Arizona Cardinals (6-4) at New England Patriots (4-6)
The Patriots are just 4-6, but they appear to have made the right decision to move on from Tom Brady and not guarantee him 50 million dollars for his age 43 and 44 seasons in 2020 and 2021 like the Buccaneers did. Brady is having some success in Tampa Bay, but he has a much better team around him with the Buccaneers and likely would not be having the same success in New England. In fact, there is an argument to be made that the Patriots would be worse off with Brady than with Cam Newton, even before taking into account that Newton is making next to nothing, allowing the Patriots to maintain long-term financial flexibility and shorten the length of their rebuild.
After ranking just 21st in the NFL in first down rate last season with Brady, the Patriots rank 8th in first down rate over expected this season at +1.84%. The Patriots have a better offensive line and running game this season, but they also don’t have their only consistent veteran wide receiver in Julian Edelman, who will miss his 5th straight game. The Patriots don’t have much of a passing game this season, but it’s unlikely it would have been much better with Brady throwing to these unproven receivers and Newton’s running ability at least gives this offense another dimension to make up for their lack of a downfield passing game. Overall, the Patriots’ offense hasn’t been the problem.
The big problem is their defense, which led the league in first down rate allowed by a wide margin last season, but has fallen to 24th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.80%. That’s understandable, given that 6 of their top-11 in snaps from last year’s defense are no longer with the team, either leaving in free agency, trade, or opting out. Even with their defensive struggles though, they’ve been better than their record suggests, as they’ve played a tough schedule and have gone just 2-4 in one score games.
In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Patriots rank a middling 19th at +0.04% and they could easily be better than that going forward, because they’re healthier now than they’ve been and because offense is much more predictable and consistent on a week-to-week basis than defense. If their defense can even be middling going forward, this won’t be an easy team to face. My roster rankings are even more generous, ranking them 12th. The Patriots have had a couple stinker performances in recent weeks, nearly losing to the Jets and losing to the Texans, but they were in a bad spot in both of these games, before and after a big upset victory over the Ravens. Coming off of last week’s loss, I would expect much better focus from New England this week.
Instead, it could be New England’s opponents who aren’t totally focused, with the Cardinals potentially looking ahead to a key divisional matchup with the Rams next week in Arizona. The Cardinals are a very similar team to the Patriots, with their defense significantly lagging behind their offense, and these two teams rank about even in my roster rankings. We’re only getting a point and a half with the Patriots as home underdogs, so there isn’t enough here for the Patriots’ money line to be worth betting without any fans in the stands, but these two teams are about even except for the spot and with the Patriots in the better spot, I would expect them to sneak out a close victory, so the Patriots should be the better side for pick ‘em purposes. The money line at +110 is worth a small bet, as the Patriots should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up and my calculated line is New England -1.5.
New England Patriots 33 Arizona Cardinals 31 Upset Pick +110
Pick against the spread: New England +1.5