It's been a year and six months since Tom Brady left New England. The Patriots have their quarterback of the future in Mac Jones.
But as Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers roll into Foxboro this weekend, it's hard not to wonder "what if?"
What if Brady was still the Patriots' quarterback in 2021? What if he and Bill Belichick worked out their differences to agree on a long-term contract, and Belichick armed his QB with this current group of offensive weapons that includes tight end duo Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry and new wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne?
How much different would New England's season look with Brady than with Jones, who has shown promise but also has looked like a rookie at times amid the Patriots' underwhelming 1-2 start?
Our partners at Strat-O-Matic tackled that question head-on by simulating New England's 2021 season with Brady still at QB. As you'll see, the simulation's results when compared to the team's current reality are pretty fascinating.
First, here are Brady's per-game stats and the Patriots' record through three games in Strat-O-Matic's simulation juxtaposed with Jones' real-life stats in the same time frame.
Tom Brady vs. Mac Jones stats (Weeks 1-3)
Brady doesn't light the world on fire in this simulation, and Jones actually has a higher real-life completion percentage than the Patriots legend. But Brady more than doubles Jones in touchdown passes per game with fewer turnovers -- which is a recipe for success.
The simulation has Brady beating the Dolphins, Jets and Saints out of the gate with a roster identical to the one that lost to Miami and New Orleans with Jones at QB. That's less a knock on Jones and more a confirmation that the GOAT simply knows how to win football games.
How would the rest of the Patriots' season play out with Brady, you ask? Strat-O-Matic ran those numbers too.
Tom Brady full season stats
In case you're wondering, Brady and the Patriots do beat the Buccaneers on Sunday night, 21-17. In fact, their first defeat doesn't come until Week 7 in an upset loss to the Jets.
New England's three other losses under Brady are all to quality opponents -- the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills -- as the Patriots cruise to their 14th season with at least 12 wins in the Brady-Belichick era.
Brady also elevates the play of the Patriots' top skill players, as evidenced by their final season stats.
Patriots skill player stats
Running back Damien Harris carries the load on the ground in this simulation, with 274 carries for 1,163 yards and nine touchdowns. Brady and the 2021 Patriots don't have quite enough firepower to win a seventh Super Bowl, however. After dispatching the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Round, New England falls to its old nemesis, the Baltimore Ravens, in overtime of the AFC Championship Game.
Both Brady and the Patriots had their reasons for parting ways after the 2019 season. But this simulation is further proof that Brady very much still has it, and very much would be an upgrade over almost any QB New England brought in to replace him -- especially Jones.