The New England Patriots are in the headlines for many reasons these days.
With Hernandez officially gone, and Brady's leading receivers from 2012 outside of tight end Rob Gronkowski—Danny Woodhead, Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd—having all departed, there has been concern over the Patriots' chances of not just winning the Super Bowl, but winning their own division.
NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey wrote an article about "Why Tom Brady Faces More Pressure Than Any Other NFL Player in 2013."
Via Schottey in that article:
Doesn't it concern you in the slightest that the last Super Bowl win was in 2005? Brady's last MVP trophy was 2010, as was his last All-Pro honor. His yards-per-attempt in 2012 (7.58) was the lowest it has been since 2008. His passing percentage (63 percent) was as low as any year since 2006.
Later in the article, Schottey goes on to point out Brady's lack of receiving weapons as further proof that Brady is under intense pressure this season, combined with the fact that many of his peers at the quarterback position matched his statistical output from 2012—or even exceeded it.
I'm refuting that claim—Brady is not under more pressure than any other player in the NFL entering 2013.
If anything, he's not under any pressure—Brady could retire today and be known as one of the top five greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. If he retired today, he'd finish fifth on the career passing touchdowns list, third in quarterback rating and second on the career pass interception percentage list.
On some people's lists, he'd be considered the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. Three Super Bowl victories, two MVP awards and five Super Bowl appearances (tied for the best mark among all quarterbacks in NFL history)—all without ever winning another game.
His career winning percentage stands at 77.7 percent—the best winning percentage among all qualifying quarterbacks in NFL history.
It's best not to doubt Brady and the "Patriot Way."
Since Brady became starting quarterback of the Patriots in 2001, they have never suffered a losing season. In 10 of his 11 years as starting quarterback, New England has won the AFC East. The last time they didn't win the division under Brady's lead? In 2002, when they finished in a three-way tie for the top record in the division, losing out on the tiebreaker with a 9-7 record.
Brady and the Patriots are under no pressure entering 2013. Here are a few reasons why.
Brady has the best winning percentage in NFL history at the quarterback position. The Patriots have won 10 of a possible 11 AFC East division titles under Brady's lead. They've missed the playoffs just twice in the past 12 seasons.
What else lends credence that 2013 won't be the Patriots' downfall?
Outside of just how good of a quarterback Brady is, are we forgetting Bill Belichick? Are we forgetting how good the Patriots have been for the better part of the last decade?
This is a team that lost Brady in the first game of the 2008 season and proceeded to go 11-5 under Matt Cassel's lead, only to miss the postseason due to a tiebreaker.
Yes, the Patriots went 11-5 with a quarterback who never started a game during his college football career. Cassel is the only known quarterback in NFL history to ever start a game without ever starting one during his collegiate career.
And the Patriots went 11-5 with this guy.
Other than the fact that Brady is one of the all-time great quarterbacks, the Patriots organization knows what it's doing.
When you can go 11-5 with Cassel as your starting quarterback immediately after the face of your franchise is lost for the year in the first game of the season, you know you're a damn good organization.
The Pressure on Brady Compared to Other Quarterbacks
Schottey brought up a lot of quarterbacks that face pressure this season. Just not as much as Brady.
Manning just completed his eighth one-and-done exit from the playoffs. After a 13-3 season that earned the Broncos the No. 1 seed, and after entering the postseason on an 11-game winning streak, the Broncos lost in one of the biggest upsets in NFL history to the Baltimore Ravens.
Manning has won one Super Bowl in his career in comparison to Brady's three. He's under a lot more pressure than Brady to lead his team to victory in 2013.
Romo has never advanced past the divisional round of the playoffs in his seven years as starting quarterback. At the age of 33, he's not getting any younger. His record in elimination games? For his career, 1-6.
Ryan recently won his first playoff game in 2012 after three one-and-done postseason exits.
With the exception of Manning, neither of these guys come close to Brady's accomplishments. And in the case of Manning, considering what happened in the divisional round of the playoffs, no team is under more pressure than the Denver Broncos in 2013.
The Receiving Corps
The root of all evil when it pertains to the recent topics of Brady's and the Patriots' decline in 2013 is this—the receiving corps looks bad on paper.
If the season started today, the top two receivers for the Patriots would be Michael Jenkins and Danny Amendola. The only receiver returning from 2012 who is currently healthy? Julian Edelman.
Gronkowski will return to the Patriots from injury in 2012, but when will he return?
The top tight ends outside of Gronkowski are Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells.
Brady has seen this before. Remember in the pre-Randy Moss era when the Patriots were winning Super Bowls with starting receivers such as Troy Brown, David Patten, David Givens and Deion Branch?
Before 2005, the popular opinion of Brady was that he was the perfect game manager. But he was not seen on the same level as the statistically superior Manning. This was in large part due to the Patriots' top-ranked defenses during Brady's three Super Bowl-winning seasons—ranked sixth in 2001, first in 2003 and second in 2004.
In 2005, the Patriots had the 17th-best defense in a season full of injuries decimating the defense. They had started 45 different players at one point or another during the season, an NFL record for a division champion.
This was the season that changed people's perceptions of Brady as a quarterback—that he wasn't just a quarterback who managed games. He was a quarterback who won games.
Although the Patriots lost their first playoff game during the Brady era in the 2005 season, it was this season, combined with the 2006 season, that illustrated Brady's ability to carry teams with underwhelming supporting casts.
The 2006 Season
If 2005 illustrated Brady's ability to lead a playoff contender without a top-tier defense, it was the 2006 season that showed that Brady could do it with not just an average receiving corps, but a below-average receiving corps.
Brady's top two receivers of the prior three seasons—Deion Branch and David Givens—either left through free agency or were traded. In their places were street free agents, Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney.
Caldwell became Brady's go-to guy—if you can even call him that—catching 61 passes for 760 yards and four touchdowns. Caldwell would be out of the league less than two years later, with his 2006 season with the Patriots remaining his best individual season by far.
Gaffney and Brown split time at receiver opposite of Caldwell and combined for just 54 receptions, 526 yards and five touchdowns.
Yes, the defense did return to prominence by ranking second in the league in points allowed. But with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL, and a rushing attack that ranked 18th in the league in yards per attempt, the Patriots were a second-half collapse away from playing in their fourth Super Bowl in six years.
We've seen this story before, and the result is always the same—Brady and the Patriots always prevail.
Through player turnover, through injuries, through off-the-field drama, one thing always remains consistent—as long as Brady and Belichick are together, the Patriots find a way to win.
Even with the drama surrounding Hernandez, the serious back injury to Gronkowski and the departures of all of Brady's top receivers from 2012, the Patriots will remain the team to beat in the AFC East and will be in the playoffs for the 11th time in 13 seasons.
Why is there reason to believe?
Because No. 12 makes you believe.