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Sunday NFL Thoughts: Aging Star Players and Quarterbacks, Improving the Rushing Game, Freaking Chiefs

1. We're going through a pretty big shift in star power this offseason as wide receiver Calvin Johnson, running back Marshawn Lynch, defensive back Charles Woodson, defensive end Justin Tuck, and possibly quarterback Peyton Manning could be hanging up the cleats.

If we're talking about star players in the twilight of their careers, I would argue that the following players are what remains of the key 2000s era figures:

QBs: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisbeger, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers

RBs: Adrian Peterson, Frank Gore, technically Steven Jackson

WRs: Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, Steve Smith, Andre Johnson

TEs: Antonio Gates, Jason Witten

OL: Nick Mangold, Jason Peters, Logan Mankins

EDs: Julius Peppers, Jarred Allen, DeMarcus Ware, Terrell Suggs, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis

DTs: Kevin Williams, Vince Wilfork

DBs: Charles Tillman

STs: Adam Vinatieri, Shane Lechler

Now by no means is this list comprehensive, but it's very possible that half of these players could be entering their final seasons in 2016. Father time is undefeated and we're full steam ahead into an era with Rob Gronkowski, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, Von Miller, Luke Kuechly, and Richard Sherman as the faces of the NFL.

It's not better, it's not worse. It's just different.

2. I think one of the more interesting topics of the Patriots is how much longer does Tom Brady have? because he's entering uncharted waters. There's a feeling that no matter what happens to the rest of the team, so long as Brady and Bill Belichick are in charge, New England will be able to compete. The fact that the rest of the AFC is full or poorly constructed teams means that the Patriots will always have a chance to vie for the Super Bowl.

Brady will be 39 at the start of the 2016 season has averaged 616 pass attempts over the past five seasons. Only four quarterbacks in history have 600+ total passing attempts at 39 or older, and coincidentally two of them played for the Patriots as one of Brady's back-ups (Doug Flutie and Vinny Testaverde).

These four quarterbacks are also responsible for the only age 39-or-older seasons with 400+ passing attempts. Only two of those quarterbacks- Warren Moon and Brett Favre- had two seasons over the age of 39 with 500+ passing attempts.

Brady is only the 2nd quarterback aged 38-or-older to throw 600+ times in a single season.

3. There is a lot of hope in Brady's diet and training regimen and how he was arguably the best quarterback in the NFL this past season. It seems fairly certain that he'll have a minimum of two more seasons at the helm, because even a gradual decline in ability would still leave the Patriots competitive for the next few seasons.

But a lot of these quarterbacks fall off a cliff. Moon's, Favre's, and Testaverde's final seasons as starters came at the age of 41. That points to roughly three more years of Brady. Don't expect the decline after that to be gradual.

4. Even if Brady is able to stave off Father Time for a few more years, the Patriots really need to focus on improving their run game. It's unreasonable to expect Brady to throw 600+ times a year and the lack of a running game isn't just harming his longevity- it's a disservice to the team's present chances to compete.

While the run-pass mix of the offense with and without Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount didn't really change (the team consistently passed roughly 65% of the time all season, regardless of their running back health), the success of the rushing game evaporated.

The rushing game picked up 3.96 yards per carry (YPC) with Lewis and Blount both healthy, 3.59 YPC with just Blount healthy, and an embarrassing 2.91 YPC with neither healthy. Any team that loses their top two running backs will see a drop in production, but even the pre-injury rates aren't acceptable.

5. Redditor /u/NotAModBro highlighted that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning were both benched against the Kansas City Chiefs before winning the Super Bowl. Just a reminder that the season is a long period of time and whatever happens early in the year might not have a lasting effect in how the playoffs play out.