One of the great American pastimes is trying to figure out when New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will hit the cliff and start his decline, marking the end of the franchise’s dynasty and place atop the AFC. Ever since Brady tore his ACL at the start of the 2008 season, there’s been a rush to be the first to declare the end of the Patriots.
It hasn’t happened so far and based on Brady’s production as the reigning MVP, it doesn’t look like it’ll happen next year, either.
We can look at how two of the more notable quarterbacks that played into their late 30s and beyond performed at the end of their careers to see if they can provide any clues on how much longer Brady can play at such a high level.
The chart is pretty simple. The blue points and line represents Manning’s passer rating in each game with the Denver Broncos. The orange line represents an 8-game moving average of those passer ratings to represent a half-season’s worth of games to smooth the points and allow for some strong and weak performances.
The red bands represent what can be accepted as the upper- and lower-limits for Manning’s standard of play. An outstanding stretch of play for Manning is represented whenever the orange line crosses above the red line, as evidenced by his 2013 season, and anything below is a sub-par stretch.
We can see that Manning’s production took a nosedive halfway through the 2014 season and continued into his 2015 season. It should also be noted that Manning’s standard with the Broncos was a passer rating between 100 and 120, which is absolutely ridiculous and made his decline even more striking.
We give Favre a different set of red bands because he’s a different player than Manning, but it still shows the roller coaster finish to his career. The bands are roughly between 90 and 110 for passer rating and it shows why each team moved on from him.
Favre had a bad 2006 season, but rebounded in 2007 with the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay still opted to move forward with Aaron Rodgers and Favre showed a clear decline with the New York Jets in 2008, partially due to injury. He rebounded with an outstanding 2009 season with the Minnesota Vikings, but had a weak 2010 season and officially retired for the final time.
Manning’s decline was rapid and Favre’s decline was inconsistent, but both were linked to extended periods of play where they fell well below their expected production.
Tom Brady simply isn’t at that stage of his career.
This is Brady’s career chart which tells a pretty clear story about how he’s improved over the course of his career, how his 2007 and 2010 seasons were his best, and how he struggled in the 2013 season. He is currently at the lower end of the range, but that is to be expected since he always cools off after a strong start over the past five years.
The decline wasn’t as pronounced at the start of his career.
And if we zoom into Brady’s career after his return from his ACL injury, we can see that Brady has pretty much plateaued and is showing no sign of a decline.
Brady had some issues in his first season back from injury, but rebounded with an incredible 2010 season. The only times Brady has fallen out of the band- which is a passer rating between 90 and 110- is during his 2013 season which is linked to all of the injuries and turnover on the offense and, yes, poor play by Brady himself, and over the first four weeks of the 2014 season when, let’s face it, the Patriots just weren’t good anymore.
Brady also pokes above his 110 passer rating ceiling for a couple weeks every season, usually towards the start of the year, but that is usually temporary as he settles in as a 100.0 passer and remains within the bands.
You could theoretically move the bands up a little to cover those peaks and have the 20-point bands range from, say, 95-115. I just chose 90-110 because Brady’s average passer rating since 2009 is 99.7, offering a 10-point window on both sides of that average.
But we can all agree that the reigning MVP doesn’t look like he’s slowing down, especially after his stellar Super Bowl performance. We will know that Brady’s in his decline when his 8-game average passer rating falls below 90, a low level only really reached during the 2013 season and over the first four weeks of 2014.
Brady is currently coming off the best post-season run of his career that included two games against the best defenses in the NFL. Unless an unforeseen injury occurs, Brady’s still a few years away from his cliff.