In my rankings this week you'll find something rather startling: Tom Brady is not in my Top 12. It's not an attempt to be "out there" or to draw shock value. Based on the matchup, as well as Brady's receiving corps, as well as his history against the Ravens' defensive scheme, I don't think Brady will have a great week.
Brady's stats over his last 40 starts will tell you that he is a Fantasy stud, but a big reason for those numbers was the presence of wide receiver Randy Moss. Never once did Brady play a game without Moss from 2007 through Week 3 of this year, and his numbers were mostly excellent. Before Moss, Brady was pretty good but not a 300-yard bomber. In fact, from 2001 to 2006 -- a five-year window where he won three Super Bowls but didn't play with a talent like Moss -- Brady had 17 300-yard games over 108 starts, including the postseason. That's one every six games or so, which is pretty good. But that pales in comparison to the 15 300-yard games he had over 40 starts with Moss (including the postseason) -- one 300 yarder every 2.67 games!
I contend that those days are over, as they have been this season: Zero 300-yard games while Moss was playing in a seemingly limited role (22 targets over four games).
Brady's receiving corps added Deion Branch this week, a receiver who easily had his best years with Brady in New England, including a career-best 2005 when he averaged 62.3 yards per game and less than one touchdown every three games. Those are Branch's best numbers as he finished '05 with 998 receiving yards and five scores. The Branch playing for New England now is not the same as the 2005 Branch: Since the Patriots smartly traded him away for two first-round picks, Branch has had multiple knee surgeries and has clearly lost his speed as his receiving average dropped from 13.7 yards per catch in his first three years in Seattle to 9.5 over his last 18 games there. Branch, who is expected to help replace Moss, will be a good source of receptions but not a gamebreaker, which some people will say he never was.
The rest of Brady's receiving corps is good but much, much easier to defend against now that Moss is gone. And that's music to the ears of the Ravens defense.
Baltimore's secondary has been lights-out this year: The only touchdowns they've allowed were to Benjamin Watson in Week 3 and two to Brandon Lloyd last week, one on a sensational deep-ball grab and another late to pad the Broncos' stats. They've shut down Mark Sanchez and Carson Palmer, each of whom threw for multiple touchdowns against the Patriots, by the way. And even with the Broncos throwing for 314 yards on 38 attempts last week, the Ravens' secondary is still yielding just 156.6 passing yards per game.
Next, I want you to check out Brady's career numbers against the Ravens' defense as well as against Rex Ryan's Jets defense. Ryan previously coordinated with the Baltimore D and did a pretty good job of scheming against Brady until recently. But even after Ryan left the Ravens, Ray Lewis & Co. have done a pretty good job containing Brady while Ryan's bunch in New York have begun to fizzle out.
vs. BAL (11/28/04): 15 of 30 passing (50.0 pct.), 172 yards (5.73 yards/att.), 0 TDs, 0 INT
at BAL (12/03/07): 18 of 38 passing (47.4 pct.), 257 yards (6.76 yards/att.), 2 TDs, 1 INT
at NYJ (09/20/09): 23 of 47 passing (48.9 pct.), 216 yards (4.59 yards/att.), 0 TDs, 1 INT
vs. BAL (10/04/09): 21 of 32 passing (65.6 pct.), 258 yards (8.1 yards/att.), 1 TD, 0 INT
vs. NYJ (11/22/09): 28 of 41 passing (68.3 pct.), 310 yards (7.6 yards/att.), 1 TD, 0 INT
vs. BAL (1/10/10): 23 of 42 passing (54.8 pct.), 154 yards (3.7 yards/att.), 2 TD, 3 INTs
at NYJ (9/19/10): 20 of 36 passing (55.6 pct.), 248 yards (6.9 yards/att.), 2 TD, 2 INTs
Keep in mind, Brady had some good numbers and some bad numbers against this aggresive version of the 3-4 scheme designed to attack him, but all except the 2004 numbers were done with Moss in the lineup. Again, notice just one 300-yard game and three games with more than one touchdown through the air.
I'd also like to point out that the Ravens specifically have done a good job limiting Wes Welker. In two games against Baltimore, one in December, 2007 and one in October, 2009, Welker totaled nine catches for 66 yards and no scores. In the interest of full disclosure, it's worth pointing out that Welker's replacement in the team's playoff game last year, Julian Edelman, scalded the Ravens for two scores while catching six passes for 44 yards. It's conceivable that Welker would have those numbers, especially since both of those touchdowns were hard-earned on broken plays. Or maybe the Ravens didn't take Edelman as seriously as they do Welker.
There's another issue even the most ardent of Patriots fans will take with this: The team is money after the bye week. Brady scorched Miami for 332 yards and a touchdown last year after the bye; in 2007 he hung five touchdowns and 373 yards at Buffalo. And the Patriots have only lost once following the bye with Brady as their quarterback.
Clearly, giving Bill Belichick two weeks to prepare for an opponent has done wonders for the Pats. But how much of that time has been spent reinventing the offense this year? It's been a while since we've seen the Patriots without Randy Moss. Are they going to seamlessly perform without him (they sort of did that in Week 4)? There's also a question of what role the running game will have post-Moss; do not put it past the Patriots to try using the run against Baltimore. Remember, this vaunted Ravens defense was picked apart by Peyton Hillis and Rashard Mendenhall -- who's to say Belichick won't scheme his offense to attack Baltimore the same way? You can't just say he's going to have Brady throw like crazy -- the guy will find wrinkles anywhere and has shown in the past that he will tailor his offense to attack the weaknesses of the opponent.
I know sitting Brady is a tall order, and some of us can't do it because we don't have a backup. But playing without Moss against a strict defense doesn't seem to suggest a big game for Brady. Don't be surprised if he underwhelms against the Ravens, even with the extra week to prepare.