Tom Brady will make his return to Foxborough on Sunday night to face the Patriots in the most anticipated regular season game in NFL history. Heck, it might be the most anticipated non-championship game in the history of sports. Brady vs Belichick is the biggest storyline, rightfully so, but the most critical matchup will be the Patriots offensive line vs. the Buccaneers defensive line.
The Patriots offensive line was considered before the season to be a strength of the team, but it has struggled this season. New England has not consistently run the ball and Mac Jones has been under heavy pressure the last two weeks. Starting right tackle Trent Brown left the Patriots Week 1 game vs Miami early and since then has been sorely missed. Other usually strong performers, such as Isaiah Wynn and David Andrews, have underwhelmed at times.
The Buccaneers defensive line, meanwhile, has continued the dominance that helped them win Super Bowl LV. Tampa Bay is currently only allowing 63.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks fourth in the NFL. They did have a lead in their first two contests, which forced their opponents to throw more; but the run defense has been stout nonetheless, allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. Tampa Bay has also allowed only one rushing touchdown.
The passing game is where the New England offense could have an advantage. The Buccaneers are allowing 338.3 passing yards per game, worst in the NFL. They have also given up nine passing touchdowns and mustered only one sack. Despite this looking like an advantage on paper, New England will have to do a better job pass protecting than it has the past two weeks to take advantage of a poorly performing Tampa Bay secondary.
As good as the Patriots defense has been, it is likely that Brady and company will manage to score more than 20. If the Patriots are going to win, they are going to have to score more points than the 18 per game that they are averaging. The Patriots offensive line will be at the forefront of that effort. If New England can pass protect well, they will have a chance to match the Buccaneers score for score. If not and they have to try to run, it will be an uphill battle against the Tampa Bay front.