I don’t cheer for injuries, especially when the person injured was the number one person I took in my fantasy draft this year.
But the dramatic demise of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have a magic effect on transforming last year’s moribund Miami Dolphins into a potential contender. Brady’s bone-crunching season-ending injury upends the entire AFC East and makes the decision of the N.Y. Jets to land Brett Favre and the decision of the Dolphins to sign Chad Pennington as an inspired move.
No matter how the TV pundits may spin it, there’s just no way that Matt Cassel is going to fill Brady’s shoes. First off, there’s a big difference between how Brady came in, and Cassel’s situation. Brady was there to fill in for an injured Drew Bledsoe. There were no Super Bowl expectations heaped on Brady’s shoulders before he threw his first pass. Brady’s charge was do no harm and help this team win. Cassel is already under tremendous pressure. No matter how well he plays if the Pats fail to make the Super Bowl it will be his fault. And secondly, I haven’t seen anything so far to suggest Cassel can even come close to matching Brady. He looked shaky in pre-season and didn’t light it up against Kansas City, one of the worst teams in the league.
The question, is whether the Dolphins can take advantage of this sudden and dramatic change of fortune. Pennington is a solid if unspectacular quarterback who actually had a chance to beat the Jets this past weekend. The team around him has many solid parts, including a defense that looks like it may be much stronger than a year ago. The Fins sacked Favre three times in the close loss to the Jets.
It won’t be easy of course. The Buffalo Bills look like they have improved although I’m still not totally sold on Trent Edwards as the next Jim Kelly. And of course there’s always the Jets, the team that has always been the Dolphins main rival in the AFC East over the last 25 years. The addition of Favre – and the loss of Brady – has catapulted the team into playoff contention. We will get a chance to see the new reality of the AFC East when the Patriots travel to the Meadowlands this weekend to take on the Jets. I expect to see Cassel on the ground a lot.
But Fins fans may be amazed where their team stands in a few weeks: Miami plays Arizona, Houston and New England in the next five weeks, all games they have a legitmate shot to win. The team also has to play San Diego and Baltimore, which could be tough, but there’s no reason that the Ravens — especially if they are still led by a rookie quarterback – can’t be beaten as well. That means that the Dolphins could be 4-2 or even 5-1 heading into an Oct. 26 game with the Bills.
That game may be the day we truly learn how big Tom Brady’s injury truly was.