Last year, I wrote about the realistic expectations for Tom Brady in the 2017-2018 season and whether or not he would perform up to his high standards. For those that want to read my full article from last season, you can check it out here.
For those with shorter attention spans, I predicted that Brady would have a “13-3 record, throw for 4,650 yards and 38 touchdowns.” Brady led the Patriots to a 13-3 record and threw for 4,577 yards with 32 touchdowns. Not too shabby if I do say so myself.
I feel as if I could copy and paste the same narrative about Brady from last year, but you the reader deserve better.
Tom Brady turned 41-years-old on August 3rd this year and he will be one of the very few 41-year-old quarterbacks in NFL history to still be starting in the NFL. Brady is looking to defy those odds by continuing his “TB12 Method” and keeping himself in peak physical and mental form for his age.
Brady even highlighted in his recent “Tom vs Time” epilogue episode on Facebook that he “would love to play five more years. I’m not ready to say that I’m done because I don’t feel that I am. I think the last eight years of my career have been better than my first ten.”
He also acknowledged, however, that “the last couple of years, a lot of parts about football weren’t enjoyable when they should have been.”
The Patriots seem to be on more of a downward trend this season compared to last season due to their recent roster moves and the “Super Bowl loss hangover” that has left a sour taste in everyone’s’ mouths.
The only way to wash away the bad feelings from last season is to move forward and that mostly starts with the quarterback. Predicting how Brady and the Patriots will do this season is a little trickier than last year, but let’s try our best to figure this one out.
Before we dive into the analysis, let’s take a quick look at Brady’s performances from the last five seasons:
Brady has been averaging 4,270.6 yards and 30.8 TDs per season over the past five years and this is leaving out the four games he missed in 2016 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 average up to 4,507.56 yards and 32.6 TDs per season.
Even though Brady won the league MVP award this past year, this was not his best statistical season in the last five years. He was, however, pretty darn clutch for almost the entire season (except, ya know, during that one drive from Super Bowl LII). He was still the MVP of the league, even though other players such as Los Angeles Rams’ running back Todd Gurley and Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Carson Wentz may have had better numbers at their positions.
One of the key things to highlight about Brady is that he has not fallen off the cliff, yet, as some seem to think was supposed to happen two seasons ago (looking at you, Max Kellerman). As a Patriots fan, I want Brady to keep performing at a high level, but I know realistically that this is unlikely. As long as he stays around his averages from the past couple of seasons, then the Patriots will be just fine.
The most important thing to note about these stats is that Brady is right in-line with his most recent seasons’ numbers and has not deviated too far from these statistics.
What are we working with?
Brady has either been improving or remaining steady each year for quite some time now. Since 2014, Brady has had above-average to great talent to work with and the results have shown on the field with three Super Bowl appearances in that span.
This offseason was not too kind to Brady as he saw his top receiver and one of his clutchest receivers leave for new teams (Brandin Cooks to the Rams and Danny Amendola to the Miami Dolphins). Malcolm Mitchell and Jordan Matthews were cut and Eric Decker decided he would rather retire and spend more time with Jesse James on the beach (I don’t know what he’s doing, but good for him either way, as he’s had a serviceable career).
With Julian Edelman suspended the first four games of the season, Brady is only left with Chris Hogan as a legitimate starting wide receiver and then Phillip Dorsett and Cordarelle Patterson are the only two real “veteran” receivers who could make an impact on the team. Hopefully, newcomers Riley McCarron (who is now on the practice squad) and Chad Hansen (if he even makes it on the 53-man team roster during the season) can step up and become a viable option for Brady, especially if one of the team’s top-three receivers is injured for an extended period of time.
The Patriots wide receiving core has seen a significant drop-off from last season and is probably as talented as the 2006 and 2013 Patriots teams (that’s not a compliment, by the way).
Outside of the receivers, the team lost Dion Lewis to free agency, although they drafted first-round pick Sony Michel out of Georgia to fill this void. Running back Rex Burkhead is banged up, although teammate James White is about as reliable as they come.
Oh, by the way, Nate Solder, Brady’s best protection on the offensive line is now with the New York Giants, adding a little more uncertainty to the level of protection Brady will get under center.
Since 2006, two of Brady’s worst full seasons came in that same year and 2013 when he posted his worst completion percentages, yards per completion, and TD-INT ratios. Brady also had the 3rd and 4th lowest touchdown passes of his career in 2006 and 2013, respectively. Funny enough, the team still went 12-4 and reached the AFC Championship game in both of these seasons (facing off against a Peyton Manning led team in these games).
To illustrate just how dismal the receiving core was in 2006, Brady threw for 3,529 yards and 24 touchdowns with his leading wideout, Reche Caldwell, having 760 yards. In 2016, one of the quarterback’s best seasons in recent memory, Brady played four fewer games and threw for 3,554 yards and 28 touchdowns. His leading receiver that year was Julian Edelman who had 1,106 yards.
The good news for Brady is that 2006 was one of his worst seasons in his career and he has become a much better quarterback since then.
Although no one can truly predict the outcome of a player’s season performance, there are some factors that can aid these predictions. In addition to a player’s benchmark performance and player personnel, we can also take a look at the strength of schedule.
The Patriots come into the 2018 season tied for the 22nd easiest schedule based on their opponents’ winnings percentages from the 2017 season. In addition to facing their division opponents twice (Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and Miami Dolphins), the Patriots will face off against the NFC North which is shaping up to be one of the better divisions in football. Aside from the always-lethal Aaron Rodgers led Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings made it to the NFC Championship last year and then signed ex-Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins over the offseason. The Chicago Bears have a new offensive-minded head coach in Matt Nagy working with second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the Detroit Lions hired the Patriots longtime defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as their head coach (while bringing his bend, but almost break and give fans a heart-attack defense with him).
The Patriots will also face-off against the AFC South with the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts who both have their franchise quarterbacks back from season-ending injuries, the Tennessee Titans, and Jacksonville Jaguars. In addition to these teams, they will face the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Patriots opponents for the upcoming season, in my opinion, will be much improved than their records from last year.
The Patriots’ opponents for this coming season averaged 21.3 points/game on offense and gave up 22 points/game on defense in 2017. For comparison, the league averages on both offense and defense were 21.7 points/game last year. The Patriots averaged 28.6 points/game on offense and gave up 18.5 points/game, which were second and fifth in the league, respectively.
Unlike last season, the Patriots offensive weapons have taken a hit and that is most likely why there is less buzz around this team than in previous years. Between the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends, the team will be missing 251 targets (114 of which went to Brandin Cooks) from last season. This means that these targets from Brady are now up for grabs and the talent from this season does not compare to the talent from last season. This isn’t to say that the team will struggle and won’t be able to figure it out over the course of the year, but things do not look as bright as they did heading into last season.
From January till the season opener on September 9th, this has been one of the worst off-seasons for the Patriots in quite some time from both a personnel and perception standpoint. I have no doubt that this team will be able to scrap and claw their way to a successful season, but that doesn’t mean it will look pretty along the way.
Tom Brady hasn’t reached the end of his career just yet, even though the inevitable end is coming sooner rather than later. Brady has lost some key weapons such as Brandin Cooks, Dion Lewis, and Danny Amendola and does not have one of his favorite receivers, Julian Edelman, for the first four weeks of the season. This team could be an injury away from a rough season.
We are entering into uncharted territories with a 41-year-old quarterback, but we haven’t been given any indications that we should expect anything but above-average to excellent quarterback play. Bill Belichick is still the head coach of the Patriots and Josh McDaniels is still in charge of the offense, so there is continuity in the play-calling and schemes, which should put Patriots fans at ease (at least for a little bit).
The final verdict: Brady leads the Patriots to a 12-4 record, throws for 4,300 yards, and 32 TDs.
Not too shabby for a team that is supposed to have a “down” year. I’ll see you all in January.