Recent history provides one big reason why Tom Brady could struggle this season

The Patriots might be the best version of themselves we've seen in 10 years, when Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker spearheaded a record-setting offense that played a starring role in New England's undefeated regular season.

Moss and Welker are gone but Brady -- and coach Bill Belichick -- remain. And the Pats, fresh off Lombardi Trophy No. 5, spent the offseason getting better. The team acquired offensive playmakers Brandin Cooks, Rex Burkhead, Mike Gillislee, Dwayne Allen and Phillip Dorsett, and they'll all join a healthy Rob Gronkowski.

One player who won't be on the field in 2017: Julian Edelman, who suffered a torn ACL in the preseason. Despite the 98 receptions for 1,106 yards in 2016, the loss of Edelman -- at least on paper -- seems easy enough to overcome. Just take another gander at the names in the paragraph above for why that would be the case.

But here's the thing: Brady, a sure-fire Hall of Famer and probably the best quarterback in the history of organized football, is a different player when Edelman is running routes. Look at this nugget unearthed by's Dan Hanzus:

In the previous three seasons, Brady has a 106.9 passer rating when Edelman's on the field. And in the nine games without Edelman, Brady's passer rating drops to 86.4 -- which is below the league average of 89.5. In case you're wondering, only twice in those nine games were both Edelman and Gronkowski sidelined. And both times -- Week 17 against the Bills in 2014 and Week 13 against the Eagles in 2015 -- the Patriots lost.

In addition to the offseason acquisitions and a healthy Gronk, the Patriots also have Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell, but will that be enough to make up for Edelman's absence?

"The Edelman injury is a big loss," CBS Sports analyst and former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo told reporters last week. "Do you see how calm Brady is in the pocket sometimes? It's because he's waiting for Edelman to get open and he knows its about to happen based on coverage, based on leverage, based in years of repetition. They're going to have to find that next guy -- someone will step in and do good things but it won't be as easy, as simple for Brady just to go do it. But that's what makes them special -- they'll find a new way. But it is a bigger loss than people know."

And while Brady laments the loss of his favorite target, he isn't one to dwell on things he can't control. Instead, he's focused on getting his healthy receivers on the same page.

"Really, it comes down to whatever your different skill sets are, it's a matter of execution," Brady said, via the Providence Journal. "Fast, quick, tall, smart — you've got to put it all together and you've got to put it together on every play. Offensive football is really important that every player is on the same page. You can't really have one part of the chain that is not connected. Everyone has to be focused on what their responsibility is.

"Those guys that can present problems with speed, that's what they've got to do and when they get the ball, they've got to play that way. The quick guys and the tall guys and the strong guys, everyone has different skill sets and it's really a matter of how everyone comes together in our style of offense and how we can execute to get the ball down the field."

We'll have to wait and see how Brady navigates an Edelman-less receiving corps, but for Thursday night's regular-season opener against the Chiefs, all eight experts like New England to prevail -- and only one expert has Kansas City covering +9.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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