Why Patriots are still AFC favorite without Rob Gronkowski

With news that TE Rob Gronkowski will likely miss eight weeks, Mike Renner looks at the Patriots' postseason future.

| 7 months ago
2017 fantasy TE rankings

Why Patriots are still AFC favorite without Rob Gronkowski

After quarterback Tom Brady, the one player the Patriots would least like to lose was just declared out for the rest of the regular season. Rob Gronkowski—PFF’s highest-graded tight end at the moment—is having back surgery that conservative estimates say will sideline him until around the time of the Super Bowl.

Immediately, the question on everybody’s mind becomes, “Do the Patriots still have enough fire power to win the AFC?”

There were times this season that it looked like a forgone conclusion that the Patriots would represent their conference in Super Bowl LI. That was before they lost their most dynamic weapons on defense (Jamie Collins, via a trade to the Browns) and now on offense. Gronk’s loss doesn’t really pose a threat to New England’s quest for a first-round bye, as the Patriots already have a multiple-game lead in that regard, but they don’t want to be traveling on the road as they did a season ago, and they are tied with the 9-2 Raiders for home-field advantage at the moment. They also have the Ravens, Broncos, and Dolphins remaining on their schedule—all teams fighting for their playoff lives.

Let’s assume the Patriots do get through the regular season unscathed, though, and clinch home-field advantage. A Gronk-less New England team may not be the death sentence to opponents it once was back in 2013. There was a concerted effort this offseason to make the receiving corps more multifaceted, and the additions of Chris Hogan, rookie Malcolm Mitchell, and Martellus Bennett have done just that. With QB Jimmy Garappolo at the helm in Weeks 1 and 2, the Patriots’ offense outperformed everyone’s wildest dreams, and those new additions were a big reason why. Bennett was the highest-graded tight end in the league over that span, while Hogan recorded 119 receiving yards on 7-of-9 targets himself.

This was a far cry from the first six weeks of the 2013 season, when Tom Brady was our 12th-highest graded quarterback in the league without Gronkowski, throwing for a passer rating of just 79.5 over that span. Over the past two weeks of the 2016 season, with Gronk playing a grand total of seven snaps, Brady earned the sixth-highest grade among NFL quarterbacks, with a passer rating of 100.5. It won’t be the scorched earth that we saw at times with a fully-healthy roster, yet this is still one of the most talented rosters in the league. The New England Patriots may not be the odds-on favorites anymore with the way the AFC West is playing, but this team should still be the conference favorite to make Super Bowl LI.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • AJ

    I agree with this to a point, but the past two games need to be taken with a grain of salt. Both games were against teams in line to pick in the top 5 of the draft. The Patriots offense as a whole was noticeably less potent against the Jets, who have one of the worst pass coverage defenses in the league (though their pass rush in that game was not bad). Let’s wait till they play some good teams first. Personally, I would be worried about teams like KC and Oakland (especially if they add Aldon Smith before the playoffs).

    Back when Brady was though to be in decline and then resurged, I thought it had a lot to do with Gronk staying healthy for an extended period. Even today, Brady is still a very different player when Gronk is not in the lineup. I think this will have a huge impact on the quality of his play the rest of the season.

  • Mark Doyle

    Dolphins fan here and we are not conceding the top spot in the AFC EAST at all. Miami has a tough road but NE had vulnerability prior to becoming Gronkless. Miami has improved throughout the season and winning the rest of their games is not totally unlikely. Every team NE plays will be gunning for them hard. Ravens, Broncos, and Dolphins working for the playoffs and the Rams and the Jets would love to notch a win against the Pats. Those two DL’s will get after Brady something fierce.

    • crosseyedlemon

      The Rams will be traveling over 4000 miles to play a 1pm game in New England so forget them making a game of it.

      • crosseyedlemon

        edit – 4000 km or approximately 2600 miles.

  • crosseyedlemon

    If we accept the PFF power rankings at face value then the Patriots have the best balance between offense and defense of the top teams and that could certainly give them an edge. Once you get into the playoffs it really just boils down to which team can make the clutch play or create a key turnover and it’s nearly impossible to predict that.

  • http://sofifa.com/squad/123853 The Vanquisher

    Yes Gronk is a huge loss, but the Pats will still power through. Edelman, Amendola, Hogan, and Mitchell are all good receivers and Bennett has had some good plays himself before Rob’s injury.