As Super Bowl Sunday approaches, experts around the league are once again discussing a question as unanswerable and intriguing as the chicken and the egg. Does Tom Brady make Bill Belichick, or vice versa? Undoubtedly, they are both great at what they do. But does one make the other look better than he really is? To answer it, you need to consider each body of work independent of the other. This is hard to do, given how intertwined their individual successes are.
There was the 2008 season, where Brady was hurt and the Patriots missed the playoffs. But the Patriots still won 11 games that season, which is nothing to scoff at. They were in fact, the only 11-win team to miss the playoffs since the postseason was expanded to 12 teams. In lieu of Brady, Belichick took Matt Cassel — the only quarterback in NFL history to start a pro game without ever starting in college — and won 11 times.
Certainly, this would provide evidence that Belichick is capable of winning without Brady, but perhaps this is unfair given that we have little evidence of what Brady would be like without Belichick. Not to mention that Cassel has evolved to show he is no third stringer. In 2010, he led the Kansas City Chiefs to a division title and earned a pro bowl appearance in the process. And to help Cassel’s cause the 2008 Patriots were also a team loaded with talent on both sides of the ball. New England was sixth in total offense and fifth in total defense when Cassel was at the helm. To consider this Belichick-Brady question fairly, the 2008 season should be disregarded as any evidence to one side or the other. Yes, the Patriots missed the playoffs without Brady, but they still won 11 games with a very talented squad.
While it is pretty difficult to discern how much of any player’s success is due to coaching, Brady does have some pretty impressive volume stats that would lead one to believe he could have been successful no matter the system he was gifted. Brady is currently fourth all-time in yards, touchdowns and completions — Peyton Manning, Brett Favre and Drew Brees are top three in these categories in varying order. Brady’s case for being the greatest quarterback of all time is a discussion for another time, but his statistics are certainly very impressive. Clearly, he has the physical tools to be a great quarterback, and it is a pretty good bet that he would be successful in a different coach’s system. It is also true that Belichick is more of a defensive-minded coach, although that is slightly misleading given how much of a hand he has in play calling and personnel.
Brady and Belichick are a lot like the chicken and the egg in that it is not really a question we can answer. Any attempt to reason one way or the other will likely land you in a circle of logical contradictions and that’s fine. There is nothing that says we even have to decide if one is better. Both of their jobs are very difficult, and they have objectively proven to be very good at what they do.
Just ask around the league. Nobody without a connection to New England particularly likes them, but at the very least, everyone respects their talents. The duo has built an incredible dynasty together, the likes of which football has never seen. So what does Super Bowl LI mean for their legacy as individuals and as a tandem?
If there is any doubt left about the greatest quarterback/head coach tandem of all time, a win in this year’s game would certainly clear things up. With their fifth Super Bowl victory, the legacy that these two men have built together would go down among the greatest in sports history, and they would take their respective places among football’s anointed.
Pit that against Matt Ryan, the likely NFL MVP, who is hungry for his first ring and to solidify his status among the greats of his generation. Taking down the Patriots steadfast dynasty in the process would just be icing on the cake.