Check out this terrible lede: The Patriots should hope Tom Brady’s good in the AFC Championship.
It’s the ultimate “no duh” statement. The best team in the world would obviously want the best player in the world to play well in the biggest game of the season.
But here’s the thing: Context makes that really stupid lede a little more sensible. After all, Tom Brady has only been okay in AFC Championships. He’s had some great performances and more than one terrible performance. But overall? Just okay for me, dog.
We remember the doomed 2007 season for its regular-season scares against Baltimore and Philly and its eventual demise in the Super Bowl, but can you remember that season’s AFC title game? It was against the Chargers. It was close, as in a two-point game in the fourth quarter. Brady threw three picks. Without a big game from -- you guessed it -- Laurence Maroney, those undefeated Patriots might not have even made it to the Super Bowl.
Of course, even the greatest player ever is allowed his occasional off performance. Yet in AFC Championships, it’s more than occasional with Brady. He threw multiple picks in each of the Patriots’ next two AFC Championships as part of a stretch of six consecutive conference title games that saw him throw more than one interception four times. The Pats went 2-2 in those four games.
Of the three playoff rounds (and yes, I’m saying three; Tom Brady plays in Wild Card games just a little more often than he tears his ACL), the AFC Championship is by far his worst. Here’s his average per-game performance in each round, with Brady’s injury-shortened 2001 title game being taken out so as to not skew the numbers.
61.36 completion percentage, 288 yards, 2.07 TD, .78 INT
61.13 completion percentage, 264 yards, 1.5 TD, 1.2 INT
66.69 completion percentage, 296 yards, 2.14 TD, .71 INT
With a big sample size -- 14 divisional-round games, 11 conference championships (10 of which are included here; again, we left out his quarter-and-a-half performance against Pittsburgh in 2001) and seven Super Bowls -- it’s jarring that Brady’s worst numbers in every category, from completion percentage to passing yards to touchdowns to interceptions, have come in the AFC Championship.
Which brings us to . . . the AFC Championship and the Jaguars. Jacksonville finished the season second in points allowed, second in yards allowed, second in sacks and second in interceptions. For as annoying as all the “The only way to beat Tom Brady is ____,” questions may be, the Jaguars seemingly have the tools.
Good news, though: The Jaguars defense just got absolutely torched in the divisional round by a Steelers team that played through narcolepsy. For as daunting as the Jags should be considered, the Steelers game provided a reminder that they are a team capable of allowing 40-plus to a good team.
There’s a lot of interesting storylines surrounding Brady entering Sunday. We’ll be talking plenty about Brady’s hand (?) now, but there’s also the fact that last year’s AFC Championship was by far his best performance in a conference title game (384 yards, three touchdowns, no picks).
Those kind of numbers might not stand out for the best player to ever play the sport. But for a guy who’s 7-4 in these games, he’s rarely found them to be particularly easy.