What Tom Brady news means for AFC playoff picture
The news came down today that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady won his appeal of his four-game DeflateGate suspension, meaning that he won’t be required to miss any time and will be available for New England’s Thursday night opener against the Steelers on Sept. 10.
You can read the judge’s complete ruling here, via ESPN.com.
This is obviously a very nuanced story that brings out opinions on both sides of the aisle, but as it relates to the upcoming season, what does this mean for the AFC playoff picture?
Having Brady for a full 16 games is obviously a great thing for the Patriots. Even at the age of 38, he remains a very effective NFL quarterback. His PFF rating of 83.9 entering the 2015 season ranks sixth among all NFL QBs, and it’s fair to argue that his contributions go beyond what can be captured in our production-based measure of his performance.
There was also the issue of the play of his backup, second-year QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who has failed to impress this preseason. He especially hasn’t been accurate on his deep passes, completing just three of 10 throws with one interception. His accuracy percentage of 79.5 is high, but his average depth of target of 7.3 is low – making that accuracy number rather misleading. While he’s only been under pressure on 23 dropbacks, he’s been sacked on seven of those plays. Getting sacked on 30.4 percent of dropbacks is much higher than what you typically see out of QBs – Brady was sacked on ust 11.4 percent of his dropbacks last season (sixth-best rate in the league).
The Patriots were still a favorite to make the playoffs even with Brady sidelined for four games, but this significantly improves their chances of returning to the Super Bowl. Even if you conservatively estimate the Brady-for-Garoppolo swap over four games being worth one additional victory (the Pats’ first four games are against Pittsburgh, at Buffalo, against Jacksonville and at Dallas), that would have been the difference between the 1 and 4 seeds in last year’s AFC playoffs.
The teams hurt the most by Thursday’s news (outside of the Bills, Dolphins and Jets in the AFC East) are likely the Colts and Broncos – both of whom made personnel gains this offseason and would have been well-positioned to benefit from a four-game Brady absence.
Bottom line: The Patriots with 12 games of Brady were likely battling for a division title and possibly going on the road for their first playoff game. The Patriots with 16 games of Brady are the top contender for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. That makes Thursday’s court ruling perhaps the biggest development of the entire NFL offseason thus far.