NFL scheduled Bucs-Pats in Week 4 to ensure focus is on Tom Brady's return

When the NFL unveiled the 2021 schedule last week, the most highly anticipated matchup of the season landed in Week 4: Tom Brady vs. the New England Patriots.

Vice president of NFL broadcast planning Mike North told Peter King of NBC Sports that it was a conscious choice to put the G.O.A.T. vs. Pats tussle early in the season, where other issues like injuries, weather, and playoff implications are less likely to take the focus off the Brady returning to Foxborough narrative.

"The story can be about Brady's return," North told King for his Football Morning in America column. "It would be different if Tom's standing on the 50-yard line watching a tribute video in November in six inches of snow. Or, the later in the season we go, the more likely somebody's injured. Getting in early, having that story told, made some sense."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers traveling to face New England is the story most of the football world will be tracking intensely come this fall, particularly in New England, where the price of tickets for that contest has already shot through the roof.

North noted that every broadcast partner lobbied for the rights to broadcast the game between Brady and Belichick, two of the most iconic names in football history. NBC came out the winner with the Week 4 game landing on Sunday Night Football.

The executive producer of SNF, Fred Gaudelli, told King he'd compare Brady's return to just one other matchup he can recall since the inception of Sunday Night Football in 2006.

"The only one we've ever done that I could compare it to was our first game -- the Manning Bowl," Gaudelli said of the 2006 matchup between Peyton's Colts and Eli's Giants. "Such tremendous interest in that game. And this year, Tampa Bay-New England will be a story that transcends sports for the week before the game. It's the game of the year, certainly. It might be the game of many, many years."

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