NFL Mailbag: Why This Weekend’s Game Is So Significant for Tom Brady and the Patriots

Locking up the division title and a first-round bye in the NFL playoffs has seemed like a given for so many years for the Patriots—but that’s not the case this season, with the Bills close on their heels and Brady’s future uncertain.
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We were looking at the Week 16 schedule in the office on Tuesday—and I have to say, it’s not exactly electric. That’s partly because nine of the 12 playoff spots are spoken for, which takes away some juice from games like Rams-49ers and Bears-Chiefs, featuring an already-eliminated team. Part of it is due to a weird year for quarterbacks, changing the hype for games like Panthers-Colts and Broncos-Lions. Part of it is luck.

But we do have three games—spread over three days—that stand out: Bills-Patriots on Saturday, Cowboys-Eagles on Sunday and Packers-Vikings on Monday.

“We know what's in front of us,” Eagles rookie Miles Sanders said in a quiet moment after a win over the Redskins. “We know the opportunity that we have and the week coming up, I don't even need to say nothing about the week coming up. This is for the division. We want to play in January? This is what we got to do."

For some, like the Eagles, Patriots and Cowboys, winning means living up to the expectations so many set for them. For others, like the Bills and Packers, winning would mean validating that this season’s breakthroughs are grounded in reality.

Should be an interesting weekend for all six of those teams. And we’ll answer your questions on them and everyone else, right here in this week’s mailbag …

Tom Brady

From Joshua Heavern (@JHeavern20): Is it over for Brady in New England after this year?

I believe it’s a greater possibility than I thought six months ago. I’ve heard the phrase “uncharted territory” come from the organization in reference to Brady’s age, which tells me they’ve come to grips with the possibility of his retirement—and they won’t be caught with their jaws on the floor if it happens. After all, they didn’t give Brady the contract he’d have wanted to get him to the shores of retirement, and granted him no-franchise-tag provision.

That said, I still question whether he’d actually go to another team. I don’t know that he’d have the stomach for starting over elsewhere at 43. It’s also easy to ruminate about all this in December. When we get to March, if you take the money out of it (I know you can’t do that, but follow me here), will Brady have a better football option than going back to New England? Will New England, for that matter, have an option even in Brady’s zip code?

That’s why I think it’s possible that both sides patch things up after the season and saddle up for one more run—there’s a decent chance they’ll both be the best the other can do. I also wouldn’t rule out retirement. And I’m not ruling out seeing him in another jersey, I’m just not sure I see it as likely right now.

From Kyle Purvis (@K_Preach): How does Lamar Jackson’s success impact scouting departments’ evaluation technique? Is he a one-of-one? Or is his skill set something that can be replicated to varying degrees?

Kyle, Lamar is a unique athlete and really a unique person. His playmaking ability compromises and puts in conflict so many things defensively that it’s hard to say there’ll be a massive shift in quarterback evaluation as a result of his emergence. There just aren’t many guys who can do what he can.

That said, I think the Greg Roman option offense working like this eight years after we first saw it in San Francisco speaks to the sustainability and soundness of the scheme, and it should open the door for some quarterbacks who are raw as passers and run-first coming out of college. One obvious name this year will be Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts—a strong leader, and a strong, tough athlete who has a ways to go as a passer.

For someone like Hurts, playing in that kind of scheme could buy time for him to develop further throwing the ball; that idea has given merit in the evolution of Jackson, and to a degree his draft classmate Josh Allen (who’s run the ball plenty, and has, like Jackson, become more accurate).

From Craig Mazuchowski (@craigmazuchows1): Dolphins have three first-round picks—doesn’t it make more sense to draft the best player available with at least their pick and then take a QB with one of later two?

Craig, I believe that if a team is willing to draft a quarterback in the first round—and execs are tying their job security to the player—then the team shouldn’t risk waiting on him. That’s why I was OK with the idea of the Giants taking Daniel Jones sixth overall, rather than 17. Losing out on a quarterback you’re that sold on would be a much bigger penalty than an 11-pick difference in guys at other positions.

If a team says they love Tua Tagovailoa and have clean medicals on him (which may be a stretch)? Just take him.

That said, there is merit in waiting. And I’m not talking about waiting until later in the first round. I’m talking about waiting until 2021. What you’re saying, that a quarterback can benefit from infrastructure around him, has a lot of validity. And if you don’t feel strongly about the QBs this year, it’s not crazy to consider taking three good players in April, and turning your attention to a QB class that’ll feature generational prospect Trevor Lawrence.

From Pudisdick Inner (@str8clout): What do Colts do at QB?

I don’t know where they’re going to be picking, and that will impact this. But I certainly think they should consider the idea of drafting one, or at least adding a piece to compete (Josh Rosen?) with Jacoby Brissett.

I love Brissett, and think he deserves more time to develop within Frank Reich’s offense. But the Colts have a bumper crop of 2018 draftees, and there should be some urgency to get the team in position to compete for a title while those guys are all still on their rookie deals. I’m not saying you just throw caution to the win. I am saying you should be aggressive, and being aggressive means fortifying your infrastructure at the game’s most important position.

Indy also strikes me as a fun potential landing spot for Tagovailoa.

From Troy Greene (@troyDgreene): Who is your 2019 defensive MVP, and why?

Right now, Troy, you can give me Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore. I’m not he’s even had an average—let alone bad—game all year. He’s the best at his position by a wider margin than any other defensive player is at his in the league. And New England still has the league’s top defense, a unit that’s carried Tom Brady and the offense through their fits and starts.

Four other guys I considered: Saints DE Cam Jordan, Rams DL Aaron Donald, Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick, and 49ers DE Nick Bosa. Cardinals OLB Chandler Jones and Steelers LB T.J. Watt probably also deserve a mention here. It’s just one of those years where there’s not an obvious choice, which made it a good year to simply go with the best player.

From Doug McCready (@dgmccready): Mistake by Detroit to retain Matt Patricia in 2020?

Doug, I’m going to say no—and I understand the frustration of the Lions fan. But I really liked the look of the team the first month of the season, and I don’t think that was fake. Matthew Stafford, among others, wound up getting hurt. And Quandre Diggs fitting in like he has in Arizona doesn’t make anyone in Detroit look good.

But it was clear from the start that this was going to take time. Next year should be enough time, and if it isn’t, Lions owner Martha Ford made it pretty clear Tuesday that there’ll be consequences.

From I Like Football (@DC_Football_Fan): Is Bruce Allen really going to stick around in Washington? Or is he finally gone?

Football, I don’t think the Redskins have made a decision. But … I do think feelers to head coaches that have been instructive for the organization in showing what the football world thinks of their football side. More to the point, it’s illustrated in black-and-white that there are coaches who won’t consider their job without major changes beyond the coaching staff.

So does Bruce Allen want to keep his current Bruce Allen/Doug Williams/Kyle Smith setup in place, and hire a second-chance type like Mike McCarthy or Marvin Lewis? Does he still view Allen as indispensable in his effort to get a new stadium built somewhere (preferably inside the D.C. city limits)? Or does he want to blow his building up and start over with a new coach as the face of the place? We’ll get the answer to that soon.

From Matt Kountz (@kountz17): What’s your thoughts on the Giants GM and coaching situation?

Matt, I think there came a point during the season where owner John Mara, right around an embarrassing loss to the Jets, became angry about the state of his Giants, and things haven’t really gotten better since then. While he really doesn’t want to be the franchise that blows things up three times in a four-year span (the Giants have always sort of looked down at that brand of instability), there’s no way he runs this formula back again.

As such, my sense is that coach Pat Shurmur is gone, and GM Dave Gettleman is fighting for his job—mostly because a new coach could open the door for an organizational reset in a place that’s very much stuck to its ways over the last four decades or so. There are a lot of people in East Rutherford who’ve worked there for a long time, and I do know that the idea of modernizing has been raised to Mara. So maybe Mara takes the opportunity to do it.

I think the most likely scenario has Shurmur out, and Gettleman reassigned. Call that an educated opinion.

From Drew (@achernandez17): Philly Cheesesteak or Dipped Italian Beef sandwich?

I’m ashamed to say I don’t know what a dipped Italian beef sandwich is.

From propane mike (@mhwesner): if you don't answer correctly so help me god.

Propane, if you get this worked up over these sandwiches, I should probably get one.

From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): The more I see the Cowboys play this season, the less I know about them. What's your take on this team? First-round loser or going deep in the playoffs?

Matt, I think the team is built along the lines of scrimmage and hasn’t been quite as great in those areas as it’d hoped. And when a team is stripped of its strength like that—and injuries all along the offensive line, and one bad one to defensive tackle Tyrone Crawford haven’t helped—it often is robbed of its identity, and especially if adversity sends a group sideways as was the case here.

The offense hadn’t been consistent enough of late, and the defense was playing sloppy ball. And then the Rams game happened. So are the real Cowboys the group that tripped all over itself in Chicago? Or the one that stomped out the Rams? We should have some answers on Sunday in Philadelphia.

From Tua - Take My Hip (@FromRagsToGP): Is Tua still a top-five draft pick post-hip injury?

I’d say that’s unlikely, but possible. For most teams, his grade is going to ride largely on what their doctors tell them, and we’re still two months out from those team doctors getting to take a first-hand look at Tagovailoa.

I will say that I think, if he declares, he’ll still go in the first round. I also think he should consider waiting and declaring for the supplemental draft, if his hip won’t be better before late April but will be OK come summer. That way, he very well could entice a team that passes on the quarterback class in April to take him in July, when he’s healthier, which could lead to a better payday if that team is high in the draft order.

The other thing I know? What Baker Mayfield was to the 2017 draft cycle, and what Kyler Murray was to last year’s draft class, Tagovailoa will be to the ’19 draft. Should he declare, he’ll be easily the most interesting story to follow through February, March and April.

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