This isn’t completely about Tom Brady’s suspension, although that may be what some Patriots will be thinking as they’re watching this year’s NFL playoffs from the comfort of their own homes. It’s about something else the Patriots won’t have from last season. Their defense needs to be overhauled by Bill Belichick to have any success in combatting the emerging and existing passing attacks of this season’s opponents, and that still won’t be enough. The Patriots not only lost their No. 1 cornerback Darrelle Revis, but also their No. 2 guy in Brandon Browner. Additionally, Vince Wilfork, the Patriots’ anchor for over a decade, was released this offseason.
New England will have to put up some serious offensive numbers in order to win games when teams are able to exploit their downgraded secondary. While the loss of Brady for the first four games is a blow, it’s the loss of change-of-pace back Shane Vereen, who led the team in rushing attempts in 2014, that may prove more substantial.
Despite the 22nd-hardest schedule according to last year’s records, Jimmy Garoppolo and the Patriots will need to hit the ground running for this Patriots team to win grab a playoff berth, let alone win the division. The Dolphins are improved on both sides of the ball, with the additions of Ndamukong Suh, Kenny Stills and Jordan Cameron, and will be the favorites for the division crown this season. The newly Ryan-coached Bills should play sound defensively and will bolster their new offensive weapons in LeSean McCoy and Percy Harvin.
Let’s look into the games Garoppolo is poised to start.
Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh
Week 2 @ Buffalo
Week 3 vs. Jacksonville
Week 4 Bye
Week 5 @ Dallas
Best-case scenario: The Patriots come out strong at home and take care of the Steelers in the absence of Le’Veon Bell. They carry over the momentum into a close win against Rex Ryan’s new team. They breeze through Jacksonville, only to fall to Dallas in a nail-biter after the bye week in Week 4. (3-1 heading into Week 6)
Worst-case scenario: Pittsburgh’s young, athletic receiving corps goes to work on New England’s new starting cornerback duo and blow the Patriots out in the home opener. The Patriots try to recuperate the following week but Rex Ryan’s defense stifles the young quarterback and the offense along with him. A flustered Garoppolo continues to struggle against the Jaguars and gets out-dueled by Blake Bortles. New England is unable to rally the troops together in the bye week and falls to Dallas in Week 5. (0-4)
Most probable scenario: New England comes out swinging but falls to the Steelers in the first game of their 2015 campaign. They lose by a field goal and fall to the Bills in the following game. They easily handle the Jaguars and move into the bye week optimists. That optimism is put to rest after they lose to the Cowboys in Dallas, but newfound optimism arises as Brady returns in Week 6. (1-3)
According to last season’s playoff picture, AFC teams need at least 10 wins to reach the playoffs. If the trend stands, and the Patriots are 1-3 when Brady enters the fold, he would need to lead them to a record of 9-3 throughout the remainder of the season. A couple things go against the Patriots here. They don’t have a bye week remaining to right the ship if it starts to stray from its course, and, secondly, they continue to play some solid, improved teams in the second half of the season.
Serious challenges arise against the following teams in the weeks following Brady’s presumed takeover: Indianapolis, Miami, New York (both Jets and Giants), Denver, Philadelphia and Houston. We see stellar or improved passing attacks – in the case of the Colts, Dolphins, Giants, Jets (twice), Broncos and Eagles – which will be the downfall of this team. Those stepping into the cornerback voids filled by Browner and Revis will be unable fill the shoes and leave more to be desired.
Although I don’t believe the Brady controversy will directly produce the Patriots’ struggling to break .500 this season, it’s interesting to note the last time New England missed the playoffs was in 2008 – The year after Spygate.
This article is a part of our ongoing “Opposites Attack” series where we aim to play devil’s advocate on hot topics in the sports and entertainment world while providing a fresh perspective of these subjects.
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