Patriots

NFL conference championships see ratings drop without Patriots

NFL conference championships see ratings drop without Patriots

Love 'em or hate 'em, the New England Patriots garner the attention of the masses.

That was evident during last year's AFC Championship game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, when an average crowd of 53.9 million people tuned in to watch the Patriots win in an overtime thriller and advance to Super Bowl 53.

To put that into perspective, this year's late-window matchup between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers drew only 42.7 million viewers, per Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily.

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Of course, much of that discrepancy has to do with Pats-Chiefs being far more competitive than Packers-Niners. Plenty of viewers likely tuned out of the latter matchup when San Francisco led Green Bay 27-0 at halftime.

Even so, it just goes to show how much more attention is paid to the NFL playoffs when Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the rest of New England is involved. This year's AFC Championship featuring the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs marked the first without the Patriots since 2011, and it was the smallest audience (41.1 million) for an AFC title game in 11 years.

In comparison, the early game in 2019 (Los Angeles Rams vs. New Orleans Saints) averaged roughly 44 million.

The Chiefs and 49ers will meet in Miami for Super Bowl 54. It'll be interesting to see how those ratings compare to last year's Patriots-Rams matchup.

Perry: Examining the state of the offensive line

Rob Ninkovich warns of Patriots domino effect if Tom Brady leaves in free agency

Rob Ninkovich warns of Patriots domino effect if Tom Brady leaves in free agency

The New England Patriots will be worse off in 2020 if Tom Brady leaves in free agency. That much is obvious.

But the ripple effects of Brady's departure may be felt for years to come.

The 42-year-old quarterback is one of several key Patriots players who will become free agents on March 18, including safety Devin McCourty and linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins.

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If Brady returns for a 21st season, it's possible at least one member of that defensive trio sticks around for another Super Bowl run.

If Brady signs elsewhere? Former Patriots defensive standout Rob Ninkovich believes the dominos could fall quickly in New England.

"If Tom doesn’t come back, I don’t know if those guys are going to want to stick around," Ninkovich told the Boston Herald's Karen Guregian on Wednesday. "Because what’s the outlook for the team? Is it a rebuilding phase? What happens moving forward?"

Ninkovich also noted head coach Bill Belichick may have a harder time executing the team-building model he's had so much success with over the years, as free agents would be less likely to take a pay cut to come to New England.

“That would be a hard sell. In years past, the Patriots have been able to get guys at a bargain, because it’s an older veteran, a guy who’s looking for a Super Bowl, for a playoff run," Ninkovich explained.

“They’re approached by the Patriots, who say, ‘Look, we’re not going to guarantee the biggest contract, but we’re going to give you an opportunity to play in the playoffs and Super Bowl if you’re interested. Ninety-nine percent of the guys are ‘yeah, I want some validation for my football career.' "

But would free agents be confident that Brady's replacement -- 23-year-old Jarrett Stidham, perhaps -- could keep the Patriots in Super Bowl contention? Ninkovich isn't so sure.

"It won’t be easy without Tom. It’ll definitely be a struggle," he said.

As our Patriots Insider Phil Perry recently pointed out, time is also working against Belichick as he (and the Patriots' other pending free agents) awaits Brady's free-agent decision.

On that front, Ninkovich believes there's a real chance the six-time Super Bowl champion signs elsewhere in March.

"My gut is telling me Tom is motivated to prove a lot of people wrong," Ninkovich added. " ... So it wouldn’t surprise me if he puts up the deuces to everybody, and tries to motivate himself to prove people wrong."

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Kyle Long shades Jimmy Garoppolo while pushing Tom Brady-to-49ers theory

Kyle Long shades Jimmy Garoppolo while pushing Tom Brady-to-49ers theory

Tom Brady is a Bay Area native who grew up going to 49ers games, but San Francisco hasn't really been viewed as a serious destination for the New England Patriots quarterback and free-agent-to-be.

Why? Because the Niners already have their franchise quarterback in former Brady backup Jimmy Garoppolo, who helped guide them to Super Bowl LIV.

... Or do they?

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Retired offensive lineman Kyle Long joined NFL Network's "Total Access" on Tuesday to discuss the one free-agent signing he'd like to see this offseason.

"I think this will drive some people crazy, but ... one thing I've thought about is a guy named Tom Brady and a team called the San Francisco 49ers," Long told host Lindsay Rhodes.

"It would be something where we would find out if the 49ers are really in love with Jimmy Garoppolo. And I think Tom Brady has earned the right to select a turnkey organization that is one quarterback away from the Super Bowl. And who better than the 49ers? He's a hometown kid. He grew up idolizing Joe Montana."

"One quarterback away from the Super Bowl" sure sounds like a dig at Garoppolo, who threw two interceptions in the 49ers' Super Bowl LIV loss to the Kansas City Chiefs but otherwise had a strong 2019 campaign.

To have his former mentor come in at age 43 and accomplish what he couldn't? That'd be a tough pill for Garoppolo to swallow.

As our Patriots Insider Phil Perry recently pointed out, San Fran technically has the option to replace Garoppolo with Brady this season, as the 28-year-old QB has an opt-out clause for 2020 in his contract.

Count Long among those on board with that scenario.

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