The New England Patriots will start the 2015 season without Tom Brady, but the Deflategate suspension could do little to slow down the defending Super Bowl champions. Even though the team’s starting quarterback has been suspended for the first four games, New England still has a good chance to win another title.
The odds makers have pegged the Patriots as one of the favorites in the NFL. While the team saw their Super Bowl odds move from 7/1 to 11/1 after the announcement of Brady’s suspension, only the Indianapolis Colts have better odds in the AFC. New England is still the overwhelming favorite to win their division and make the playoffs for a 13th time in 15 seasons.
Brady plans to appeal the suspension, and there’s a good chance it will result in him missing fewer than four games. If the ruling is upheld, he’ll miss New England’s games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas Cowboys.
New England continues to win each year, even as naysayers search for reasons why Brady and head coach Bill Belichick are no longer the best tandem in the NFL. As recently as last season, the Patriots’ 2-2 start had some believing the team would miss the postseason. Four months later, New England was hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy for a fourth time in 14 seasons.
Below are four reasons why Brady and the Patriots will be just fine in 2015.
The Roethlisberger Factor
Brady’s situation is very similar to the one that Ben Roethlisberger faced just five years ago. The Steelers quarterback was suspended for the first six games of the 2010 season (cut down to four games), albeit for a much more serious issue. While Pittsburgh was without their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback for 25 percent of their regular-season games, the Steelers were hardly affected by the suspension.
With backups Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch at quarterback, the Steelers went 3-1 in the games that Roethlisberger missed. Pittsburgh won the AFC North with a 12-4 record, earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs and making it all the way to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers.
The four games off didn’t seem to hurt Roethlisberger. He didn’t show any rust in his first game back, tossing three touchdown passes and leading the Steelers to a victory. Roethlisberger finished the 2010 season with the second-best touchdown to interception ratio of his career (17 to 5), as well as a 97.0 passer rating, which was good enough for fifth in the NFL. If Roethlisberger was fine with a few games off, one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history shouldn’t have any problem returning to his previous form.
Needed Rest For An Aging Star
Not only should Brady not be hurt by a few games off, but the suspension has a chance to help him in some ways. The Patriots certainly wouldn’t bench Brady to start the 2015 season if they didn’t have to, but fewer games for a 16-year veteran could end up being a good thing.
Brady is one of the most durable players in the league, and 2008 was the only year in which he hasn’t started all 16 games since becoming New England’s starting quarterback in 2001. But he’ll turn 38 before the start of the upcoming season, and his durability will soon be a thing of the past. Brady will be the second-oldest starting quarterback next year, and a look at the league’s oldest signal caller is further proof that getting older will test Brady’s ability to stay on the field.
Peyton Manning entered last season at age 38, having only missed games during one season in his career, just like Brady. While the Denver Broncos star played the first half of the 2014 season like an MVP candidate, he struggled mightily towards the end, and the Broncos were bounced in their first playoff game. It was later revealed that Manning had an injury to his quadriceps, which played a major role in Denver’s early postseason exit.
Fewer games means less of a chance for Brady to get injured, and a better chance that he’ll be fresh for the playoffs. If Brady isn’t healthy at the end of the season, what the Patriots did in the first four weeks won’t matter.
Even if the Deflategate scandal didn’t happen, the Patriots would surely be motivated to try and win Super Bowl 50. In an era when it’s been increasingly difficult to win consecutive championships, the Patriots have a chance to become the first team to do so since they did it a decade ago. But all of the controversy should have Brady and New England wanting to win a title more than ever.
Many Patriot players were irate when they discovered Brady had been suspended, and they were not shy about expressing their displeasure over the ruling. The Patriots have been the NFL’s most successful franchise during the Brady-Belichick Era, but the Deflategate and Spygate controversies have branded them as cheaters, to some extent. New England will be looking to prove that they are the best team in football without needing any extra help.
New England has been in this position before. The Spygate scandal painted the Patriots as cheaters after Week 1 of the 2007 season, and New England went on to go undefeated until the Super Bowl. Brady set a record with 50 touchdown passes, and the Patriots were routinely blowing out opponents. Eight years later, a motivated Brady and Belichick will look to do the same.
Belichick Finds A Way
Since 2001, the Patriots have consistently been one of the NFL’s best teams. The players are constantly changing, and Brady has even missed a whole year. But Bill Belichick has remained the constant that leads New England to the playoffs almost every year. Appearances in 12 postseasons, nine AFC Championship Games and six Super Bowls give credence to the idea that Belichick is the best coach in NFL history.
The coach’s most impressive job might have come when the Patriots didn’t make the playoffs in 2008. After Brady went down for the season early in the team’s Week 1 game, he led backup quarterback Matt Cassel and the rest of the Patriots to an 11-5 record. Playing under coaches other than Belichick, Cassel has a career record of 23-33. Jimmy Garoppolo, Brady’s replacement, has never even started an NFL game, but Belichick doesn’t need much to get the job done.
New England has endured far worse than losing Brady for just a couple of games, yet still manage to remain an elite team. The Patriots often lose top players to free agency because Belichick isn’t willing to pay them. Just last season, injuries cost the team their best linebacker and running back for the final 13 games.