A convincing argument can be made that quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension last season actually worked in the New England Patriots’ favor.

The Patriots did not suffer competitively, winning three of the four games that Brady missed to begin the 2016 regular season. They, and the rest of the league, got to see the quality of backup Jimmy Garoppolo, and Coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels even found a way to get a victory with rookie Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.

Brady returned and had virtually no rust to knock off his game, throwing 28 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in a 12-game regular season. His season passer rating of 112.2 was his best since 2007. It all culminated with another Super Bowl triumph, thanks to the Patriots’ miraculous comeback against the Atlanta Falcons.

Things will be different for Brady and the Patriots this season. Belichick will not have to spend the upcoming training camp and preseason getting Garoppolo ready for Game 1 and Brady ready for Game 5. There will be no forced four-game vacation from football for Brady at the outset of the season.

Having the greatest quarterback in the sport’s history available all season will be a good thing for the Patriots, right? Perhaps. No one is saying that Brady should not play every game for which he is available.

But this time around, Brady, who turns 40 on Aug. 3, must endure 16 regular-season games instead of 12. He must absorb 16 games worth of hits instead of 12.

It helped, of course, that the Patriots’ offensive line played far better last season than it had in 2015, when Brady and the offense had their issues down the stretch and the season ended with a disappointing loss at Denver in the AFC championship game. But maybe, just maybe, the four fewer games of wear and tear for Brady during the regular season also were a contributing factor last season.

Look at Brady’s chief rival, Peyton Manning. In 2014, a season in which he was 38, Manning had 39 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions and a 101.5 passer rating. In 2015, at 39, Manning had nine touchdown passes, 17 interceptions and a 67.9 passer rating. He retired after Denver’s defense led the way to his second career Super Bowl win.

The situations are different. Manning, by the end of his career, was playing on borrowed time, having returned from a career-threatening neck injury. Manning’s body finally betrayed him. Brady has been remarkably durable and shows no signs of slowing down.

But Brady will not be able to play forever, as he seems so intent upon trying to do. At some point, he will lose his fastball and begin to show his age. That point very well might be a few years away. But there is simply no way of knowing for certain. It will be interesting indeed to see whether playing a 16-game season at age 40 proves to be significantly more taxing on him than playing a 12-game season at age 39 was.

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