Las Vegas Raiders (2-0) at New England Patriots (1-1)
As crazy as it might seem, the Patriots seem to have found an upgrade on Tom Brady. In Brady’s final season in New England, the Patriots struggled to get consistent offense, finishing the season 21st in first down rate. That wasn’t Brady’s fault entirely, given his lack of downfield weapons, but the Patriots switched to Cam Newton this off-season and so far this offense is #1 in the NFL in first down rate through the first two weeks of the season at 48.12%, despite not adding any real downfield weapons. It’s not that Brady is a bad quarterback at this stage of his career, but this Patriots offense is much more oriented towards being a run heavy offense, with a good run blocking offensive line and a lack of downfield weapons, and Cam Newton is a better fit for a run heavy offense that lacks downfield playmakers than Brady because of his ability to make plays with his own feet.
The Patriots defense isn’t what it was last year, but the Patriots still rank 2nd in the league in this early season in first down rate differential at +7.44%, only behind the Ravens. The Patriots lost in Seattle last week, but that was a tough situation playing a night game on the road on the west coast against a strong Seahawks team and the Patriots still came within inches of winning it and likely would have had a shot at an easy game winning field goal had they not missed a makeable attempt early in the season. The Patriots also won the first down rate battle in that game slightly, despite a tough situation, showing they still belong with some of the top teams in the league even without Brady.
This week, the Patriots return to New England to face a Raiders team that is getting some hype after a 2-0 start. The Raiders went back and forth in a close win over a very mediocre Panthers team week 1, but in week 2 they pulled an upset in their first game in their new stadium over the Saints. That win could prove to be a sign of things to come for this Raiders team, but it’s worth noting the Saints traditionally don’t start the season well, as they are just 4-17-1 ATS in the first two weeks of the season since 2010, as opposed to 85-53-2 ATS in weeks 3-17. Over the previous three seasons, the Saints won more regular season games than any team in the league, but they were just 2-4 in the first two weeks of the season, including a pair of losses to eventual non-playoff qualifiers.
The Raiders also lost the first down rate battle in that game and have a negative first down rate differential (-1.20%) on the season, despite their 2-0 record, and they enter this game banged up, missing a pair of offensive linemen in Richie Incognito and Trent Brown, starting linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski, starting wide receiver Henry Ruggs, and will likely have their top-two offensive playmakers Darren Waller and Josh Jacobs at less than 100% after barely practice all week due to injury. It’s worth noting that the Patriots are also missing center David Andrews, a key player on their offensive line, but overall they’re in better injury shape than the Raiders and they’re in a better spot too.
While Bill Belichick is 51-29-2 ATS off a loss since taking over as head coach in 2000, including 10-6 ATS without Tom Brady, the Raiders could be flat off their big home upset win, as teams are 45-69 ATS since 1989 as underdogs of 3 or more after a win by 10 or more as home underdogs of 3 or more. I’ll need this line to drop below 6 for the Patriots to be worth betting without Andrews, but I have a feeling this will drop before gametime and even if it doesn’t, the Patriots are the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
New England Patriots 31 Las Vegas Raiders 23
Pick against the spread: New England -6