Denver Broncos (6-1) at New England Patriots (6-2)
On the season, the Patriots are just 11th in rate of moving the chains differential, despite their 6-2 record, as they’ve been overly reliant on a +11 turnover margin. They are moving the chains at a 74.91% rate, as opposed to 73.18% for their opponents, a differential of 1.53%. The Broncos, meanwhile, are #1 in that statistic, moving the chains at a 79.49% rate, as opposed to 72.12% for their opponents, a differential of 7.36%. That suggests this line should be around 2.5 in favor of Denver here in New England, which gives us a little bit of line value with the Patriots as 3.5 point underdogs.
That’s before you even take into account that the Patriots have been playing much better football over the past four games, since that loss to Kansas City. They’ve moved the chains at an 80.99% rate over the past 4 weeks, as opposed to 66.96% in the first 4 weeks of the season. Their defense hasn’t been quite as good (74.26% vs 72.00%) and they’ll have trouble stopping Peyton Manning without Chandler Jones and Jerod Mayo, but they can definitely still outscore them. I believe the Patriots will be closer to the last 4 weeks than the first 4 weeks over the final 8 weeks of the season, as Rob Gronkowski is back to full health. Over the past 4 weeks, he’s caught 27 passes for 411 yards and 4 touchdowns over the past 4 games combined on 134 routes run (3.07 yards per route run).
Their offense has always been better when they have a healthy Gronkowski on the field. Coming into this season, from 2011-2013, Tom Brady completed 65.3% of his passes for an average of 8.07 YPA, 81 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions when Gronkowski played (36 games, including playoffs) and the Patriots scored 32.8 points per game. When Gronkowski isn’t on the field, Brady completed 58.3% of his passes for an average of 6.88 YPA, 30 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions and the Patriots scored 28.0 points per game (19 games, including playoffs). Over the first 4 games of the season, Tom Brady completed 59.1% of his passes for an average of 5.77 YPA, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions. Over the last 4 games, he’s completed 69.6% of his passes for an average of 8.81 YPA, 14 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions.
Last week was the best offensive game they’ve had yet as they moved the chains at a 90.24% rate in a 51-23 win. Despite that, they are underdogs of 3.5 here, just the 4th time in the last 25 years that a team has scored 50 points or more and then been home underdogs of 3.5 or more the following week. Those teams are only 2-1 ATS, but it’s such a small sample size and, considering how rare it happens, I don’t think the Patriots deserve to be underdogs of this much, which my above numbers also suggest.
It’s also a rarity that the Patriots are home underdogs, as this is just the 11th time they’ve been home underdogs since Tom Brady took over as the starter. In those previous 10 games, they are 9-1 ATS, winning straight up in 8 of those 10 games. That makes sense, as the Patriots are 105-22 straight up since 2001 at home, including 9-4 ATS (13-0 SU, winning by an average of 12.46 points per game) at home over the past 2 seasons. Going off of that, Tom Brady is 44-18 ATS in his career as an underdog or a favorite of fewer than 3 points, winning at an absurdly high rate in situations where he basically just has to win straight up.
Going off of that, he’s 31-10-1 ATS in his career against teams that have better records than his, including 19-6 ATS as an underdog. Possibly even crazier, he’s 30-12 straight up in that situation, a winning percentage of 71.4%. The rest of the league wins at a 38.5% rate. The Broncos are in a good spot, as they have the Raiders up next, meaning they have no distractions upcoming. Teams are 78-54 ATS since 2012 before being 3+ point road favorites, including 49-30 ATS as 4+ point favorites, and 20-5 ATS as 7+ point favorites. Still, as long as this line is more than a field goal, the Patriots are my Pick of the Week.
New England Patriots 34 Denver Broncos 27 Upset Pick +140
Pick against spread: New England +3.5
Confidence: Pick of the Week