We've stayed away from the topic, but not because it's crazy or uninteresting. (We just like to write about our own manufactured debate, not steal from others.)
"It's beyond ridiculous," Cleveland Browns coach Pettine told The MMQB's Greg Bedard. "Top five? I mean, to me, it's one and two (Brady and Peyton Manning) and then there's a gap and then it's probably (Drew) Brees and (Aaron) Rodgers would be three and four, however you want to order them. Until those two (Brady and Manning) retire, they'll be one and two and then there will be a gap."
Pettine is showing some bias toward the players he goes against. There isn't truly a "gap" between Brady and Aaron Rodgers anymore, and the only gap between them as Brady ages will favor Rodgers. But Pettine has a unique window into the challenges that Brady still presents; Pettine has coached against him twice a year for the last five seasons.
"There were certain games where you knew that you had zero margin for error, that you couldn't make a mistake or have a bad call or a bad series because they were going to take advantage of it," Pettine said. "There are some coordinators you feel like you're playing checkers against. You're playing chess against grand masters when you're going against (Belichick and Brady.) That's just the way that you feel going into the game.
"You see the games where they don't do as well, there's a little bit of frustration, especially on Tom's part where he's not getting a clean look. The games where he knows what you're in (defensively), I mean it's over. It might as well be pass scout (team drills). It's over. The games that he goes 24 for 28, those are the teams that are rushing four and playing split safety coverage against him and it's just a matter of him playing catch.
"That game (against Brady) is the ultimate dial-it-up, I have to be in something different (every play)," Pettine continued. "Not only do I have to have a plan for the first half, but nobody's better at second-half adjustments so we better come out in the second half, no matter what we've been successful with in the first half, we have to come up with something a little different in the second half. When you have success against him, I think that's because you can keep him guessing a little bit, that he can't get dialed in."
Pettine points out why Brady's impact is hard to fully quantify with numbers. He changes an entire defense's approach, and elevates flawed receiver groups. Despite all the turnover and early struggles in New England last season, the Patriots still finished third in points.
With all that said, Brady is in decline. It happens to everyone at age 36. He had more moments with erratic accuracy last year and no longer is as calm in the pocket.
The question is how fast Brady will decline. He and Peyton Manning have helped to change expectations as top quarterbacks approach their forties. Brady might not quite be the same player he once was, but he's already defied the odds by staying at the top of the game for more than a decade.
*The latest "Around The League Podcast" picks the best receiver group in the NFL, and goes deep previewing the season with Bucky Brooks. *