Brady Bunch: The 2013 AFC East QB Carousel

tombrady1

Yesterday, it was reported in every news outlet from Boston to Seattle that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had his knee rolled up on when Tampa Bay Buccaneer defensive end Adrian Clayborn bull-rushed offensive lineman Nate Solder into the future Hall of Famer.  Brady gabbed his knee and limped to the sideline and was later diagnosed with a mild knee sprain.

As SportsCenter showed the 36 year-old quarterback limping off the practice field I thought:  How could the balance of power shift in the AFC East if Brady were to miss significant playing time? What if head coach Bill Belichick had to name Ryan Mallett or Tim Tebow as his starting QB? Does that change the balance of power in the AFC East?

You bet it does.

All of a sudden this becomes a three team race between the now more evenly matched Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills.  Instead of New England enjoying their normal three-or-four-game lead going into December, everybody (except the Jets) is fighting to win what is arguably the worst division in football.

First, the only years in the Brady-Belichick era that the Patriots have not made the playoffs was in ’02 as they suffered a Super Bowl hangover, and ’08 when Brady suffered a season ending knee injury in the opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.  To say the Patriots have dominated the AFC East is an understatement of Pro-Bowl sized proportions.

Second, the Patriots — even before Brady limped off the field at yesterday’s practice — have lost 62% of their passing offense from last year, and their second best offensive player, tight end Rob Gronkowski is still recovering from multiple off-season injuries and there is now telling when he’ll get back.

Third, while 36 is not old to you and me, 36 is downright elderly for NFL quarterbacks (unless your name is Brett Favre).  Despite statements to the contrary, Tom Brady is getting old, and old in the NFL equals injury prone.  So what happens in the AFC East if Brady goes down?

Overnight, New England goes from having the best quarterback situation in the division to the worst.  Ryan Mallett is untested, has not earned Belichick’s confidence, and has not looked good in the few spots he’s played.  Tim Tebow is a Florida Gator legend who has no business trying to play quarterback in the NFL.  Like Steve Spurrier decades ago, Tebow will forever be revered in Florida and might make a great college coach someday.  Neither of which helps the Patriots today nor adds to their qurterback depth chart.

So, now Patriot Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio has to go looking for a veteran back-up quarterback.  Caserio has the likes of Trent Edwards, Matt Leinart, Tyler Thigpen and Charlie Batch to pick from. Good luck.  Mallett is not going to make the current crop of Patriot rookie receivers look like anything more than well…rookie receivers.  The Patriot offense is in serious trouble if their future Hall of Famer is not under center.

Looking around the rest of the AFC East, the Jets are still horrible and nothing changes in Gotham as a result of Brady’s potential injury woes. Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith are not leading the Jets anywhere this year.

Miami’s Ryan Tannehill has shown sporadic flashes and has some talent. However, nobody can convince me (yet) that Tannehill is going to draw any comparisons to Dolphin legend Dan Marino.  Plus, I expect Tannehill is going to have a sophomore slump regardless of how he eventually shakes out as an NFL quarterback.

Therefore, Buffalo overnight goes from having a questionable quarterback situation to possibly the best and most stable situation in the division. I know it’s crazy to say, but if Brady were to miss significant time, EJ Manuel, Jeff Tuel and Kevin Kolb give the Bills the most stability and arguably the most quarterback talent of any team in the division.

What does it all mean if Brady struggles with injuries this year?  It means that New England does not do their normal 6-0 blitzkrieg through the division, this becomes a three-team race in the East between the now evenly matched Patriots, Dolphins and Bills.

Instead of New England enjoying their normal three-or-four-game lead going into December everybody’s fighting to win arguably the worst division in football.  In this dream sequence of mine, and after watching Manuel play this past Sunday, coupled with a surprisingly deep wide receiver corps, I like Buffalo’s chances.  The Bills could emerge from this potential scrum as the AFC East champs for the first time since 1995.

Memo to Coach Belichick:  You might want to take extra special care of your aging quarterback because there are two teams nipping at your heels.