Tom Brady: 'I'm a mature 22-year old'

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will turn 36 on Saturday. He also is entering his 14th season, which is far beyond the average career for an NFL player.

Brady plays at such a high level that it's hard to imagine him retiring anytime soon. But the reality is the NFL is not a 40-and-over league. Brady's clock is ticking, and in a few years the Patriots will be forced to go in another direction at quarterback.

However, Brady is coming off a very productive season where he threw for 4,827 yards, 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He is still an elite quarterback towards end of his career, which makes New England the preseason favorites to win the AFC East.

"Mentally, I said I think I'm a mature 22-year old," Brady said. "It’s fun, you know you’re in an environment like this with so many young players and young teammates, so finding ways to interact with them is probably the most challenging experience."

New England’s championship window is closing fast. This is not the same dominant Patriots team we’ve seen over the past few years, and this group could take a step backward.

New England lost most of its offensive firepower in the passing game with the offseason departures of tight end Aaron Hernandez (legal issues) and starting receivers Wes Welker (free agency) and Brandon Lloyd (released). The status of Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski (back, arm) is also uncertain for the start of the season. Brady mostly has a patchwork group of receivers and will need to be at the top of his game nearly every week for the Patriots to be successful.

As usual, Brady's health is the key to New England's season. The soon-to-be 36-year old is optimistic about having another top-flight year despite losing many of his best offensive players.

“I think over the years I’ve actually learned to take care of myself a little bit better, so this is the best I’ve ever felt,” Brady said. “I’ve never felt any better than I have at this point, so I’m excited. We’ve had three good days with the whole team together and I think we’ve seen some improvements, but we still have a long way to go.”