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Time To Move On From Tom Brady?

Sunday of Week 10 was not a good day for Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. They could not get anything going against an admittedly strong Titans defense. However, the ineptitude of the way the Patriots offense played made the Dallas Cowboys performance against the Titans look somewhat heartening. Now the whole offense was an absolute mess but when that happens the fingers point at Brady and in this case it may have highlighted a bigger issue for Brady and his future fantasy value.

Before we go any further I will admit that I am a Patriots fan and this little decline has me a little concerned. However, this is not going to be some sort of overreaction Brady-is-done piece that you might fear from a fan of the team. The Patriots are my NFL team but statistics and trends are perhaps even more important to me in everything I do. Therefore, below I am going to look at said statistics and trends from this year, recent seasons and Brady's career to see if there is a reason for concern about Brady going forward towards the 2018 NFL fantasy playoffs.

So without further ado let me break down why Brady's must-start fantasy status is in doubt.

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The Trend

Let's start by taking a look at what has happened recently to make us ask these questions. The table below shows the stark contrast in Brady's numbers between the first seven games and the last three.

Categories Games 1-7 Games 8-10
TDs per game 2.14 0.33
Yards per game 268 290.7
Completion percentage 6/7 over 65% all under 65%
Sacks per game 1.29 2.33

That is a fairly incredible contrast in fortunes for Brady. The yardage has improved but the rest of the numbers have taken a significant downturn. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, his receiving core has been depleted. Rob Gronkowski was fairly healthy for the first seven weeks, missing just one game compared to two out of the last three. Gronkowski is a major part of what makes this offense tick. He is not a focal point but he is the go-to guy and right now Brady is really missing him.

In addition, Brady's numbers improved a little when Julian Edelman returned from his suspension. However, Edelman has been on the injury report a couple of times lately and he has been unable to get separation. Therefore, Brady has not had his safety valve as much as he would like. Finally, another favorite target this season, James White was huge in the early part of the season but with no, or a limited Sony Michel to counter him, he loses a little of his impact factor.

The loss of Michel also limits what Brady can do off the play-action, as his best pure runner, Cordarrelle Patterson struggles in pass protection and is therefore not a great running back to run play-action with. The limitations on play-action, combined with Brady needing to hold the ball longer as his best receiver cannot get separation, the loss of his monster tight end and a banged up offensive line have given Brady a bad downturn in numbers I am not sure he can easily reverse.

Commitment to the Run

We have also seen the Patriots commit to the running game more lately, especially in the red zone. On the season, the Patriots rank 10th in rush attempts, which is more than we probably expect. In addition, they rank 19th in the league in passing touchdowns with 17 compared to sixth in the league in rushing touchdowns with 12.

Despite the loss of Michel, the rate the Patriots have scored rushing touchdowns has actually increased. In the first seven weeks of the season, the Patriots had exactly one rushing touchdown per game on average. In the last three weeks, they have five rushing touchdowns, giving them 1.66 per game. For those keeping count, they also have the Devin McCourty interception return.

So is this a similar story to last season? The number of games it changed at is different but we do see a similar trend. Through 11 games the Patriots averaged 2.36 passing touchdowns per game and just 1.2 in the final five. In those first 11 games, they had just eight rushing touchdowns (0.72 per game) and in the final five, they also had eight (1.6 per game). Therefore, we have seen the Patriots switch their attention to the run previously but it has come much earlier this year than last.

So is this running the ball inside the red zone abnormal? The Patriots have hammered the ball in the red zone in the past with players like LeGarrette Blount. However, this offense feels similar to last year so I wanted to compare their overall numbers when it came to rushing and passing in the red zone. This season the Patriots have run 101 plays in the opposing red zone and have rushed it 51.4% of the time. Last year that number was 53.2%. Inside the 10 this year, they have run the ball on 57.1% of their 63 plays. Last year they rushed the ball on 58.4% of their 89 plays. Therefore, these current numbers are not an abnormal trend and you can expect a similar red zone balance from the Patriots going forward.

The Schedule

So what schedule does Brady face coming out of the bye in Week 12 through the rest of the year? The Patriots schedule is listed below with the opponents rank for fantasy points surrendered against quarterbacks and running backs listed.

Opponent vs. QB vs. RB
Jets 18 15
Vikings 22 24
Dolphins 23 8
Steelers 5 21
Bills 20 10
Jets 18 15

It is a really rough ride for Brady. He faces just one team in the top half in terms of surrendering fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. Even then the Steelers have been much tougher against opposing quarterbacks in the last few weeks. Therefore, it looks an extremely tough road for Brady. However, the good news is that the running back schedule is not significantly easier so it's not as if the Patriots will be running wild all over opposing defenses. However, there are four games against teams who rank in the top half in terms of points surrendered to opposing running backs and two in the top-10.

The History

Let's end by looking at Brady's history broken down into chunks of four games. I have excluded 2016 as that was the season Brady was suspended to start the season and then we had his season-long revenge tour. The numbers in the columns are his touchdowns per game and the ones in parenthesis his completion percentage.

Games Overall 2017 2015
1-4 1.91 (64.5%) 2.5 (66.5%) 2.75 (72.5%)
5-8 2.06 (64.7%) 1.5 (66.7%) 2.75 (64.9%)
9-12 1.96 (64.4%) 2.5 (72.9%) 2.25 (54.8%)
13-16 1.68 (62.5%) 1.5 (59.4%) 1.25 (67.5%)

What you can see is that overall in his career Brady has a slight drop off in games 13-16 compared to the first 12 games. The drop off in completion percentage over his whole career is not huge but it is noticeable. We are not talking small samples sizes, with each of these categories having over 60 games in them, so a change of 2% is significant. In fact, over the first 12 games, his completion percentage varies by just 0.3% so a drop of 2% is massive in comparison. The drop-off in touchdowns is also significant. In the final four games of the season, Brady averages around 0.3 of a touchdown less per game than in the rest of the season.

I wanted to include 2017 and 2015 to show how Brady compares in those two years to his overall numbers. Now obviously they are significantly smaller sample sizes. What they show is that there was a big drop-off in completion percentage in the last four games of last season and that his touchdowns per game dropped off significantly in the last four games of 2015. However, I would just like to focus on the completion percentage Brady has in games 9 through 12 in 2015. His touchdowns remained similar to the rest of the season but his completion percentage dropped below 55%. That almost completely replicates what we have seen this season, and in 2015 he managed to bounce back in the final quarter of the season. Can he do that again this season? If he does would it be enough if we still see the drop-off in touchdowns? The answer to both of those questions is that I am really not sure. At 41, Brady is setting new marks at the position and we do not have a lot of data to fall back on.

The Verdict

I mentioned in the introduction that as a Patriots fan this is a scary prospect to be facing. I also assured you that there would be no sensationalist overreaction from a fan and I hope the analysis makes that clear. There is no getting around it, Brady is getting old and that will take its toll at times. He is still very good and this is by no means a Peyton Manning at the end of his career situation. There is also the fact that what Brady wants more than anything right now is to win. The only record he seems interested in is how many Super Bowls he can win. Therefore, if handing the ball off 50 times a game is what is best for the team then that is what Brady will do.

Therefore, for all of the reasons listed above it is time that any fantasy marriage you have with Brady should be broken from your side. There are so many good quarterbacks for fantasy purposes this season that Brady is no longer simply a must-start week-in-week-out. There is a chance we see a 2015-like bounce-back in completion percentage the final quarter of the season but the dip in touchdowns is a clear trend to be concerned about.

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