Let’s be Realistic: Setting Expectations for Tom Brady in 2017

I want to set the record straight before I dive into this article: I am as big a Tom Brady fan as they come. Aside from having the most Super Bowl wins as a quarterback and also a list of records that is longer than all the opening scrolling text of every Star Wars movie, he is also a perfect role model and citizen. This may sound like love or even an obsession with Brady, but trust me, most people in the New England area who are fans of the Patriots feel the same way I do. With all this being said, however, I am somewhat of a realist and don’t have blinders that keep me from seeing that his time in the NFL is coming to a deflating end (see, even a Patriots fan can make a Deflategate joke).

Tom Brady turned 40 years old on August 3rd this year and he will be one of the very few 40 year old quarterbacks to still be starting in the NFL. The last most notable quarterback the same age as Brady was Brett Favre who played two seasons in his forties, the second one noticeably worse than the first one. Brady is looking to defy those odds by continuing his “TB12 method” and keeping himself in peak physical and mental form for his age.

With all this being said, I don’t think we will see a 2007-like season in the upcoming 2017-2018 NFL season. In 2007, Brady and company went full scorched-Earth when Brady had 50 passing touchdowns and the Patriots totaled 589 points, including 67 offensive touchdowns. This doesn’t mean that the Patriots can’t put up over 500 points, but 2007 was 2007 and that type of season is tough to replicate. I do, however, think that Tom Brady’s best season since 2011 is right around the corner.

The Analysis

To truly analyze where Tom Brady is heading in his career, we can simply look at his performances over the last five years.

As you can see, Brady has been averaging 4,320.6 yards and 31.2 TDs per season over the past five years and this is leaving out the four games Brady missed because of the Deflategate suspension. If you factored in these missing statistics, Brady would have had approximately 4,738.8 yards and 37 TDs in 2016, bringing his five-year averages up to 4,557.66 yards and 33 TDs per season. Missing these four games was huge for Brady as he would have statistically proven he was getting better with age. Brady’s hypothetical 37 TDs in 2016 would have been his highest passing touchdown total since his MVP season in 2011 where he passed for 39 touchdowns.

One of the key areas to highlight is Brady’s yards per attempt and yards per completion (Y/A & Y/C on the chart above). These two statistics have increased each year of the past three years, indicating that he has been stretching the field more over the past few seasons. Along with these statistics, Brady’s quarterback rating has jumped each of the past few seasons. Overall, he has only gotten better as a downfield passer and posted his 2nd highest completion percentage since his record-breaking season in 2007.

(Photo: Sports Illustrated)

Brady has been performing either the same or better each season over the past five years. His receiving core has improved almost every year with new players and ones that emerged such as Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Shane Vereen, Dion Lewis, Martellus Bennett, and Chris Hogan. It’s no coincidence that he’s gotten better once he got better targets to throw to other than Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Austin Collie, Brian Tyms, and Michael Hoomanawanui. Also, Brady’s worst year, 2013, was the year he lost Rob Gronkowski and was throwing to the scrub receivers Belichick pulled from the local Dunkin’ Donuts near Gillette Stadium.   

Fun fact: Brady has never had a season where he threw between 40-49 touchdowns; he has only thrown under 39 or exactly 50 (in 2007).

With Tom Brady’s age, there is reason to be nervous about his health and whether or not he will be able to survive and thrive throughout a full sixteen game season, plus their inevitable 2-3 playoff games. To quote always calm and reasonable Max Kellerman of ESPN, he predicts Brady will “fall off a cliff” in the coming years (eventually, he will be right when Brady retires). Do I personally think Brady will fall off a cliff like Peyton Manning did at the end of his career? No, I don’t. Do I think Brady will have some sort of decline in his overall play? Sure.

I’m not going to bet against the fact that it is more probable than not that Brady will eventually see a decline in performance, but I think Brady is able to cover up his weaknesses and works with the coaching staff to create favorable situations week in and week out.

Although no one can truly predict the outcome of a player’s season performance, there are some factors that can aid these predictions. Some of these factors include strength of schedule, personnel, and a player’s benchmark performance.

The Patriots come into the 2017 season with the 12th easiest schedule based on the 2016 team records. Aside from facing their division opponents twice, the Patriots face off against the NFC South which has been known for high powered offenses and not stingy defenses (aside from the Panthers). The Patriots opponents’ for the upcoming season averaged 24 points per game on offense and allowed 23.41 points per game in 2016. For comparison, the middle team in the league averages 22.9 points per game and allows 23.6 points per game. The Patriots’ opponents for 2017 put up average numbers at best on both sides of the ball this past season. For comparison, the Patriots averaged 28.7 points game offensively and allowed a league-low 16.4 points per game.

The Patriots certainly improved their receiving core with the addition of Brandin Cooks this offseason; however, the loss of Julien Edelman will undoubtedly make the offense work harder to move the chains this season. Cooks, the team’s pass-catching backs, and the returning wide receivers, should help alleviate his loss. One way to turn the loss of Edelman into a positive (which is almost impossible to do) is that there are now 159 targets gone and up for grabs by other pass-catchers on the team. This will keep teams on their heels in terms of who will be getting the ball instead of keying in on Edelman. Yes, I do realize that this was the most desperate attempt for a spin zone in the history of spin zones.   

Boston’s Big Four 

The Prediction

Before the loss of Edelman, I had a general idea of how Brady would perform visually and statistically this season. Visually, I predicted the Patriots moving up and down the field at-will and being able to stay on the field and sustain long drives because of the offense’s ability to convert on third downs with the help of, you guessed it, Julien Edelman. Statistically, Brady would easily throw for 4,500 yards, 40 TDs, and have a completion percentage north of 68%. Realistically, Brady would flirt with 5,000 yards and 40-45 TDs.

Now, with Edelman sidelined, we do have to somewhat temper expectations. For Brady, 4,500 yards, 40 TDs, and a completion percentage of 68% will be harder to achieve, although he will still probably hit these numbers.

Over Brady’s career, analysts, reporters, and fans alike have argued if Brady made Belichick great or if Belichick made Brady great. Quite frankly, they make each other great and this will be no more apparent this season when Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels tap into the dark arts once again to come up with perfect game plan after perfect game plan and expose defenses’ weaknesses and create mismatches all over the field.

Tom Brady looks to become the second quarterback in the modern NFL era to have a spectacular season in his forties. Whether or not he achieves greatness again this season remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, Belichick has thought ahead and provided Brady his best weapons since 2011 and 2007 and set the Patriots up to once again have a chance to bring home a silver trophy back to Foxboro.

The final verdict: Brady leads the Patriots to a 13-3 record, throws for 4,650 yards, 38 TDs, and also rushes for a pair of TDs.

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