Tom Brady has already ticked the Super Bowl off his bucket list once or twice, but at age 40, this could be the future Hall of Famer’s last taste of Lombardi glory.
Words often associated with the New England Patriots: dynasty.
Tom Brady and co. have been collecting wins and earning rings for quite some time. For the past decade to be exact, and with five Super Bowl trophies to his name, it might appear like the two time NFL MVP is well on his way to a record-setting sixth.
At $2.05 to win it all, the Patriots have been heavy favourites to walk away with back to back Super Bowl victories all season long. The AFC East was once again a cake walk for the Godzillas of the conference, and on the back of a commanding 35-14 win over the Titans last Sunday, it’s certainly hard to envision a Super Bowl without the old familiars.
Truth be told, there is something a little different about this New England team though, making this weekend’s preview against a relentless Jacksonville Jaguars defence all the more interesting. Fresh from a shock 45-42 upset win over the Steelers, the Jaguars continue to shoot down the league’s top heavyweights on the way to their first Super Bowl appearance. Don’t let the head-to-head odds fool you though – even as $4.20 underdogs, this game could still be close.
For the Patriots, a lot of it comes down to Brady, just like it did against the Titans. He carved Tennessee for 337 yards and three touchdowns last week, a Brady-esque performance to earn the Patriots a trip to their seventh consecutive AFC Championship game. This time around, however, the Jaguars pose an entirely new threat.
The lead up to the playoffs has been a rush of headlines, but one that continues to stick around surrounds Brady and his future. Defying father time himself, retirement may not be on the cards just yet, but with question marks popping up around the field, this could be Brady’s last chance at winning the big dance.
So much has been made of New England’s defence, and despite last weekend’s big win, there’s no denying the fact the Patriots secondary still allowed Marcus Mariota to hook up with Corey Davis for 64 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The Patriots allowed the second most passing yards per game during the regular season, and since they’ll look to the draft to try and fix the problem, rebuilding the secondary won’t be an overnight process.
While Brady will likely stay the course alongside coach Bill Belichick, there’s also an offensive element that could severely limit his chances at winning a Super Bowl post-2018: receivers. The 17-year veteran proved again this year that he can turn the average Joe Schmo into an elite downfield threat, but even with 4,577 yards next to his name, the health of tight end Rob Gronkowski mixed with the age and injury concerns of Julian Edelman is still a major concern.
Speaking of worries, the Patriots offensive line also allowed the most hits on their quarterback during the regular season (40) as well as 21 sacks, another area in need of attention on draft day. Even though Brady seems to be invincible, no 40-year old quarterback wants to hit the turf that many times, and since the Patriots running game is hot and cold both in pass blocking and in yardage consistency, it’s safe to say next season could see a minor rebuild.
Yet of course, here we are with New England just two wins away from another Super Bowl. Monday’s game at home against Jacksonville will test the Patriots run defence, facing Leonard Fournette on the back of a three-touchdown game. It will also test Brady’s arm against the top secondary in the league, as well as the offensive line – Jacksonville’s pass rush made life mighty tough for Ben Roethlisberger last week.
So is the Brady era nearly done? Or will we see another remarkable run towards his third ring in the last five years?
The window is closing fast, but this sure is the season for Brady to make it six. The entire AFC figures to be a much tougher conference moving forward, with the Chiefs, Chargers, Jaguars, Steelers, Titans, and Texans all posing serious threats to the Goliath of the conference. With no clear back up quarterback plan in play though, Brady should return for at least one more season, as will Belichick, but any future success on the field depends on smart drafting and whether or not Brady can continue to defy the ageing process.
A win over a tough Jacksonville Jaguars side on Monday would say a lot, but there’s still no Super Bowl guarantee against either of these two NFC teams. We now wait and see if the Patriots’ uncharacteristic season finally catches up to them, or if Brady is indeed human.