Tom Brady will be on the sidelines early in the year, but fans can breath easy. The New England Patriots’ season officially begins in week five. The early stretch is just too hard.
As things currently stand, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be suspended for the first four games of the 2016 NFL season for…I’m not sure for what exactly. But that’s besides the point. Unless another appeal overturns the overturned appeal, Brady will be on the sidelines for the first quarter of New England’s season. In his place will be the inexperienced Jimmy Garoppolo. So what is NE’s outlook for these four games?
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For starters, the schedule is not easy. It begins with a game at Arizona, a matchup the Patriots might’ve lost regardless of who was playing quarterback for them. Arizona is arguably the best team in the NFL. Its offense is deep with skill players. Its defense got much better this offseason in its only area of weakness: the pass rush. That it improved through a trade with these very Pats probably means nothing, but Chandler Jones will certainly be out to prove himself against his old squad.
With Brady, that game could be a loss. Without Brady, that game will certainly be a loss. After that, New England has three home games, but they all come against tough foes: Miami, Houston and Buffalo.
Miami and Buffalo are obviously very familiar with the Pats, being division rivals. Houston played the Pats last year as well. All three of these teams should have good to very good defenses in 2016, not to mention the vast improvements that occurred on the Texans’ offense and the bounce-back potential of a Miami team that underachieved last season.
I don’t see an easy game in the bunch.
The Patriots are a team that wins with Brady and the passing game. Their best running back is Dion Lewis, an asset out of the passing game. All these pieces, including the peerless Rob Gronkowski, fall down a peg when another quarterback attempts to get them the ball. Garoppolo isn’t even just another quarterback; he’s almost a complete blank slate at the NFL level. The man has 31 career pass attempts.
Perhaps against bad defenses, the Pats could hang around and win a game with their own defense; a unit that should be pretty good. But I don’t see New England managing three straight home wins with Garoppolo against these foes.
At best, it wins two of three at home and splits the four-game set with Brady on the bench. That is the best-case scenario. I could easily imagine the team being 1-3 upon Brady’s return.
New England is going to come at Arizona as fast as possible to start this season. They won’t allow Tom Brady’s absence to make them miss a beat. At least that’s the plan. I expect a ton of blitzes on defense and maybe even a no-huddle offense to kick things off. Don’t give Garoppolo time to think about the positive or negative plays and move the football quickly. This gives them a real shot against the Cardinals, with so many weeks to prepare. I like them to take the opener before heading home.
The Patriots best case scenario is that their AFC rivals are not as good as projected, as New England rolls to 3-1 to start the season. But I think they’ll be forced to slow down their game against the defenses of Buffalo, Miami and Houston. A solid 2-2 start to the year is a real positive as Tom Brady returns to action. Even if the team stumbles to 1-3 before Brady’s return, it’s a bad bet against the Patriots that they won’t immediately string off nine or ten wins with Tom Brady back under center. New England looks really balanced and strong on both sides of the football.
I expect Brady to serve his suspension this season, which opens the door for others in the AFC to gain head to head victories against New England before he returns to action. Miami, Buffalo and Houston can all earn an early season edge against their division rival, but I’m not convinced they’re all able. The Texans have the biggest opportunity to capitalize on the Patriots minus Brady, if both teams are vying for home field advantage later in the season.
Ultimately its New England’s job to step up when minus its best player, and the smart money is on them being ready. Belichick will have his team ready. He’s had all summer.