How Big of a Deal Is Tom Brady's Suspension for the 2016 Patriots?

It looks like Tom Brady may miss the first four games of the 2016 season, but is it even that big of a deal?

It’s draft week in the NFL, and what better way to start it than with a court ruling that Tom Brady's four-game suspension handed out before last season will stand and will now be served at the start of 2016?

Amid draft talk, rumors of more Nick Foles and Sam Bradford trades, CNBC broke the news this morning about the decision.

Feeling and opinions flare when this topic is brought up, mostly because those feelings and opinions have been bottled up for almost a year and mostly forgotten about. Feelings on whether Brady had anything to do with anything involving the situation don’t really matter. What we have now is a court ruling that states Roger Goodell had the authority to suspend Brady because he thought Brady had something to do with it. This court ruling is the most important so far, and while there may be further court rulings in the future because neither side seems likely to give up without winning, this is the court ruling we have right now.

What really matters is, as of this moment, Brady will not be suiting up for the first four games of the 2016 regular season. That leaves the Patriots without their starting quarterback and the fourth best quarterback last season by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP, for those of you who are new to numberFire, measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data. Brady was fourth behind Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson in Passing NEP per drop back last season, in what was supposed to be his “revenge” season for initially getting the suspension overturned.

With that suspension reinstated, the Patriots will go into the first four games with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. And we know very little about Garoppolo as a professional quarterback. 

He’s thrown a total of 31 passes in his career, 27 of which came in his rookie season. Last year, Garoppolo threw four passses, which didn’t turn out very well, all against the Miami Dolphins in Week 17. He completed one pass for six yards and a total of -4.27 Passing NEP and -1.07 Passing NEP per drop back. Those aren’t great numbers, but that’s also an incredibly small sample -- Tyrod Taylor had a super bad small sample in 2013 before taking over as the starter in 2015 for the Buffalo Bills, and he came out ok. 

What we do know is who New England’s opponents will be over the first four games of 2016. 

Below is a table with the opponents, that team’s 2015 nERD -- our calculation of how good a team really is, based on expected point differential against a league average team -- and ranks for schedule-adjusted Defensive NEP per play and Adjusted Defensive NEP per play against the pass. For defensive NEP numbers, negative is good. For nERD, negative is not.

Team nERD Adj Def NEP/P Adj. D PNEP/P
Arizona 13.11 (1) -0.02 (7) 0.05 (8)
Miami -6.25 (28) 0.12 (30) 0.12 (31)
Houston 2.01 (12) -0.03 (3) -0.03 (3)
Buffalo 1.89 (13) 0.07 (16) 0.08 (12)

Previous year rankings obviously don’t have a one-to-one correlation with performance the following year, but it gives an idea of what the team’s strengths and weaknesses were and could be. By last year’s metrics, the Patriots will face two defenses that are quite good, one that’s average and one that’s horrendous.

The NFL and the schedule makers thought enough of the Patriots-Cardinals matchup to place it on Sunday Night Football for Week 1. It’s not hard to see why -- with the assumption Brady was going to play -- as the Cardinals finished the regular season as our top team in nERD and the Patriots were fifth. The Cardinals also hold one of the league’s best defenses, which could be rough for Garoppolo’s first career start. This game will also be on the road, but the only one of the four away from Foxborough.

Luckily, the next week New England will play Miami at home. The Dolphins were one of the league’s worst defenses last season both overall and against the pass. There’s now a new coaching staff in town, but the amount of talent added is questionable with the Dolphins again preferring name value with players like Mario Williams and Byron Maxwell.

The toughest matchup defensively might come against the Houston Texans in Week 3 for Thursday Night Football. Houston had the third best defense last season overall and against the pass by Adjusted NEP per play. Most of that talent returns for 2016.

Finishing the four-game stretch is a home game against the Buffalo Bills, and who knows how that defense will play. The Bills had one of the best defenses in the league in 2014 under Jim Schwartz, then regressed last season under a scheme change with Rex Ryan. It’s possible the Bills could take a step forward under a second full year of Rex, though the involvement of Rob doesn’t fare well historically.

New England will play seven other games this season against teams that finished in the top-10 of Adjusted Defensive NEP per play last season, but those will all come with Brady at the helm from Week 5 on. Those are some tough defenses to start the season, but it also could have been worse with the quality teams the Patriots play with a first-place schedule and having to face all teams in the NFC West.

In truth, while four games seems like a lot, many times a fans' assumption is that the team will simply lose every game while the star quarterback is out. But as we saw last year with the possible suspension, the Patriots' chances of not making the playoffs isn't diminished a ton, though we'd expect about a five percent drop in odds with the suspension.

The Patriots would obviously like to have Brady for the start of the season, but with games against the Seahawks, Broncos, Rams and both games against the Jets coming after the Week 9 bye, having a rested Brady might not be the worst thing on the field.