San Francisco 49ers (3-3) at New England Patriots (2-3)
The Patriots have gotten a lot of attention for being 2-3 in their first season without Tom Brady, but Cam Newton has played well as Brady’s replacement, so Brady’s departure hasn’t been the problem. The problem is they’ve had arguably as tough of a start to the season as any team in the league. The Patriots have had to face two of the top teams in the league on the road in the Chiefs and Seahawks and their three home games have all come against capable or better opponents, but it hasn’t just been the schedule, as they dealt with a COVID outbreak for several weeks and have missed key players due to injury as well.
The Patriots came within inches of winning in Seattle and likely would have won in Kansas City had they not had to start a backup quarterback, in a game in which the Patriots limited the Chiefs to just two offensive touchdowns. They beat both the Dolphins and Raiders relatively easily and their loss last week came against a better than their record Broncos team in a game in which the Patriots were missing several key offensive linemen and had barely practiced all week due to their facilities being closed.
It’s not hard to see how the Patriots could be 4-1 or even 5-0 right now if they had gotten an extra inch in Seattle, if they had Cam Newton available for Kansas City, and if they got to practice with a more complete offensive line for the Denver game. If that was the case, we’d likely be talking about the Patriots as one of the best teams in the league, given their strength of schedule and track record. In fact, when adjusted for strength of schedule, the Patriots rank 4th in first down rate differential at +4.73% and that’s despite all of their absences and disruptions.
This week, the Patriots have had their normal practice and they are expected to get back at least one and likely both of Shaq Mason and David Andrews back, which would give them one of the best offensive lines in the league. They’re also in a good spot historically, as the Patriots have typically bounced back well from a loss in the Bill Belichick era, going 52-30 ATS off of a loss since Belichick’s first season in 2000.
A lot of that came with Tom Brady under center, but Cam Newton has been an adequate replacement, so it stands to reason that the Patriots will continue bouncing back well after a loss and, for what it’s worth, Belichick was 22-17-1 ATS off of a loss in Cleveland from 1991-1995. The Patriots were coming off a loss last week, but they didn’t have the necessary practice time to be coached up and it would be even more rare for Belichick to lose three games in a row, something he hasn’t done since 2002.
The Patriots’ opponents this week, the San Francisco 49ers, have also had a tough start to the season, as they’ve been one of the most injury plagued teams in the league, but they’ve benefitted from one of the easiest schedules in the league and they aren’t really getting any healthier. Their offense has Jimmy Garroppolo and his top-3 weapons Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk all healthy after they all missed time earlier this year, but they are without their top-2 running backs and their top-2 centers, while their defense remains without a starting linebacker, their top-4 defensive ends, two of their top-3 cornerbacks, and this week will also be without both of their starting safeties for the first time this season.
Given the state of the 49ers roster and the Patriots’ improving roster, this line is way too low at New England -2. I have the Patriots 4.5 points better than the 49ers, which puts the calculated line at New England -5.5, even before taking into account the Patriots’ track record of a loss. In a game in which the Patriots basically just need to cover to win, they have a great chance of covering and are worth a big play.
New England Patriots 27 San Francisco 49ers 20
Pick against the spread: New England -2
Confidence: Pick of the Week