What Tom Brady news means for AFC playoff picture

The Patriots go from being a playoff contender to being the favorite to win the conference.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

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.

| Director of Analytics

Nathan has been with Pro Football Focus since 2010. He is the Director of Analytics, an NFL analyst, and a fantasy writer.

  • Riffle,Rod&Fly

    The Patsies seem to take a while to warm up every year as they gather intel on opponents. I wonder if it would have made a big difference in the long run. The fans can celebrate this as some sort of great veneration of their God-Boy, but what really hurt the team all along was the two draft picks. Those are never coming back.

    • hererwegobrowniesherewego

      Getting out of a 2-2 hole as opposed to a 1-3 one is going to mean a lot for home field.

  • David Japhet-Mathias

    Brady coming back doesn’t solve the problems concerning their defence.

  • Ernestine Garcia

    I’m happy for Brady but there’s one thing the NFL & these bloger’s/writers are sleeping on Denver Broncos Decense there going to dominate Wade Phillips Agresive D & the front 7 pass rushers are clearly one of the best with Von,Ware the rook Ray but I’m going to bring one more name Shaquell Barrett break out 2nd year player I think the league is sleeping on them but soon will find

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  • Guest

    I see Vegas made the adjustment either at 2 or 1 in terms of odds. Well, NFL.com at least isn’t picking them to win the AFC.Their 2015 consensus AFC Pick is Indianapolis which I suppose was based on him missing games. Last year’s preseason consensus AFC pick to make the Super Bowl was New England on the site and in 2013 their preseason consensus AFC pick Denver made it.

    I think what happened is the suspension uncertainty wrecked havoc with the Super Bowl picks and we won’t have any consistency in terms of people getting it right before the season starts as they have in the past 4 years, or just one team right anyway.