While the 2020 NFL season is still months away, the league’s landscape has already undergone a significant change. Earlier this offseason, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots split up; after two decades together, the quarterback decided to take his talents to Tampa Bay. The two parties are reunited, however, by an NFL conspiracy theory.
Brady and the Patriots, of course, are no stranger to controversy. So is the NFL pulling some strings to keep everyone happy during the 2020 campaign?
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are no strangers to controversy
Since the turn of the new millennium, the New England Patriots have been the class of the NFL. That success, however, has been accompanied by a handful of controversial moments.
During the 2007 campaign, the Patriots were accused of taping the New York Jets sideline, presumably to observe their defensive signals. Dubbed ‘Spygate,’ the controversy eventually reached as high as the United States Congress; when all was said and done, Roger Goodell fined Bill Belichick, the Patriots organization, and took away their first-round pick in the 2008 draft.
In 2014, another scandal surfaced in New England. This time, however, ‘Deflategate’ centered on the team using under-inflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage. Once again, the Patriots were fined and stripped of some draft picks; Tom Brady was suspended and, after a protracted legal battle, eventually sat out four games.
Then, during the 2019 season, another minor controversy broke out. During a Cincinnati Bengals game, a Patriots staffer was spotted filming the team’s sidelines. Nothing came of the incident, but it didn’t help the Patriots’ reputation as an organization willing to play dirty.
A suspicious 2020 NFL schedule
This offseason, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots finally went their separate ways. That reality, however, hasn’t stopped the two parties from being linked in another conspiracy theory.
When the NFL’s 2020 schedule came out, eagle-eyed observers noticed an interesting trend. For the majority of the year, the New England Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski now ply their trade, won’t share a kick-off time. In fact, the two clubs will only overlap twice during the entire season; the earliest of those occurrences is Week 15.
Some suggested that the league lined things up to ensure that Patriots fans could still watch Brady and Gronkowski, but the NFL didn’t give any credence to the idea. “Putting together the 256-game schedule is very complex—it’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy told ESPN. “The minimal conflicts here are coincidental.”
Conspiracy or not, fans of the Patriots or Tom Brady won’t be complaining
Does the NFL have a point? Probably. The schedule is a complex beast, tying every team together; slotting one match-up into the Sunday afternoon or Monday night slot affects every other game that week. If Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are taking the field on Thursday, for example, the Patriots simply can’t be playing at the same time.
With that being said, though, the entire schedule is constructed to highlight certain games by placing them in certain timeslots. While the league might not have done anything untoward—every team’s opponents were already determined—they are allowing Patriots fans plenty of chances to watch Tom Brady. Even if it wasn’t their specific goal, they won’t look a gift horse in the mouth if it means scoring some extra viewers.
Whether the 2020 NFL schedule is a massive conspiracy theory or not, most football fans won’t care. Spending a Sunday on the couch is always enjoyable; watching the new-look Patriots followed by Tom Brady’s Buccaneers should be even more intriguing.