds. If every team gets into the NCAA Tournament, there would be a ton of games involving awful teams, games hardly anyone would care about. It also would eliminate the need for conference tournaments as well as the NIT, CBI and the CollegeInsider.com postseason tournaments, which also have value for those teams that fall short of the NCAA Tournament. College basketball is great the way it is. The tournament is perfection. Don’t mess with it.