The New England Patriots looked like NFL’s best team for three weeks, even without Tom Brady. Now that the quarterback is set to return on the heels of a loss, he’ll remind the rest of the league why the team is still the Super Bowl favorite.
Brady couldn’t ask for an easier test in his first game of the 2016 NFL season. New England visits the Cleveland Browns in Week 5, and they are the only team still searching for their first win.
It’d be hard to make the argument that the Browns aren’t the worst team in football. After losses to the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens, they were defeated by the Miami Dolphins, who haven’t beaten anyone else in 2016. Cleveland lost by 11 points in Week 4 to the Washington Redskins, and the Browns might be lucky to keep it that close against New England.
With Bill Belichick at the helm, the Patriots aren’t ones to overlook their competition. Going 12-4 last year, New England faced three teams that ended the season with five wins or fewer. The Patriots won those games by 34 points, 24 points and 17 points. Now that Brady is coming back after a loss from what the team views as an unfair suspension, New England won’t hold back in Cleveland.
He turned 39 in August, but the greatest quarterback of all time was still at the top of his game last season. Brady threw 36 touchdown passes and seven interceptions, posting a 102.2 passer rating. Prior to the Patriots getting shutout with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center in Week 4, New England was averaging 27 points per game.
Not only do the Patriots have their starting quarterback in the lineup, but his No.1 weapon could be a factor for the first time all year. Rob Gronkowski missed the first two games with a hamstring injury, and the tight end barely played in Week 3, failing to make a catch. He finally made his first reception last week, and he could have a breakout game against the Browns, proving why he’s the best playmaker in football.
Cleveland doesn’t have an answer for Gronkowski, and they were burned by another top tight end in Week 4 when Jordan Reed caught nine passes, two of which went for touchdowns. The Browns have allowed at least 25 points in each game, and they haven’t faced an offense as good as New England’s this season.
The Browns have little chance to stay competitive in a high-scoring game. Belichick won’t have a problem shutting down rookie quarterback Cody Kessler. Only three teams have allowed fewer points than the Patriots.
A win for Cleveland would be the biggest upset of the season, and the only real question is regarding their ability to be competitive. The Browns are 10.5-point underdogs at Las Vegas and online sportsbooks, and the over/under is 46.5 points. With a determined Brady back in the lineup, Cleveland will have a difficult time staying within two touchdowns of the Patriots and keeping New England out of the end zone.
Prediction: New England over Cleveland, 37-17