So that's how the Patriots offense is supposed to look in 2016.
Tom Brady returned against the Browns, and just about everybody in New England's offense went off during Sunday's 33-13 rout in Cleveland.
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Although the matchups won't get any juicier than the Browns, a winless team with a hapless defense, the game provided a better idea of what to expect from the Patriots' skill players with Brady in the lineup going forward.
New England remains one of the most unpredictable NFL teams in terms of figuring out where its best production will come week to week. But based on the small sample size with Brady and his new-look supporting cast, here are five takeaways for fantasy football.
Chris Hogan vs. Julian Edelman: Hogan, who has been nicked up early in his first season in New England, had to leave the game and get checked for a concussion. Edelman, with his own durability issues, played through a foot injury. Hogan was the more efficient receiver as the outside speed threat, catching four of his five targets for 114 yards. Edelman was targeted a team-high 10 times in his modified slot role, but he connected with Brady only five times for 35 yards.
Hogan is an upgrade over Brandon LaFell, Brandon Lloyd and other non-Randy Moss guys who have manned the "X" position for Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. But like those guys, Hogan is reliant on favorable matchups. The Browns' coverage was tailor-made for him to exploit. Next week, Edelman feels more like the guy against a Bengals defense that just got ripped by the Cowboys' Cole Beasley. The week after, the Steelers' coverage favors Hogan, as Pittsburgh struggles more with perimeter speed than inside quickness.
Brady's deep ball accuracy is the biggest thing the Patriots missed with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. Brady's presence is much better for Hogan to explode in certain games, but the steadiness and volume are forever in Edelman's favor. Brady did admit to some rust despite a 406-yard game, and it was tied to the uncharacteristic lack of chemistry with his bulked-up best buddy. Hogan will have more big games and moments, and his presence with Brady means Danny Amendola becomes a faint blip in the passing game.
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LeGarette Blount vs. James White: Blount was huge duri
As expected, Blount's value was hurt most by Brady's return and the resulting pass-happier offense. It went back to about a 55-45 ratio, and because of that, the pass-catching White was much more involved (9 touches, 89 yards). It's no different than what developed with Blount vs. White and Dion Lewis (knee/PUP) last season. With a whole bunch of strong power run defenses ahead, expect White and rookie D.J. Foster, both more versatile backs, to cut more into Blount's work.
Blount's best value will be against overmatched fronts, something the Patriots won't see until Nov. 20 against the 49ers.
Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett: Yahtzee! Even in Aaron Hernandez's heyday on the field, the Patriots didn't have two complete tight ends like this. Both Gronkowski and Bennett are top-flight run blockers. They are both dominant red zone receivers who can also stretch the field and rack up yards after the catch.
Those complaining about Gronk still are probably complaining, despite Brady helping Gronk crank up to 5 catches for 109 yards on 7 targets. That's because Bennett cashed in on 6 of his 8 targets for 67 yards and a troika of scores to Gronk's goose egg. The Gronk spikes will come, but the Martysaurus is good enough to keep stealing more scores. For those of you who drafted Gronkowski in the late first or early second round, you won't recoup your value. If you grabbed Bennett near the end of the draft as a sleeper every-week starter, you can keep thinking you got a steal.
Brady doesn't care about your fantasy team, and he's not going to force it to Gronk for six when Bennett will be a consistent red zone mismatch on the other side. It's clear Brady and Bennett weren't joking about how quickly they developed terrific chemistry in the offseason.
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Patriots defense vs. the other defense: New England's defense has posted one great fantasy game (vs. Houston), two pretty good ones (vs Miami, at Cleveland) and two pretty bad ones (at Arizona, vs. Buffalo). The presence of Brady and opponents being put more in one-dimensional, catch-up modes gives the Patriots a much steadier floor for the requisite sacks and takeaways.
The general rule is that with Brady, you can play the Patriots' defense at home against anyone, but it's still hard to trust them on the road unless it's an overmatched team such as the Browns on Sunday and, yes, the 49ers late next month. The Patriots are still much closer to borderline streamer than trustworthy every-week play.
Brady vs. the other quarterbacks: Looking at the final statistics from Sunday, Cody Kessler, Charlie Whitehurst and Terrelle Pryor combined for 20-of-35 passing, 249 yards, 2 TDs and an INT. That adds up to a viable streamer, and it's about as bas as it gets at QB.
Then you look at Brady's counterparts over the next four games: Andy Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson and Tyrod Taylor. Save for the Brock Osweiler stinker in Week 3, all quarterbacks facing the Patriots have put up solid games. The volume to counteract Brady from more capable passers sets up shootout scenarios. Up go the over/unders; up go the fantasy points.
Thanks to Brady, Patriots games are now much more fun to watch. They also are much more fun for fantasy football owners.