While Patriots QB Tom Brady was able to avoid a suspension last season (making him a scoop in Fanstasy Football leagues in the process), New England wasn’t so lucky this year as “Deflategate” came back to haunt them. Brady will miss the first four weeks of the 2016-2017 NFL season, but Vegas doesn’t seem to mind. NFL odds makers still favor the New England Patriots over all other teams as they sit at a 15 to 2 favorite to win Super Bowl LI. You’d think losing a franchise quarterback for 1/4 of the regular season would diminish a team’s odds of winning it all, but there are several reasons why the Patriots are still the team to beat.
Jimmy Garoppolo to the Rescue (Maybe? Possibly?)
It all starts with the man picking up the slack in Brady’s absence, Jimmy Garoppolo. As Brady’s backup for the last 2 seasons, Garoppolo’s stats don’t exactly jump out at you. He’s never started an NFL game, and has only recorded 20 career completions on 31 attempts. The most action Garoppolo’s seen has been during the preseason, where he’s shown off his mobility (something Tom Brady doesn’t have), lightning quick release, and accuracy.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, keep in mind that there is zero chance of a Bledsoe/Brady situation here. Tom Brady is one of the greatest QBs of all-time, and even if Jimmy Garoppolo leads the Patriots to a 4-0 start while slinging 16 TD passes and averaging 400 passing yards a game (he won’t), Tom Brady is getting the start Week 5 at the Cleveland Browns. Garoppolo should be a serviceable QB for the start of the Patriots season, though, as most NFL pundits see New England going 2-2 while Brady rides the pine.
Gronk Gets Some Help
Remember when the New England Patriots TE attack was a two-headed monster? Rob Gronkowski has been one of the best tight ends in the league since his rookie season in 2010, but New England was nearly unstoppable when they had Aaron Hernandez opposite Gronk. Unfortunately for Pats fans, Hernandez felt compelled to murder people and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Since Hernandez’ departure from the NFL, New England has relied heavily on Gronkowski, but they’ve finally got some elite TE help going into the 2016 season with the acquisition of former Chicago Bears TE Martellus Bennett.
At 6’6″ 275 lbs, Martellus Bennett is an absolute beast. He was one of Jay Cutler’s favorite targets in Chicago, racking up 208 receptions and 14 touchdown catches over the past 3 seasons. He is an elite tight end who will give Garoppolo and Brady another safety valve in the passing game, and will open up the field for the best TE in the league, Gronkowski.
Improved Offensive Line
Arguably New England’s weakest link last season was their offensive line, and it showed in the playoffs as Tom Brady was put under immense pressure time and time again. While the Broncos defense is as good as they come, it was clear the Patriots needed to improve their o-line if they wanted to come back this season and win Super Bowl LI.
New England did just that in drafting North Carolina State lineman Joe Thuney and Illinois guard Ted Karras. These rookies should have an immediate impact, and will hopefully keep Garoppolo/Brady off of their backs throughout the 2016-2017 NFL season.
Who do you think has the best chance to win Super Bowl LI? Post your picks in the comment section below.