Excited by Absence of Tom Brady, Pats' Rivals Likely to Be Disappointed Again

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJuly 15, 2016

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 16: Tom Brady #12 and head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots shake hands at the start of the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Gillette Stadium on January 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Deflategate is now over. It's dead. Gone. Finally. Goodbye and good riddance.

Tom Brady has given up his fight and will serve his suspension. That opens a window to beat the Patriots, right? No Brady means the Pats are vulnerable, correct?

That's what one player on the New York Jets believes. There is an opening this fall that hasn't existed in years. A big one. He talks about it like a party is coming. 

"With Tom gone those first four games," the player said, "they could go 2-2 or even 1-3. It's a good opportunity for us."

Oh really?

The opportunity he's referring to isn't about beating the Patriots directly—the Jets don't play them until Week 12. It's the notion that New England may stumble to a slow start thanks to the absence of Brady.

I heard something similar from a player on the Bills. I'm sure the same is being thought in Miami and by the rest of the division the Patriots have owned during the Brady era.

It's not just the AFC East. Arizona defensive lineman Calais Campbell, whose Cardinals play the Patriots during that likely Brady suspension, also sees the loss of Brady as a good thing.

"Licking my chops," Campbell said on CBS Sports Radio's Tiki and Tierney when asked about playing Brady's backup, Jimmy Garoppolo. "You get a rookie quarterback, it's always exciting when you get a guy like that for his first game because he’s going to be nervous. He’s probably going to be sitting there holding the ball a little longer or trying to get rid of it quick, throwing bad balls. As a vet, we definitely pride ourselves on welcoming [quarterbacks] the right way."

Charles Krupa/Associated Press/Associated Press

Garoppolo isn't a rookie, but, of course, any team would rather face Garoppolo than Tom Freaking Brady. Because he's Tom Freaking Brady. When you're Tom Freaking Brady, few teams not named the New York Giants ever want to face you. Because you're Tom Freaking Brady.

The sense I get from speaking to both divisional foes and other teams is that no Brady means it's time to parrr-teeee.

But people are forgetting someone. His name starts with Bill and ends with Belichick.

Even if some of you hate Belichick. Or if some around the league hate him. Or if you think he cheats. Or videotapes practices or steals playbooks or changes shape during a full moon or whatever the hell he's accused of. That doesn't mean he can't coach. No matter what anyone thinks, any belief the Patriots are doomed, or close to doomed, because Brady will be on the sideline for those first four games is absurd.

This is a good time to again imagine a league without Brady. We've seen it before, when Brady missed all of 2008 after a season-opening injury. How did the Patriots respond? With an 11-5 record, mainly because of Belichick, who coaxed a 3,693-yard, 21-touchdown season out of Matt Cassel.

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 09: Quarterback Matt Cassel #16 of the New England Patriots looks to pass against the Buffalo Bills on November 9, 2008 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Bills 20-10. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Spo
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

We will see another glimpse of a post-Brady NFL this coming season. It will be just a snippet—barring Brady getting a stay from the Notorious RBG—but it's likely this time will look like the first. It will feature Belichick, and it will go well for the Patriots because of him.

What will Belichick be like without Brady? Definitely not as good. But their relationship has been far more symbiotic than some want to admit. Who built those defenses Brady played with in those Super Bowl wins? Who created the culture? 

Would Terry Bradshaw have won all those Super Bowls without Chuck Noll and that incredible defense? Would Roger Staubach have won without the Doomsday Defense? Would the Dolphins have gone unbeaten without the defensive genius of Don Shula?

Once Brady leaves the NFL, it's likely Belichick will still coach, and Belichick will still dominate the sport.

Go ahead and smirk. But I have more proof on my side than the Belichick truthers do on theirs. The Patriots just missed the playoffs in 2008 with Cassel, who hasn't exactly been Johnny Unitas since. Since he replaced Brady in New England, Cassel has gone 24-39 in Kansas City, Minnesota and Dallas. It's no coincidence Cassel produced the best season of his career under Belichick.

So are the Patriots doomed?

New England opens the season at Arizona.

That's a loss.

Then the Patriots play the Dolphins, Texans and Bills.

That's a win, a win and another win.

A 3-1 start minus Brady doesn't seem so bad after all. Maybe the rest of the league should reconsider those party invitations.

    

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @mikefreemanNFL. 

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