The Best and Worst Case Scenarios for the New England Patriots Without Tom Brady

Image via John Tlumack, Boston Globe.

The New England Patriots will be without Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of this upcoming season as he serves his suspension for his “role” in the Deflategate scandal. I could go on all day about how bogus the punishment is in the first place, but that’s not what this is about. Now that they know Brady will miss the first four games, the Patriots have to prepare to succeed in his absence.
 The start to a season is very important in the NFL. If a team starts off well, it can give them momentum moving forward. If a team starts 1–3, it’s very hard to recover and make the playoffs. So this time without Brady will be key if the Patriots want to have a shot at their fifth Lombardi Trophy. Here are the best and worst case scenarios for the Patriots’ four games without Tom Terrific:
 Best Case
The Patriots go 3–1. Back-up QB Jimmy Garoppolo assimilates into the offense well because of the weapons he has to throw to. Those weapons are led by the two-headed monster at tight end of Rob Gronkowski and the recently added Martellus Bennett. He also utilizes the great route running trio of wideouts in Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Danny Amendola. The X-Factor for the offense may be the return of halfback Dion Lewis, who tore his ACL in Week 9 last season after eight games of electrifying performance out of the backfield. Lewis gave the Pats a spark last season as the first back they’ve had in a while who could hold his own catching and running the ball, giving the offense some much needed variety. If Lewis gets back to his sharp-cutting, pace-changing self, the Patriots have a good chance to succeed, even without Brady.
 Another key will be the offensive line. Brady was sacked 38 times last year, and the struggling, injured offensive line was the biggest reason the Pats fell to Denver in the AFC title game. New England spent a lot of time this off-season on the line, drafting Joe Thuney and Ted Karras, acquiring Jonathon Cooper in the Chandler Jones trade, and bringing back former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. This group will need to be better if the Pats want to start 3–1.
 But most important is the defense. They won’t get as much support from the offense, even if Garoppolo plays well. The defense has really good players, led by linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower and safety Devin McCourty. Coach Bill Belichick is a defensive mastermind, known to befuddle even the league’s most prolific offenses. In the best case scenario, the defense plays at a top-five level and carries the team to that 3–1 mark. After the opening week game at Arizona, the Pats have the Dolphins, Texans, and Bills, all at home. Those are teams Belichick’s defense usually dominates, especially at home.
 Now, you’ll notice my best case scenario doesn’t have the Patriots undefeated after four weeks. I don’t think the Patriots have much of a chance against Arizona Week 1; I might even pick against them if they had Brady. Arizona is just a really good team. Even if they did pull off a miraculous win that week, it would probably take so much out of them that they drop one of the other three games.
 So that’s the best case scenario for the Pats the first four weeks without Brady: 3–1. Now onto the…
 Worst Case
The Patriots go 1–3. Garoppolo gets knocked around in Week 1 at Arizona, loses any confidence he might have had, and plays scared for another three weeks. He brings the team down because he’s unable to make plays for his teammates. This wouldn’t be a surprise; it’s hard to succeed in your first few games as a starter. Gronk gets hurt, Edelman and Lewis struggle to come back from off-season surgeries. LaGarrette Blount doesn’t take any pressure off Garoppolo with the run game. The off-season additions don’t have the expected effect.
 The offensive line continues to struggle against four talented defensive fronts. Coach Scarnecchia and the new line are still unsatisfactory to help Garoppolo gain confidence. In fact, they remove any possibility of Garoppolo playing well because he keeps getting lit up. In addition, they don’t let Blount and Lewis get any traction on the ground.
 Even in the worst-case scenario, the defense is above average, probably top-ten. It’s just not good enough to carry the offense to wins. Belichick doesn’t quite hit every decision right, bringing back memories of some of his blunders from last year.
 Arizona embarrasses New England in Week 1 on Sunday Night Football. The last three games are close, but the opposition always pulls out a winning drive against a defense tired from supporting a struggling offense.
 This scenario sounds bad, and it is. If the Patriots start 1–3, it will take all of Brady and Belichick’s brilliance to bring the season back. But the Patriots have been too successful for the last 15 years to contemplate a 0–4 start. Belichick deserves more credit than that, so the worst I can give is 1–3.
 If you want my prediction for the Patriots’ record when Brady returns Week 5 against the Browns, I would say 2–2. I think they’ll lose to Arizona and Houston, but pull out big divisional wins against Miami and Buffalo. I would be alright with that as a Patriots fan, and hopeful that Brady would come back with enough fury to lead the Patriots to the number one seed, and possibly another Super Bowl title.

Originally published at on August 4, 2016.

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