Monday, February 8, 2021 01:00 PM

Maybe Tom Brady is that good after all?

in Sports by MegaBearsFan

I've been a vocal "hater" of Tom Brady (and the New England Patriots) for many years. In fact, ten years ago, I wrote a post about how seeing the Colts playing without Payton Manning (who had been sidelined with an injury) proved that Manning is a better quarterback (and more valuable asset to the team) than Tom Brady. In the meantime, I've continued to maintain that the Patriots are just a very well-run and well-coached football team that would still be very successful even without Tom Brady. But Brady has now gone on to win four more SuperBowls since then, and yesterday, he did one of the things that we haters said would be one of the few things that would change our mind: he won a SuperBowl for a team other than the New England Patriots.

With his seventh SuperBowl victory yesterday, it's becoming increasingly hard to argue that he isn't the "G.O.A.T." (Greatest of All-Time). He is certainly the most accomplished player in NFL history. Despite this SuperBowl win, and despite Brady's success and accolades, his career is still loaded with "yeah buts".

Tom Brady has now silenced many of his doubters by winning a SuperBowl with a team other than the Patriots.

The best team in the worst division of football

First and foremost, he spent his entire career playing in the worst division in football. The Jets, Dolphins, and Bills have consistently been among the worst teams in the league through the Patriots' 20-year dynasty. The Jets had a couple years under head coach Rex Ryan in which they were considered SuperBowl contenders, but their failures exposed them as more pretenders than serious contenders. It is only now in 2020 that the Bills are suddenly good, and the Dolphins almost put together a playoff-worthy record. And it just so happens that AFC East teams becoming good is the very year that Brady jumps ship from the Patriots.

Is Brady finally out of Belichick's shadow?

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had a sort of "John Lennon, Paul McCartney" thing going on, in which people argued about whether they are as good on their own as they are together. Well now we finally got to see Belichick fail miserably at coaching a Brady-less team, and got to see Brady win a championship for a team not coached by Belichick. It's easy to see this as vindication for Brady (and many do see it as exactly that), but I'm still not entirely sold.

First and foremost, I point to 2008, when Brady was sidelined with injury, and Matt Cassel had to start the rest of the year. Cassel played exceptionally well, the Patriots went 11-5, and only missed the playoffs because they lost tie-breakers to the Dolphins (for the division title) and Ravens (for a wildcard spot). Cassel became the hottest free agent in the NFL that following offseason, and largely flopped at every team he played at since. The Patriots without Tom Brady were still playoff contenders.

Matt Cassel looked like an all-star and almost
lead Patriots to the playoffs in 2008.

We also saw the Patriots perform well during Brady's four-game "Deflategate" suspension in the 2016 season. The Patriots won 3 of those 4 games (convincingly) en route to a comeback SuperBowl championship against the Falcons. We've seen the Patriots be god without Tom Brady, multiple times.

We didn't see a Brady-less Patriots team again until 2020, which, of course, was the year of COVID. It's hard to really judge anything that happened this season because the whole thing was so topsy-turvy. The pandemic was disruptive to many teams' training camps, as it limited team activities. Almost every team had players opt-out of playing in the season altogether. Because of these disruptions to activities and rosters, it is very likely that otherwise good teams may have underperformed. One of the hardest-hit teams might have been the New England Patriots, which had to make due with six players opting-out, including two defensive starters and a starter on the offensive line. Furthermore, positive COVID tests for players (including elite defensive back Stephon Gilmore) caused further disruption to the Patriots' game and practice schedules. Despite all those problems, the Patriots were still only a couple games out of wildcard contention!

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Patriots win Super Bowl LI in overtime
I hated seeing Belichick, Brady, and the Patriots win the Super Bowl too, but don't blame the rules!

Possibly bitter over the New England Patriot's unprecedented comeback victory in overtime of Super Bowl LI, a CBS Sports blogger is arguing that the NFL should adopt college football overtime rules. The author asserts "[...] the one thing college football does better than the NFL? Overtime, without a doubt.".

I don't want to sound rude, but: no. Absolutely not!

This idea that college football does overtime better than the NFL is a popular opinion that I just flat-out do not agree with, and which I -- quite frankly -- don't particularly understand. The college football overtime rules is something that I despise about that game. For many reasons.

College overtime isn't football

First of all, college overtime is a totally different rule set than the regulation game. The CBS writer claims that "The overtime rules in college football are straight forward." I disagree on that point, as college overtime is full of caveats of its own. After all, if it were so simple, then why would sites like Sports Illustrated and ESPN feel it necessary to feature posts titled "How does college overtime work?"? For example, teams are required to go for two-point conversions starting in the third overtime because the rules-makers realized they needed some way to limit multiple overtimes. It's a more complicated and arbitrary ruleset than the CBS writer gives it credit for, and it's no less complicated than NFL overtime rules which played virtually identically to a regulation game, except that it has a hybrid "sudden death" that allows for the game to continue if the opening possession results in a field goal.

Devin Hester return TD
Special teams stars like Devin Hester are
completely irrelevant in college overtime.

Perhaps most importantly: college rules completely ignore special teams. Have an explosive punt or kick returner like, say Devin Hester? Well, in college football, he never gets to step foot on the field - at least, not as a return man. Same goes for an exceptional punter (like Hall of Fame punter Ray Guy) or a standout kick coverage unit (like perpetually-snubbed gunner Steve Tasker).

Or maybe it's the exact opposite. Maybe your kick coverage unit is a huge liability. In college football overtime, that's a weakness that you don't have to worry about, and that the other team doesn't have the opportunity to exploit.

Either way, they all get to sit on the sidelines and watch because they're arbitrarily no longer part of the game. Special teams is part of football, and should be part of overtime. Whether it's straightforward or not, any overtime rule that neglects special teams is not football....

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Chicago Bears alt logo

I was looking forward to a breakout year for the Bears. I even drafted Jay Cutler in one of the later rounds in one of my fantasy football leagues expecting him to have his best season ever and be a top-tier quarterback. All the pieces were in place. And the defense being a liability seemed to be even more promising, since Cutler would have to play from behind more often, giving him plenty of opportunity to put up huge numbers.

But then the season started, and my excitement was almost completely squashed by losing the season opener in overtime to the Bills.

But I never feared it would get this bad!

The Bears have only three wins in the first ten weeks of the season, and the past three losses have been embarrassing. A loss to the Dolphins in which the Bears couldn't even score more than 14 points. And now two straight games against the Patriots and Packers that were both over by halftime. And the loss to the Packers came after a bye!

The Bears are failing at every level of play. The offense can't move the ball or score points. Special teams hasn't done anything special. And teams are cutting through the Bears' defense like butter. The defense at least has the excuse of injuries. Charles Tillman is out for the year, and Lance Briggs just returned from a multi-week injury. But that doesn't justify giving up over 100 points in two weeks, nor does it justify the defense being the statistically worst defense that the team has ever had in its 90-plus-year history.

Bears - 23 | Patriots - 51 : Rob Gronkowski scores a TD Bears - 14 | Packers - 55 : Jordy Nelson wide open TD reception
The Bears' defense has set franchise records for awfulness.

But as bad as the defense is, it wasn't expected to be very good. New coach Mark Trestman is an offense-oriented coach, and the defense is old and has lost some of its best talent (like Brian Urlacher).

What is disappointing is that despite being the most "talented" and hyped offense that the team has ever seen, the offense is completely inept. It's as bad as the post-SuperBowl Rex Grossman offense!

The Bears don't even look like a professional football team right now.

There's two obvious scape-goats here: coach Mark Trestman, or quarterback Jay Cutler.

Cutler has been inconsistent and oft criticized, but his apologists always said that he needed a better offensive coach...

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One of the NFL's new rule changes for this year is that the booth will now automatically review all plays that are called as touchdowns on the field without needing the play to be challenged by a coach.

It sounds good in principle.

Patriots 38, Dolphins 24 - Reggie Bush breaks the plane, but was called out of bounds on the field.
Reggie Bush's touchdown was ruled out-of-bounds on the field, so had to be challenged by Tony Sporano.

Make sure that teams aren't getting points put up on the board when they shouldn't be.

But what about the inverse?

The rule is that only plays that are called as touchdowns on the field are being reviewed. For plays that are incorrectly called as not a touchdown, the coach still has to use a challenge.

So the NFL is making sure that points aren't put up on the board when they shouldn't be, but they're not making sure that points do go up when they should. Why the hell not?

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It's a debate that's been going on for a decade: Is Tom Brady better than Peyton Manning?

Peyton ManningTom Brady

Tom Brady has more championships, so the conventional wisdom would say that yes, Brady is superior.

But I think this week's season opener proves otherwise.

This Sunday marked the first time since 1997 that Peyton Manning was not the Indianapolis Colts' starting quarterback.

Championships aren't the only measure of quality for an NFL quarterback. Remember, Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl. He's easily the best player in Super Bowl era of NFL history to have never won a Super Bowl, and he's one of - if not the - best quarterbacks in history. And Manning does in fact have a ring! He won it against my Bears in 2006. But if somebody was going to beat the Bears in the Super Bowl, I'm glad it was Manning. The guy deserves it!

So how else can we compare them?

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