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What if Brady loses?

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

His legacy is set. It was carved in stone years ago.

Everything that Tom Brady has done since winning Super Bowl XLIX has been gravy.

When Brady won three Super Bowls in his first four full seasons as a starting quarterback, he produced the most recent NFL dynasty and proved himself as a winner early on.

When Brady captured another Super Bowl victory two seasons ago, he proved that age would not stop him from another championship.

In the 11 years since winning Super Bowl XXXIX, Brady has made it to three more Super Bowls and only won one of them. However, his achievements along the way have been incredible.

                        -Brady will play in his sixth straight AFC Championship Game. No other AFC team has ever appeared in six consecutive conference championship games. In an age when there has not been a back-to-back Super Bowl Champion since the Patriots in XXXVIII and XXXIX, Brady and New England are constantly in contention for the Lombardi Trophy.

                        -Even with the “drought” in between Super Bowl victories, Brady accomplished plenty of impressive postseason feats. He is the all-time leader in games played, pass attempts, pass completions, yards gained, 300-yard games and touchdowns in the playoffs.

                         -That success doesn’t end in the postseason. Brady will be the all-time winningest regular season quarterback with four wins next season. In his 14 healthy seasons as the Patriots quarterback, Brady has never won fewer than nine games.

Deflategate be damned, Tom Brady did not need low pressure footballs to whoop the Indianapolis Colts. No matter how inflated the footballs were, the Colts were not going to the Super Bowl in 2015.

Now, at 39, Brady is in the twilight of a Hall-of-Fame career and has a problem. Of the aforementioned six consecutive AFC Championship Games, Brady is only 2-3 prior to Sunday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Patriots lose on Sunday, it will be the second consecutive year that they have failed to reach the Super Bowl.

When the 2017 regular season starts, Brady will be 40. Only 16 other quarterback-only players played at 40 or beyond.

Brady will play next season, he is under contract until 2020, but will an AFC Championship Game loss be his undoing?

Consider this past season. Sure, Brady set the touchdown-to-interception ratio record with 28 touchdowns and two interceptions. Very impressive after missing the first four games of the season.

However, those stats do not tell the full story.

Who is the best quarterback that Brady faced this season? Joe Flacco? Andy Dalton? Tyrod Taylor? Are any of them considered elite?

How will Brady do against a Steelers defense that has improved since he faced them in Week 7? Three games after Pittsburgh lost to New England, the Steelers bumped Jarvis Jones from the starting outside linebacker spot and replaced him with James Harrison. Since then, Harrison has recorded 5.5 sacks in eight games as a starter. Jones only sack of the season came on New Year’s day against the Cleveland Browns when Harrison was resting. Brady is going to feel the blitz the entire game.

The Patriots are favorites in this game for a reason. New England is 2-1 in home games during its AFC Championship Game streak. That said, if the Steelers win and the Patriots move to .500 at Gillette Stadium during the streak, what is their excuse? Sure, one of those times that they moved on they won a Super Bowl, but the failures outweigh the success.

Look, no one is denying the possibility that Patriots can get back to the AFC Championship Game, but let’s say, hypothetically, that the Patriots lose this Sunday and don’t return to the AFC Championship Game next season. Does that mean that it’s time to slowly move on from Brady?

As much as the media is hyping up Jimmy Garoppolo trade rumors, the fact remains that Garoppolo is still under contract with the Patriots until 2018. If New England wants him to be Brady’s successor, it can see how Brady does in 2017, then make a decision on whether or not to extend Garoppolo, if the plan is to make him Brady’s successor.

Here’s a problematic scenario for New England: Brady plays well in 2017, but suffers a catastrophic injury that will affect his ability for the rest of his career (see Derek Jeter 2012 ALCS Game 1 injury). It does not matter when the injury occurs, unless Garoppolo has been traded before it.

Let’s assume Garoppolo is still a Patriot. Does New England overpay Garoppolo because it knows Brady’s end is quickly near? Does it refuse to overpay Garoppolo and tank for a high talent quarterback early in the Draft? There is no easy answer.

Regardless of what happens Sunday, Tom Brady will be the Patriots’ starting quarterback to start 2017. Whether he can hold onto that job or not at 40 remains to be seen. 

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Weird stats from a weird Penguins-Capitals game

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed it, two teams forgot how to play defense last night.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals combined to score nine(!) goals in the second period of the Penguins' 8-7(!) overtime victory. 

When the Penguins and Capitals meet, there is always plenty of malice, but Monday, there were also plenty of goals to add to the hatred. Washington led 3-0 at one point before Pittsburgh scored five straight goals. After the Capitals scored consecutive goals, the Penguins scored back-to-back goals, then Pittsburgh allowed two consecutive goals before scoring the overtime winner. Here is a look at some quirky stats from the weirdest game and period of the season.

-Three different players scored multiple goals (3 for Evgeni Malkin, 2 for Conor Sheary, 2 for Lars Eller).

-Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin all scored.

-Both teams played without their respective top scoring defenseman. Penguins: Kris Letang (4 goals and 19 assists). Capitals: John Carlson (5 goals and 20 assists).




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Is the NHL bye week bad for teams?

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Since 1990, the NFL has used a bye week as a way to give teams a week without a football game. It is an opportunity for players to practice, rest and get a break from the physical demands of games all at once.

The NHL adopted its own bye weeks this season with a similar thought process in mind. Teams first started getting their week off on the first week of 2017. Though it is called a bye “week,” the NHL can give a team as few as five days off, but some have gotten more than that. So far, it is hard to say if the bye week is good or bad for teams.

Let’s look at the teams that have already gotten a week off of hockey. The defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, had their siesta week from Jan. 1-7. Pittsburgh won its first game back on Jan. 8 but has lost each of its three games since to be 1-3 since their mid-season vacation.

Prior to their break, the Penguins had won five of their last six in a 12-1-2 December. All three of the games that Pittsburgh’s current three-game losing streak have all come in regulation, something that the Penguins had not done since losing four consecutive regulation games from Dec. 14-19, 2015. Those four games were the first four of head coach Mike Sullivan’s career. Between Dec. 19, 2015, and Jan. 12, 2017, Pittsburgh went 75-26-13 (including the postseason), but never lost consecutive regulation games.

When the Penguins began the bye week break on Jan. 1, they were second in the tight Metropolitan Division with a 25-8-5 record. The Washington Capitals have since passed the Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets for first place by winning nine straight games since Dec. 31.

To make things worse for the Penguins, their captain, Sidney Crosby, has not scored a goal in any of the four post-bye week games after lighting the lamp in all but one of the six games prior to the break. By no means is this a knock on Crosby, but it shows that the bye week cooled him off slightly.

Including the Penguins, six other teams have completed their bye weeks. Here’s a graphical look at when each team had its break, its record in its five games before the bye week and how it has done since then (as of Jan. 15):

Too much rest?


Bye Week

Record Before

Record After

Arizona Coyotes

Jan. 8-12

0-3-2

1-1-0

Colorado Avalanche

Jan. 7-11

1-4-0

1-2-2

New York Islanders

Jan. 1-5

4-1-0

1-2-2

New York Rangers

Jan. 8-12

4-1-0

0-2-0

Ottawa Senators

Jan. 2-6

2-2-1

2-2-0

Pittsburgh Penguins

Jan. 1-7

4-1-0

1-3-0

Toronto Maple Leafs

Jan. 8-12

3-1-1

2-0-0

Early evidence suggests that teams have come off their bye weeks with a little rest. Of the seven teams to have taken a bye week thus far, four of the seven teams lost their first game back from vacation.

The NHL’s bye week may seem awful for most so far, but consider the case of the Philadelphia Flyers. After winning nine consecutive games, the Flyers have gone 3-8-3, including a shell-shocking 5-0 loss to the Washington Capitals on Sunday in which the Flyers gave up four third period goals.

Perhaps the bye week could not come at a better time for Philadelphia. After such a hot stretch, the Flyers have lost their way. With a week off, they have the opportunity to get away from the game and chance to reset.

23 teams have yet to take a bye week, so the early trends may not hold true. However, if they do, look for the NHL to cut down its bye week. The best idea seems to be to mandate at least three days off. Five can be too many. It is important for players to get rest, but so far, all the bye week has done is slow down the majority of the teams.

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