Tom Brady is already appealing the four-game suspension levied against him by the NFL for his less-than-fully-complete participation in the investigation into the Patriots illegally deflating footballs. So it’s possible that Tom Brady’s suspension could end up being shorter than it is now.
But we have to work with what we currently know, so let’s look at how the Patriots’ starting quarterback’s absence is likely to affect them over their first four games of the 2015 season.
Week 1: Pittsburgh Steelers
On its face, a season-opening game against the defending AFC North champions seems like an exceedingly tough first challenge for Jimmy Garoppolo. However, the Pittsburgh defense isn’t what it was even a few years ago. Last year, it was average at best, and now it’s missing three key starters from that unit: Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Jason Worilds. On offense, the Steelers will be without running back Le’Veon Bell, so if the game does turn into a shootout, Pittsburgh will be somewhat handicapped scoring points as well. Factor in that the Patriots will still be starting the season at home as the defending Super Bowl champions, who usually win the season kickoff game, and the Pats still have a reasonable shot at victory.
Week 2: at Buffalo Bills
Rex Ryan’s first shot at the Patriots as the coach of the Bills will likely be without Tom Brady. I’m sure Rex will be just fine with unleashing Buffalo’s formidable pass rush on Jimmy Garoppolo all the same. While the Bills defense may be the toughest test Garoppolo faces in his four games as starter, the Bills still have many questions on offense, none more glaring than at starting quarterback. Having to choose between former Florida State Seminole E.J. Manuel and Matt Cassel — once a Patriots quarterback who had to take over when Tom Brady went down for a season — is about as challenging as starting Garoppolo.
Week 3: Jacksonville Jaguars
A game at home against the Jaguars doesn’t strike much fear into anyone, inexperienced second-year quarterback or not. At this point, someone will surely make note of the “any given Sunday” maxim in the NFL, though making things even easier on the Patriots was last week’s season-ending injury of Florida linebacker Dante Fowler — the No. 3 overall pick — who was drafted to make the Jacksonville pass rush more of a force.
Week 5: at Dallas Cowboys
The game in Dallas represents, at least on paper, one of the hardest games of the entire season for the Patriots, let alone during Brady’s suspension. Greg Hardy’s suspension will still be going on at this point of the season, so the Cowboys pass rush won’t be quite as strong as it should be later in the season. Of course, Dallas’ defense was much improved in 2014 and will be aided by the return of linebacker Sean Lee, provided he hasn’t already suffered another injury by this point in the season. The Patriots will be coming off their bye week in advance of this game, which should be helpful. Unless Garoppolo greatly exceeds expectations, it’s difficult to see New England coming away with a victory.
The Patriots have some decent challenges the first four games of the season without Tom Brady, though it’s not unreasonable to think the team could win two of those games. That would put them at 2-2, the same record the Patriots had after four games in the 2014 season, when they of course went on to win the Super Bowl.