Tuesday, June 03, 2014

It Doesn't Matter if Tom Brady Is a "Top-5 QB" or Not

An ESPN article has outraged the sports fans of Boston and New England. Sam Monson wrote a piece that argued that Tom Brady was no longer a "top-5 QB." I contend that as far as the Patriots are concerned, it doesn't matter if Brady is or isn't.

I'm not going to waste much time dwelling on Monson's assertions. If forced at gunpoint to give my top 5 NFL QBs, I'd include Brady. You'd have to force me at gunpoint because I think such discussions, and the side-arguments they spawn, are essentially meaningless. Being in the top 5 is such a relative, changeable thing. One year the 6th best QB could be great, another year the 3rd best could just be good. What does it matter?

It's all relative, yet the discussion is phrased in absolute terms. Instead of Brady "being in the top 5," pundits and some fans say Brady "is a top-5." That's an important difference in words. Being "in" a top 5 suggests that there's a list that QBs enter, fall out of, rise, and fall. The list is permanent, the player's spot on the list is not. Saying someone "is" a top 5 suggests that it's the player's greatness that is permanent, that he has some sort of top-fiveness quality to him, and somehow this attribute can only be possessed by 5 players at any given time. Once this greatness transfers to another player, the player drops out of the top 5.

So instead of acknowledging that these are rankings and are relative, they become attributes, described the same way that someone might describe height or weight. "He's a tall QB," "He's a big QB," "He's a top-5 QB." Saying a player "is a top-5 QB" sounds much more absolute than saying "he's in the top 5."

It pisses me off.

The biggest reason I hate these discussions is because football is so team-oriented that it doesn't matter if your QB is in the top 5 or not. Monson didn't include Russell Wilson in his top 5, but did include Philip Rivers. Who won the last Super Bowl? Was Joe Flacco "a top-5 QB" in 2012? Eli Manning wasn't a top 5 candidate until the Giants won in '07 (against Brady, who was a top 1 QB that season), then Eli was top 5 material, then he wasn't, then the Giants won again so he was, now he's not.

A "top-5 QB" is not a necessary ingredient to victory. Monson's top 5 (Rivers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger) have a total of 5 Super Bowl rings, none in the last 3 years. Non-top-5 QBs have won the last 3 Super Bowls, and wear a total of 7 rings.

Six of the last 11 Super Bowl winning QBs aren't among Monson's top 5. Eight of the last 14 Conference champions have been helmed by QBs outside his top 5. In the past three seasons, only 1 of Monson's top 5 has made the Super Bowl, and he lost.

Have I made my point?

Two conclusions can be drawn from this:

1. Monson's list isn't very good

2. More importantly, teams win Super Bowls, not top 5 quarterbacks

Tom Brady may or may not be in the top 5 in 2014. Time will tell. Ultimately, it doesn't mean that much in determining the fate of the 2014 Patriots. And here's why:

If the Patriots win the Super Bowl this season, it will be because they did not need Brady to be amazing.

I'll phrase the argument to address Monson: If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, it will be because they did not need Brady to be a top-5 QB.

In other words, for the Pats to win this year, they have to win as a team. Brady could be the best QB in the League, but if the Pats NEED him to be "a top-5 QB," they'll lose in the end, no matter how good Brady is. By the same token, if the Patriots DON'T need Brady to be "a top-5 QB" to be successful, then they have a strong chance at winning it all. And that's the only way they'll have a chance, if they don't need him to be amazing all the time.

Therefore, Brady's position in the rankings of quarterbacks is irrelevant. He's part of a team. An important part, but still just one part. If that team needs him to be spectacular, the team will fail. If the team doesn't need him to be spectacular, the team has a good chance to succeed.

Where Brady falls in QB rankings is meaningless for the Patriots, and should be meaningless for their fans. What matters is that the Patriots don't rely solely on him to win. Brady being in or out of the NFL's top 5 QBs has little bearing on the success or failure of the 2014 Patriots.