New England Patriots (13-4) at Denver Broncos (14-3)
One of the keys to successful handicapping of NFL games is to figure out which situations certain teams tend to do well in. This is easier when the team has had the same quarterback and/or head coach for a long time. Well we’re in year 13 of Tom Brady and this is exactly the type of situation in which the Patriots have dominated in the Tom Brady era. In his career, Tom Brady is 28-11 straight up against opponents with a better record than his, including 6-1 in the post-season.
Just think about that. Teams usually win 38.5% against teams with a better record than the other one. Tom Brady has won 71.8% of such games. Against the spread, he’s even better, going 29-9-1 ATS, including 18-5 ATS as underdogs. Brady and Belichick always bring their best for the best opponents and they’ll do the same this week. He’s already won straight up against Denver and New Orleans this year in this situation. This game will be tougher to win because it’s on the road, but we have 6 points to play with so they won’t need to win to cover.
The Patriots also dominate as an underdog in general with Tom Brady, going 30-15 ATS. That record gets even better when you add in games when the Patriots are favored by fewer than 3 points. Tom Brady is 42-17 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of fewer than 3 points in his career. Basically, in situations when Tom Brady just needs to win to cover, he’s almost automatic, which makes sense considering his absurd 166-50 career straight up record. And again, the Patriots won’t need to win to cover as they are 6 point underdogs. This is just the 10th time the Patriots have underdogs of 6 or more points with Tom Brady under center and the 2nd since 2003. They are 7-2 ATS in those previous 9 games.
I also have to bring up the Brady/Manning history as we go into Brady/Manning XV. Tom Brady has won 10 of the previous 14 matchups. That alone isn’t enough to prove that Tom Brady is the better quarterback (and can we stop the debate and just enjoy, they’re both 1st ballot Hall of Famers and you can’t prove definitively either one is better), but it’s worth noting. Having Bill Belichick on his side definitely helps. Belichick himself is 11-6 ATS and SU against Peyton Manning since taking over as the Patriots head coach in 2000, including 8-2 ATS as underdogs.
It’s also worth noting that Belichick has only once lost to Manning by more than 8 points, including 3 games without Brady. The Patriots in general have just 1 loss by more than 8 points since week 10 of the 2010 season, over 3 years ago. Considering this line is at 6, that’s pretty relevant. I obviously wish we were getting even more points, but I expect this to be a close game either way so getting 6 points is very valuable. Another weird trend that benefits the Patriots: teams with 12+ wins are 39-11 ATS in the playoffs against teams with better record than them.
There are some reasons to doubt the Patriots. In general, teams tend to struggle off of games in which they score 40+ points in the playoffs, going 3-14 ATS in that situation since 2002. The Patriots could be caught overconfident after running over Indianapolis last week. The Broncos have also won 7 of 9 games at home by double digits this year and are 12-5 ATS as home favorites over the past 2 seasons. Sure, the Chargers played within 7 points last week, but they didn’t really deserve to. Playing the Broncos close in Denver might be too big of a task, even for the Patriots.
Denver, of course, is also a very dominant football team. In fact, there’s still plenty of reason to believe they are the best in the NFL. They move the chains at an 81.43% rate, as opposed to 71.84% for their opponents, a differential of 9.59% that not only ranks the best in the NFL out of the remaining 4 playoff teams, but also is better than any team that has been eliminated as well. I still think the Patriots are up to the challenge though and they have plenty supporting them, given their history in these types of situations. I’m very confident in the Patriots and grab them at +6 before you can’t. A heavy early public lean on New England is going to push the line down fast and already has started to in some places.
New England Patriots 31 Denver Broncos 30 Upset Pick +195
Pick against spread: New England +6