Deflategate is over, and Tom Brady is back with the New England Patriots.
And for the rest of the NFL, that means trouble.
Much was made about how the Patriots would fare while Brady served his four-game suspension. The idea of staying afloat was frequently mentioned — perhaps the Patriots could go 2-2 and have Brady return to a .500 team still very much in the mix.
Instead, Brady is returning to a 3-1 team that won its first three games before, surprisingly, being shut out and looking utterly flat against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Though the Bills won Week 4 decisively, they were also playing a Patriots team being helmed by a third-string, rookie quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) playing through a thumb injury that some thought would need surgery.
A Week-4 flop aside, the Patriots look like the best team in football. Even in a week where they couldn’t get any offence going against the Bills, their defence gave up just 16 points, allowing only three in the second half. This comes one week after they shut out the Texans. Through four weeks, the Patriots have allowed the fourth-fewest points in the NFL, and they just got defensive end Robert Ninkovich back from suspension this week.
However, it’s the offence that stands to see the most improvement, and with Brady at the helm, it should be among the NFL’s best. Through four weeks, the Patriots have scored 81 points (including their shutout via Buffalo) and are still ahead of 13 other teams. Through three weeks, they ranked 11th in offensive DVOA (a metric that measures the overall efficiency of a team or player), despite Brissett playing 10 quarters to Jimmy Garroppolo’s six, and without a fully healthy Rob Gronkowski, who has just one catch on the year.
Brady’s presence should not only help the Patriots’ deep receiving corps including Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett, Danny Amendola, and Chris Hogan, but it should help the run game, too. Without Brady, running back LeGarrette Blount has still managed 352 yards, third most in the NFL, and four touchdowns. With an activated pass game, Blount should see his four-yards-per-attempt rise.
The Patriots may also welcome back running back Dion Lewis in two weeks when he can come off the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. Last season, Lewis was a revelation, totaling 622 yards and four touchdowns in seven games last year before tearing his ACL.
Last year’s Patriots began the season 10-0 before injuries began taking their toll, most notably to offensive lineman Nate Solder, Lewis, Edelman, and Gronkowski. They finished the season 12-4, eventually losing to the Broncos in the AFC Championship.
This year’s Patriots team already looks just as good and is slowly coming together, which is a scary sign for the rest of the NFL.
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