Will the reinstatement of Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for his alleged role in DeflateGate result in the New England Patriots missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008?
The last time that happened in Foxborough, the four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first game of the 2008 season.
Although the NFLPA recently received an extension to again appeal NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s disciplinary actions, the probability of a reversal is quite slim.
Other sanctions levied against the franchise took away this year’s first-round draft choice, and later the Patriots did not select what would be considered an “impact player.”
With Brady in all likelihood out for the first quarter of the season, the team could slump out the gate to an 0-4 start and may not recover.
Opening the season, New England travels to Arizona to take on a team that reached the NFC Championship game last year and appears to be improved after free agency and the 2016 draft.
The inexperienced Jimmy Garoppolo will lead the Patriots into the desert. He has completed 20 passes for 188 yards during his two-year pro stint. Expect Garoppolo to be reacquainted with now-Arizona defensive end Chandler Jones. It’s difficult to imagine a favorable outcome for the red, white and blue.
Outside the division, the Patriots face another improved 2015 playoff team, the Houston Texans. With major upgrades at the offensive skill positions and a defense led by J.J. Watt, 0-2 appears likely.
The other two games come against improved AFC East rivals, Miami and Buffalo. Rex and Rob Ryan have joined forces in New York and come into the season with even bigger chips on their shoulders, if that’s possible. Week 4 would be a prime opportunity for Buddy Ryan’s sons to hammer the reigning division champs.
Once Brady returns, he’ll face the perennial doormat Cleveland Browns, probably a tune-up game.
However, the club that lost four games in 2015 with a more talented roster then faces a four-game stint that includes the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals, wild card entries Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks and then a road trip to Buffalo. The remaining opponents include a pair of slugfests against the 10-6 Jets and a flight to Mile High to face the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos.
To call this a tough row to hoe would be an understatement.
To have a shot at the playoffs, Brady may have to go a minimum of 10-2. And that feat would need to be accomplished without high-flying receivers like Randy Moss on the roster. Last season, the team’s top weapon after its future Hall of Fame quarterback was Rob Gronkowski. The Pro Bowl tight end had an excellent 2015, posting 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he hasn’t played in all 16 regular-season games since 2011. The team’s second leading receiver, Julian Edelman, didn’t crack 700 yards in 2015 and New England lacked a 1,000-yard rusher.
Should opponents feast on Garoppolo and drop New England to an 0-4 start, reaching the postseason could require more than 10-2. It may require perfection from a 39-year-old signal-caller beginning in Week 5.
The Kansas City Chiefs had a remarkable 11-game winning streak last season before being eliminated by New England in the Divisional Playoffs. However, Andy Reid’s club faced only two opponents that finished north of 500 before reaching the playoffs, Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger and Denver without Peyton Manning.
Can the dynamic duo of Bill Belichick and Brady achieve perfection and win 12 consecutive contests to reach the postseason? With the clock running out on a possible record fifth Super Bowl championship, their legacy hangs in the balance.