NFL Roundtable: Has Antonio Brown run out of second chances?
Each week we sit down with TwinSpires columnists Ashley Anderson, James Scully, and Scott Shapiro to discuss the latest news from around the NFL. Today they weigh in on the Buccaneers' Super Bowl odds, Antonio Brown's latest blowup, and the Bengals' playoff prospects.
Tampa Bay is now 12-4 after Sunday’s nail-biter against the Jets. Is this season’s version of the Buccaneers better than last year’s title-winning team?
Ashley: No. Last year, Tampa Bay hit its stride following its Week 13 bye and rode an eight-game win streak all the way to a Super Bowl title, behind a burgeoning defense and a healthy cast of star receivers. This season, the Bucs have struggled to sustain momentum, and injuries to key players, like Chris Godwin, Leonard Fournette, and Antonio Brown (before his dramatic Week 17 exit) have hampered the effectiveness of the offense. In addition to health issues, Sunday’s abrupt and shocking end to Brown’s tenure with Tampa Bay only further damages Tampa Bay’s chances of a Super Bowl run. Not only is Brown’s departure a major distraction for the team, but it leaves Brady without one of his favorite receivers just before the postseason.
James: No. Tampa Bay didn’t have the same expectations as a wild card team last year, and they avoided significant personnel losses while gelling down the stretch, winning their last four regular games by an average 18.3 points. The defense took a step back this season, and the offense has lost three major contributors in recent weeks. And they aren’t approaching the postseason in good form, barely escaping the Jets in Week 17.
Scott: Tampa Bay has had another strong season under head coach Bruce Arians, evidenced by their 12-4 record heading into Week 18. However, they are not better than last year’s title-winning team. Not only are they nowhere near as strong on defense, but they are now without two of their best playmakers from a season ago in Chris Godwin and Antonio Brown. The Bucs are capable of making another run to the Super Bowl with Tom Brady at the helm, but they were a stronger team last year.
Antonio Brown is reportedly "no longer a Buc" after leaving the field during the third quarter against the Jets. Have we seen the last of AB in the NFL?
Ashley: I’ve said yes before, only to be proven wrong, but this time, I think Brown is done for good. Tom Brady was AB’s lifeline in the NFL and seemingly found a way to keep Brown in check, before Sunday’s meltdown. With the way Brown quit, mid-game in Week 17, it’s unthinkable that another team would want to bring on the troubled receiver, who has generated a great deal of bad press in the last few years. As one analyst said after Sunday’s game, if Brown couldn’t make it with a player’s coach like Bruce Arians, he won’t be a fit with anyone else in the league.
James: It seems unlikely now, but considering his elite skills, I wouldn’t count it out. How many chances has Josh Gordon received? Antonio Brown’s outburst was embarrassing, and probably sabotages any hope Tampa Bay has of repeating as Super Bowl champs, but he can rehabilitate himself, again. It will take some work, but if he somehow meets all the league requirements for eligibility, a team with a need at wide receiver will take a chance on him. They always do.
Scott: After taking his equipment off and running off the field in MetLife Stadium against the Jets on Sunday, it is highly likely we have seen the last of Antonio Brown in the NFL. One of the best receivers of his generation has run out of his excuses after a number of troubling issues over the last few years. It is a sad situation for AB, who has been given the benefit of the doubt a number of times because of his incredible talent. Hopefully, the star WR can get some mental help because clearly something is not right.
The Bengals clinched the AFC North after squeaking by the Chiefs. Are you biting on Cincinnati’s +2000 Super Bowl odds?
Ashley: As fun as it was to watch Cincinnati beat up on perennial Super Bowl contender Kansas City, I think this team is still a year or two away from a serious title run. The offensive line is a concern and gives up too many sacks, and the Bengals defense is a step behind what has become one of the most dangerous offenses in the league. This team can put up a fight against anyone in the NFL, but I think there are more consistent and experienced teams in the AFC that will put away this feisty Bengals squad on the road to the Super Bowl.
James: Yes, and I won’t dissuade any bettor from backing Cincinnati at those odds. The Bengals can beat any team with their firepower, and they’re in the right conference. Unlike the top-heavy NFC, the AFC playoffs will be a crapshoot, one in which any team can lose its first game, and the Super Bowl berth will come down to which team is playing their best football at the time. Cincinnati has every reason to be confident following an important late-season victory over Kansas City.
Scott: The Bengals run to the AFC North division title has been impressive and entertaining, but I am not buying them as a legitimate Super Bowl contender this season. Sure, Joe Burrow and his trio of WRs have a ton of talent and have been incredibly fun to watch down the stretch, but Cincinnati still has a poor offensive line and plenty of holes on defense. That being said, they should be a contender for years to come once they address those issues in the draft and via free agency. Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and Tee Higgins are budding superstars with unlimited potential.