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New England Coach Bill Belichick argues a call during a 2019 game. If you go by the oddsmakers, the Patriots and Belichick will finish 8-7-1 in 2020. Elise Amendola/Associated Press

 

It’s right there in black and white, or depending on your ability to forecast games, black or red: Oddsmakers no longer believe in the Patriots.

Do you? Enough to put your money on them?

BetOnline.ag revealed its odds for every NFL game after the 2020 schedule and had the Patriots favored in eight, underdogs in seven, and a pick-’em at the Los Angeles Chargers.

An 8-7-1 record isn’t likely to earn the Patriots another AFC East title or even wild card in the expanded playoffs.

So why are the oddsmakers so down on the Patriots? Could it be an overreaction to the departure of six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady? Also remember that the Patriots finished last season in a 4-5 funk, including home losses to the Dolphins and Titans in their final two.

Mix in the departures of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, defensive tackle Danny Shelton and safety Duron Harmon, plus the retirement of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, and what don’t you get? An obvious path to improvement for the team that was exposed in the second half of last season.

Complicating matters, in a season in which the Patriots will need immediate help from the tight ends and linebackers they drafted, the preparation time for the season – if in fact there is a season – will be shortened by COVID-19 concerns. Plus, there is the issue of preparing a new starting quarterback. Jarrett Stidham has thrown four NFL passes, one of which was intercepted.

Unlike last season, when the Patriots started the regular season 8-0 in the less-challenging first half, the schedule isn’t lopsided. It’s relentless and is at its meatiest in the middle.

So how can the Patriots be better from start to finish than in the second half of 2019? For one thing, Stidham projects to be a better quarterback than Brady was in the months after leading his team to an 8-0 start.

In his final nine games in a Patriots uniform, including the 20-13 playoff loss to the Titans, Brady averaged 5.9 yards per attempt, completing 56.6% of his passes. He threw 11 touchdown passes and five interceptions in those nine games. He couldn’t help but compare his targets to those from previous years, and with Rob Gronkowski spending a year in retirement, that was a no-win comparison. Whether it was frustration over that or his advanced age for a quarterback, Brady gave up on plays sooner than in the past, perhaps to avoid savage hits.

For Stidham, the potential problem area won’t be getting rid of the ball too soon. Just the opposite. Holding onto it for too long could lead to fumbles and injuries. Another difference: He won’t be comparing the quality of his targets to previous ones because he has no NFL experience. Memories of Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Gronk won’t leave Stidham pining for yesteryear.

Confidence in Stidham ranks as one reason to believe that the Patriots will win more than eight games. Here are the seven games in which the Pats are underdogs. with lines courtesy of BetOnline.ag:

Week 2, at Seahawks (+3.5): Bringing a defense with a few new or at least relatively inexperienced parts to Seattle to face Russell Wilson so early in the season shapes up as the second-toughest game on the schedule. Don’t like the Patriots chances here.

Week 4, at Chiefs (+8.5): Including the playoffs, Patrick Mahomes is 28-8 as an NFL starter. Other than the Patriots, no team has beaten him twice. He improved his record to 1-2 vs. the Pats with a 23-16 win at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 8. In the eyes of the wild fans at Arrowhead Stadium, winning the Super Bowl didn’t take all the sting out of losing in overtime to the Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship Game. Toughest game of the season.

Week 7, 49ers (+2): Bill Belichick knows Jimmy Garoppolo as well as any coach who faces the 49ers. Look for Belichick to cook up a game plan that gives the Patriots’ talented secondary the advantage over the one-time heir apparent to Brady. Stidham won’t need to win the game. He’ll just need to not lose it. Another reason to like the Patriots straight-up: They will be coming off of a bye week and the 49ers will be coming off a battle against the Rams, their talented rivals.

Week 8, at Bills (+3): The days of counting on sweeps of the Bills are gone. Tough team, but until Josh Allen can become more consistently accurate and avoid turnovers in big spots, hopping on the bandwagon will feel premature. Still, the Bills are the smart play here.

Week 10, Ravens (+2.5): The Ravens are favored in all 16 games and tagged the Patriots last season, 37-20. Pass on this one.

Week 11, at Texans (+1.5): The Patriots are 10-2 all-time vs. the Texans. Count on it going to 11-2. DeAndre Hopkins is gone, replaced by Brandin Cooks and Randall Cobb. Somehow, the Texans won’t seem like the Texans without Hopkins’ third-down prowess.

Week 14, at Rams (+3): This is a huge game for Rams Coach Sean McVay. He caught so much heat for all but genuflecting in the presence of Belichick during their brief pregame chat at the 2019 Super Bowl. It was the low point of a terrific coaching resume. Playing at home swings the edge to the Rams in a game pitting a pair of teams about as good as each other.

So if the Pats win the games they’re favored in, plus defeat the 49ers and Texans, that’s 10 wins if they lose the pick-’em road game to the Chargers, 11 if they win that one. Too optimistic for your taste?

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