Rob Gronkowski probably isn't a real human being. Conceived in a laboratory and designed to play football, pump his fist and take Jager shots, the Patriots tight end has shown over the past month plus why he's the most important non-quarterback offensive weapon in the NFL.
And why he is currently a better MVP candidate than Tom Brady.
Brady gets the attention for the Patriots' resurgence. As he should. He went from looking like Geno Smith the first four weeks -- and getting treated worse -- to looking like *Tom Brady* over the past five. It's hard to even look at the stats and believe they're coming from the same person.
|Tom Brady 2014|
|Tom Brady Weeks 1-4||59.1||198||5.8||4||2|
|Tom Brady Weeks 5-9||67.5||320||8.1||18||1|
No question about it, Brady has been sharper as he gas rebounded the past month and a half. He's throwing the deep ball better and his accuracy has skyrocketed. It's almost as if he has a weapon to stretch the field and make incredible catches…
And that's the thing: When Gronk finally got healthy -- remember, he's still less than a year out from tearing his ACL! -- his explosiveness returned and the effectiveness of the Patriots' offense grew exponentially.
There's some chicken/egg stuff going on here for sure; the Patriots going from "broken-down dynasty" to "best team in football" in a span of five weeks (and that's actually what happened ... if you believe the headlines) isn't all on Gronk and it's not all on Brady.
It's just hard for me to believe that Brady finally got so miffed about people ripping the Patriots that he "clicked" and started playing like a better quarterback. After all, there's a precedent for Brady struggling to play exceptional football without Gronk.
|Brady with/without Gronk 2012-14|
|Brady With Gronk||64.4||291||7.5||5:3|
|Brady Without Gronk||58.2||247||6.7||2:1|
Yes. Hmmm indeed. And that "with Gronk" includes games like the early part of 2014 when the big fella was nursing back to health and on limited snap counts.
It's not fair to kill Brady for his performance without his best offensive weapon. The question is how much of an impact would removing Gronk vs. removing Brady have on the Patriots. It's a difficult question to answer without the benefit of a time machine. We don't have one of those, but we have the next closest thing: Paul Bessire and the Prediction Machine, where they simulate the NFL season (and each week) 50,000 times to get some of the most accurate projections on the web.
Here are the PredictionMachine.com's baseline projections for 16 games of the Patriots with both Gronk and Brady:
|Predicted Pats 16 Games Gronk and Brady|
|Wins||Losses||Playoff Chance||SB Win Chance||Avg PPG|
The 9.2 percent for a Super Bowl win is the second-highest behind only Denver; it looks pretty smart right now. Brady, per these baseline projections, finishes 376 of 594 (63.3 percent) for 4,234 yards passing (7.1 yards per attempt), 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The Patriots, in case you're curious, are averaging 31.2 points per game. Brady's on pace for 4,252 yards, is averaging 7.2 yards per attempt and is on pace for 39 touchdowns and five interceptions. So pretty close there.
If you took Gronk away (and therefore replaced him with a generic, average tight end) the Patriots become a good, not great, team. As Gronk might say, duh.
|Projected Patriots 16 Games Brady No Gronk|
|Wins||Losses||Playoff Chance||SB Win Chance||Avg PPG|
The 5.1 percent Super Bowl chance would be sixth highest in the NFL while Brady finishes 362 of 581 (62.3 percent) for 3,956 yards passing (6.8 YPA), 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
But what happens if you take away Brady and bring in a true field ... general?
That's right: Gen. Ryan Fitzpatrick is our official "Replacement Level QB" (ironic as he was just himself replaced) and, quite frankly, we were stunned to see how good this hypothetical Fitzmagic-led Patriots team would be.
|Predicted Patriots 16 Games Fitz and Gronk|
|Wins||Losses||Playoff Chances||SB Win Chances||Avg PPG|
That 4.3 percent Super Bowl win chance is good for ninth best in the NFL. The good general finishes the season eerily similar to Brady sans Gronk: 353 of 579 (61 percent) for 3,927 passing yards (6.8 YPA), 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
In other words, Brady without Gronkowski is barely better than Fitzpatrick with Gronk.
You can look at this two ways. One, Brady is "worth" more to the Patriots than Gronkowski. His absence results in a bigger drop in average wins, postseason chances and average points per game. Removing him is going to make the Patriots a worse team than removing Gronk.
On the other hand, Gronkowski is good enough to elevate Ryan Freaking Fitzpatrick to almost the same level as Tom Brady without Gronkowski. Because of the importance of the quarterback position in football -- it is literally the most important position in all of sports and, frankly, unfairly weighted in that regard -- it's hard to beat the value of a quarterback. But Gronk is worth so much he takes a below-average quarterback and makes him borderline elite.
As far as tilting the field in favor of the offense, Gronk is pretty close to a good quarterback: At his peak he commands attention on every play and should probably be double teamed every time he streaks down the seam, even if the added defender(s?) doesn't always matter.
The Patriots are a good team regardless of whether you take Gronk or Brady away. Not the powerhouse we've seen streaking to 7-2 and the top of everyone's midseason power rankings, but they're a very good team. Brady getting laser-locked is massive over the past five weeks. What makes the Pats a great team -- and a potential Super Bowl winner -- is a healthy Gronkowski, which is why right now he's a better choice for MVP than even his own quarterback.