TAMPA — Let's just go ahead and call it. This is the biggest regular-season game in Bucs history.
Not in importance, but in anticipation.
It's big enough that even those boycotting the NFL might want to skip a week of jersey-burning and ticket-ripping to tune in. Go ahead, we won't tell.
After all, it's New England. Bill Belichick. Tom Brady. Primetime. Thursday Night Football.
The greatest football team in the history of the NFL is coming. They're coming here. Live in the flesh.
The Patriots might not be at the height of their powers. The dynasty appears to be on its last legs. And the outcome of this game isn't going to define either team's season. More meaningful games will played later this season for both teams.
But still ...
Brady. Belichick. Gronk. The Patriots.
This is like seeing a shooting star or Halley's Comet. This is like the Beatles coming to town.
It really is that rare.
Check this out. This is crazy. Brady is 40 years old. This is 18th season in the NFL.
Yet this will be his first regular-season NFL game in Tampa. The last time he wore a football uniform in Tampa in a game that mattered, he was a freshman at Michigan, watching Brian Griese play against Alabama in the 1996 season's Outback Bowl.
This is only the fourth time he has ever faced the Bucs — twice in New England. The one Bucs "home'' game was actually played in London in 2009.
Hard to believe we've never had a chance to see the best quarterback ever in person.
Now this is even harder to believe:
Bill Belichick, the greatest football coach to ever live, has never beaten the Bucs in Tampa. Never. Not as a head coach. Not as an assistant. And we're talking about a guy who has been coaching since before the Bucs were a team.
He has won a Super Bowl in Tampa as a defensive coordinator with the Giants. But he has never beaten the Bucs in Tampa.
Like Brady, Belichick's lone "road'' victory against the Bucs came in London. He has never been a head coach in Tampa Bay against the Bucs and he was 0-3 as an assistant.
And here they come.
The greatest coach-quarterback tandem the league has seen. The greatest franchise in this or any other era. The most polarizing franchise that has ever existed.
You hate them. You love them. You loathe them. You respect them.
No team is better coached. No team is better prepared.
No team executes better. No team cheats more.
They are the best.
True, they come in limping. They are, shockingly, 2-2 with both losses coming at home. Belichick, one of the finest defensive minds ever, has a defense that can't stop anyone.
You want rare? How about this: Only the Colts have given up more points than New England — 128 in four games.
Yet, there isn't a person on the planet who would be shocked if New England wins the whole thing again. That would be a sixth Super Bowl championship, tying them with the Steelers. They've already been to the Big Game nine times, more than anyone.
And as long as they have Belichick and Brady, who is 40 going on 25, there's no reason to believe they can't keep winning. They might as well put the playoffs and Super Bowl on their pocket schedules.
Even this season, as bad as the defense is, the Pats remain a strong postseason favorite because Brady and the New England offense is as good as any team in the league. They are so scary that Bucs coach Dirk Koetter went straight from the Bucs' victory against the Giants to his office to start getting ready.
And we in Tampa Bay are holding a winning lottery ticket because that team — the best that has ever played the game — is coming here.
It might be the last chance to see Brady and Belichick.
So, regardless of your allegiances, sit back and enjoy.
We never get to see something this special.
Contact Tom Jones at email@example.com. Follow @tomwjones