The New England Patriots are an 11-3, division-leading team. Yet somehow, questions linger about their viability in the playoffs. Former tight end Rob Gronkowski is out of the league. Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady is 42. For some, the QB doesn’t pass the eye test of being at his peak anymore.
Is this truly the case? Are Brady and the Patriots finally hitting the end of their reign of terror in the AFC East and the NFL as a whole?
Is Tom Brady really struggling?
Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Others stake the claim for being the best in terms of pure individual talent by some small margin. But there is no better QB in terms of combining personal talent with Super Bowl-winning teams.
Is Brady still this quarterback in 2019? Some point to his limited practice appearances as evidence that his physical health is in decline. The best rebuttal of this, however, comes from another sport: Kawhi Leonard in the NBA.
The Clippers regularly rest Leonard for full games, including primetime broadcasts, as a way of managing his knee issues. When the NBA star is on the floor, though, no one could make the claim he isn’t part of a tiny cadre of the best basketball players on earth.
Don’t let the noise fool you: This also describes Brady in the NFL today — except he doesn’t miss any games. When he’s on the field this year, he actually looks better than he did in several of his earlier seasons.
How the Brady of today compares to his younger self
Once Brady hit his stride in the NFL, he looked unstoppable — until 2013. That’s the year the Patriots fell to the then-ascendant Denver Broncos in a 26-16 AFC Championship loss.
Brady completed 60.5% of his passes, throwing for a paltry 6.7 yards per attempt. That version of the Patriots was all offensive muscle, so when the 2013 version of Brady sunk, he dragged the entire team down with him.
Today’s Brady lands slightly better than his 2013 self; 61.1% of his passes land complete with 88.7% passing efficiency. The 2019 Brady, at the absolute worst, compares to an off-year during his prime.
After spending much of the season trouncing most of their opponents, the Patriots’ surprise loss to the Texans raised the criticism of Brady. Yet the game happened to be Brady’s best in weeks: 326 yards, 3 TDs, one interception, and 6.9 yards per pass attempt.
One couldn’t reasonably say we’re getting Brady at the best he’s ever been. But you could easily say he remains one of the best QBs in the NFL. The 42-year-old is a piece of a team very capable of winning the Super Bowl. Yes, even in the newly competitive AFC East.
How the Patriots defense keeps Super Bowl hopes alive
Today’s Patriots lack the lopsided offensive focus from Brady’s earlier days. These aren’t the guys who allowed Brady to get sacked an unbelievable 40 times in 2013.
With Gronk out of the league and James Develin out for the season, New England’s lineup remains elite. Above all, it’s their newly-minted top-shelf defense that makes them top contenders for a strong playoff run this season.
The current defensive line is the top in the NFL across the last decade, with an 88.6 efficiency rating. No opposing QB managed to top 300 yards per game against this squad. They repeatedly force turnovers in a way few teams can, too.
This is how Brady, with his polished instincts and veteran mindset, continues to overcome the odds despite his age. The Patriots’ offense has faltered slightly, but the defense is elite and only getting better. That’s why, even at 42, Tom Brady is not too old to win yet another Super Bowl.