With Tom Brady making his long-anticipated return to the gridiron this weekend, New England Patriots fans seem to be spending more time day-dreaming about the inflated stats their quarterback will pick up in the first stop of his “revenge tour” than considering whether or not their team actually could lose to the Cleveland Browns.
That’s not to say you should blame them. The 3-1 Patriots are 10.5-point favorites over the winless Browns, and that double-digit spread seems low despite the game being in Cleveland.
So, do the Browns actually have a chance to win? Sure, in the same sense that Lloyd Christmas had a shot with Mary Swanson.
Here’s how the Patriots can avoid that chance.
TOM BRADY CAN’T BE RUSTY
Many have wondered if Brady can seamlessly transition from four weeks of inactivity to a live regular season football game without first knocking off a little rust.
Does anyone know what a rusty Brady would even look like, however? His worst game, based on passer rating, over the past 10 seasons came in a Week 15 win over the New York Jets in 2007, when he completed 14 of 27 passes for 140 yards with an interception. He finished with a 51.5 passer rating.
Other sub-60 passer rating performances came in 2013 against the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets, in 2009 against the Jets and New Orleans Saints and in 2014 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Brady presumably could come out, throw two to four interceptions and look horrendous in his first game back on the field. But is that actually realistic after Brady watched Jimmy Garoppolo look like a future franchise quarterback in the first two weeks of the season? And would that even be enough to lose to a team with Cody Kessler under center?
Anyway, knocking off rust? That’s what practice is for.
The Patriots held three practice sessions this week, one of which was fully padded. Brady can’t take hits in practice, but the defense was going full speed around him.
Brady hasn’t played in a live game since the preseason, and he’s entering unchartered waters while coming off a suspension to begin the season. But this is Tom Brady. It’s usually smart to expect the extraordinary.
DEFENSE CAN’T SUCCUMB TO THE WILDCAT
The Patriots legitimately struggled with wildcat and option looks from the Buffalo Bills last week. They allowed 56 yards on eight direct snap designed runs, including a 16-yarder by Mike Gillislee and a 14-yard run by Tyrod Taylor.
This week they face Terrelle Pryor, who is bigger and faster than Taylor and a bigger passing threat than Gillislee or LeSean McCoy.
The Patriots had multiple options to acquire Pryor over the last year-plus and passed. He could make them look dumb with a breakout performance.
Between big runs by Pryor and running back Isaiah Crowell and big plays through the air from Kessler to Pryor, it’s possible the Browns could put up enough points to beat the Patriots if Brady also comes out rusty.
But both will have to happen for the Browns to win.
Thumbnail photo via Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports Images