Want to hear something stupid?
(The correct answer is not, "Sort of expect to under this byline.")
Anyway, something stupid. Really stupid, and petty, and yet kind of predictable.
On pro-football-reference.com's Fan EloRater, which allows fans to vote on which of two statistically similar players are better, with the end-goal being a ranked list of the best players in NFL history, Tom Brady comes in at ... 205.
And that's not the shadiest aspect. Among offensive players, he's 97th. One spot behind this guy:
Bledsoe is the second-best quarterback in franchise history. But the only time he should rate ahead of Brady in anything related to football is when the Patriots all-time quarterbacks are listed by jersey number.
I know, take it for what it's worth. It's an Envy Tax – fans voting against the guy with the great winning percentage on the football field and an even better one in life.
Voting for say, Bob Griese (No. 72 among offensive players) in a matchup with Brady is pretty much the only way Dolphins fans can beat him. It's their own little irrelevant game of attempted comeuppance.
You do get the sense that some believe beyond their usual unfulfilled daydreams that Brady could get some comeuppance on the field this year. Wes Welker is in Denver. Brandon Lloyd is in free-agent limbo. Aaron Hernandez is in a cell. And Rob Gronkowski's return date from arm and back surgeries is still uncertain.
Include running back Danny Woodhead, who signed as a free agent with the Chargers, and that means the top five Patriots receivers from 2012 are either absent or elsewhere as training camp begins Friday.
And as strange as it seems, especially about a quarterback who threw for 4,827 yards and 34 touchdowns (against just 8 interceptions) last season, the time clock isn't in his favor. Brady turns 36 on August 3, and – this is pretty hard to fathom – he's beginning his 14th season. The Snow Bowl and all that followed cannot be so long ago. But it is.
I sometimes wonder whether the Patriots coaching staff has seen anything resembling slight regression – noticeable to them, the experts, but not to us – in Brady's game. His completion percentage last season (63.0) was damn good – and yet it was his worst since 2006, when his top two receivers in terms of yardage were Reche Caldwell and Ben Watson.
With all of the departures and the loss of Hernandez, whose versatility was essential in getting favorable matchups, it's fair to wonder whether this is the least-talented offense at the skill positions since '06.
It may be, but the strong belief here is that it will be much better in the long run. Gronkowski should be back early enough, Stevan Ridley is capable of leading an effective running game in Gronk's absence, Danny Amendola is a younger, productive Welker facsimile, and count me among those expecting big things from Shane Vereen in Year 3.
There is plenty of talent here. Some of it is in limbo, and some is unfamiliar, and it certainly would help if Brady connects with Aaron Dobson in a way that he hasn't with a rookie receiver since Deion Branch in '02. But there's talent. They're not going to be relying on Doug Gabriel, you know?
As for that headline, I think it's the wrong question, which is weird since I wrote the thing. Given that Brady has averaged 375 completions, 36 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, and 4,654 passing yards over the past three seasons, a slight drop-off leaves him at merely exceptional.
I mean, look at those last three seasons:
The real question is this: Can too much be asked of him? Even at 36 (soon) and in his 14th season (seriously, where has the time gone?), there's no real reason to expect anything to change. It will someday. But right now and still, Tom Brady, the so-called 205th-best player of all-time, remains as great as any quarterback ever was.
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.