Arizona Cardinals at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Houston Texans: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (4-5) at Houston Texans (2-7)

The Patriots pulled off the upset last week, beating the Ravens last week by final score of 23-17. That was a shocking result to people who left the Patriots for dead after a four game losing streak and a near defeat to the Jets, but I wasn’t overly surprised. Not only were the Ravens missing key players that made them much less than the dominant team we’re used to them being over the past year or so, but the Patriots were also much better than most people thought. Of their five losses, only one of them was a game in which they were uncompetitive and they could have easily picked up victories on the road in Seattle and Buffalo, to go with their double digit home victories over capable teams in the Dolphins and Raiders.

People are taking the Patriots more seriously after last week’s win over the Ravens, with this line shifting from favoring Houston by 2.5 to favoring the Patriots by 1.5, but line movement within the field goals like that isn’t all that valuable and I think the Patriots are still underrated. The Patriots rank 13th first down rate differential at +0.74% and that’s despite the fact that their starting quarterback dealt with illness and possibly injury for a couple weeks, their top cornerback Stephon Gilmore missed 3 games, and they’ve had a variety of injuries on the offensive line. With Newton healthy, Gilmore back in the lineup, and their offensive line being one of the best in the league now back at full strength, the Patriots rank 8th in my roster rankings, so they’re no pushover.

Even better for the Patriots’ projection going forward, their problems have been primarily concentrated on defense, which is the much more inconsistent side of the ball, as they rank 6th in first down rate over expected, but just 22nd in first down rate allowed over expected. Even on sheer regression, I would expect this Patriots’ defense to be better going forward, but getting players like Gilmore and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (returned last week) back from injury and having Bill Belichick as head coach/de facto defensive coordinator makes it even more likely that we’ll see better defensive play from them going forward. If that’s the case and their offense can remain efficient with Newton, a strong offensive line, a strong running game, and Jakobi Myers stepping up as a downfield target in the passing game, this could be a dangerous team the rest of the way, even if it’s possibly too late for them to climb back into a playoff spot.

Given that, the Patriots should be favored by more than 1.5 points here in a matchup with a Texans team that ranks 29th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -3.43%. The Texans have lost to quality opponents in all of their losses, but they haven’t been overly competitive with those quality opponents and their only two victories have come against the Jaguars, the second one coming in a competitive game in which the Jaguars had a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion late. My roster rankings have them significantly higher than that and they could be better going forward if they can underachieve less than they have, but they also aren’t well coached and even if they do play up to their talent level, they’re just 18th in my roster rankings, so they’re a good amount behind the Patriots. 

Much like all of the Texans other games against quality opponents, the Texans are likely to lose this one and it possibly won’t be competitive. The Texans will have some fans in the stadium, which will give them somewhat of a boost, but in a game the Patriots basically just need to win to cover, I like their chances of covering a good amount. The one thing that concerns me with betting the Patriots is they could be a little flat after such a big win last week (teams cover at a 41.3% rate after a home upset victory as underdogs of 5 points or more), but there is still enough here for the Patriots to be bet confidently.

Update: Laremy Tunsil will be out for the Texans with an illness, which is a huge blow to the Texans’ offense. This line has climbed to 1.5 or even 2 in some places, but as long as this line is under a field goal, I like the Patriots a lot this week.

New England Patriots 30 Houston Texans 24

Pick against the spread: New England -1.5

Confidence: High

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-2) at New England Patriots (3-5)

The Patriots have gone just 3-5 in their first season without Tom Brady, at one point losing four straight games for the first time since 2002 and only snapping that losing streak by squeaking out a field goal win over the Jets last week. Things haven’t been quite as bad as they sound though. The Patriots have lost a lot of close games, going 1-3 in games decided by one score or less and, if you exclude a game in which they were within a score of the Chiefs with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter despite starting a backup quarterback, the Patriots are 2-1 on the season in games decided by more than a touchdown. The Patriots have also faced an above average schedule and, when adjusted for schedule, have a -0.92% first down rate differential that is only slightly below average. 

Even better, the Patriots’ issues have primarily been on the defensive side of the ball this season, as they rank 10th in first down rate over expected at +1.25%, but just 23rd in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.17%. The defensive side of the ball tends to be the much more inconsistent side of the ball and the Patriots’ offense, while not being the passing game we’re used to from them, is still pretty effective at moving the chains, especially on the ground, and has one of the best offensive lines in the league. 

As bad as their near loss to the Jets was, the Patriots actually exceeded expectations on offense with a 39.47% first down rate against a Jets defense that isn’t hapless, ranking 20th in first down rate allowed over expected. The problem was their defense surrendered a 40.91% first down rate to an offense that had been anemic all season, but defensive issues are easier to fix week-to-week and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is one of the best of all-time at defensive adjustments. It’s also very possible the Patriots got caught looking forward, facing a last place Jets team before this Sunday Night Football game against Baltimore. I would expect a better effort this week.

The Patriots’ schedule gets harder this week as the Ravens are obviously a much tougher opponent than the Jets, but not as much as you might think. This once dominant Ravens offense ranks just 27th in first down rate over expected at -1.86% and, while they are better than that on paper, they are also missing their top-2 offensive linemen from last season in Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley and, with defenses catching on to how to defend this offense, it looks less and less likely that the Ravens will consistently find their 2019 form again this season. 

The Ravens have still played well defensively this season, ranking 9th in first down rate allowed over expected at -1.94%, but defensive play is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive play and the Ravens are missing a pair of key players this week with defensive end Calais Campbell and cornerback Jimmy Smith sidelined. Given all that the Ravens are missing, this line is too high at a touchdown.

I’m going to bet the Patriots at least a little bit at +7, but unfortunately the Patriots have listed 17 players questionable this week, including cornerback Stephon Gilmore and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, who missed last week’s game against the Jets and may be needed if this defense is going to bounce back, so I’m leaving this as a small bet until we get more clarity before gametime. This could easily end up being a higher confidence pick though, depending on injuries.

Baltimore Ravens 27 New England Patriots 24

Pick against the spread: New England +7

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at New York Jets: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (2-5) at New York Jets (0-8)

With the Patriots falling to 2-5 in their first season without Tom Brady, there has been a lot of talk that the Patriots made a mistake not trying harder to bring Brady back. However, I don’t know how this would have gone much differently even with Brady, minus Cam Newton’s brief bout with COVID that caused him to miss the Kansas City game and may have disrupted his next couple weeks. We saw Brady with this receiving corps last season and they were not a good offense, ranking 21st in first down rate, despite a much easier schedule than this season, when they rank 13th in schedule adjusted first down rate. It’s not like they were an offensive juggernaut and lost Brady and now they’ve fallen off a cliff. Brady looks good in Tampa Bay, but he has one of the best supporting casts in the league.

By far the biggest reason for their struggles winning games this season has been their dropoff on defense, which has fallen from being by far the top defense in the league by first down rate allowed to ranking just 16th in schedule adjusted first down rate allowed. Defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent year-to-year and week-to-week than offensive performance, but for the Patriots, the reason for their dropoff is clear. Of their top-8 players in terms of snaps played from last year’s defense, just two (Devin McCourty and JC Jackson) were active for last week’s loss in Buffalo.

The Patriots have still been better than their record though, as they rank 18th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at 0.18% and have been competitive in all but one of their losses. Both of their wins have come by double digits against competent opponents, but they are 0-3 in games decided by one score or less, which doesn’t even include a Kansas City game that was close throughout and that the Patriots easily could have won if they didn’t have to start a backup quarterback.

This week, the Patriots could get one of their top players back, with top cornerback Stephon Gilmore returning to practice after missing his first game of the season last week, and the Patriots also get a much easier matchup, going to New York to face a Jets team that has been the worst team in the league this season and that won’t have the benefit of any fans in the stands. The Jets also won’t have quarterback Sam Darnold due to a re-aggravation of his shoulder injury and, while he doesn’t been great this season any by stretch, he’s still been measurably better than washed up backup Joe Flacco, with whom this offense has been utterly inept this season, including one of the worst offensive performances I’ve seen in a while against the Dolphins in his most recent start.

The Jets are getting healthier in other areas, including wide receiver, but they still rank dead last in my roster rankings and they also rank last by a significant margin in schedule adjusted first down rate differential this season, at -8.78%. Not only have they not won a game, but they haven’t even come particularly close, with their closest loss coming by 8 points and their average loss by 18 points. This line jumped from 7 and 7.5 to 9.5 when the Darnold news was announced, but I have this line calculated at New England -12, as the Patriots are at least a middling team that should be able to handle the Jets like everyone else has. 

This isn’t a good spot for the Patriots, with a home game against the Ravens on deck, as road favorites cover at a 38.7% rate over the past 30 seasons before being home underdogs, but with the Patriots on a 4-game losing streak and needing a win just to keep their season alive, I would expect them to be focused for this one. I would probably need Stephon Gilmore to be active for the Patriots to be worth betting, but they are the pick for pick ‘em purposes regardless.

New England Patriots 21 New York Jets 9

Pick against the spread: New England -9.5

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (2-4) at Buffalo Bills (5-2)

I had a lot of confidence in the Patriots last week. The Patriots started 2-1, easily defeating capable teams in the Raiders and Dolphins and coming up just short on the road in Seattle. Then their COVID outbreak happened, costing them starting quarterback Cam Newton for a game in Kansas City that it looked like the Patriots would have won had Newton been able to play and then the following week costing them significant practice time and several offensive linemen from an already injury plagued group, leading to the Patriots’ upset home loss to the Denver Broncos. 

With a healthy offensive line and a normal week of practice, I expected the Patriots would bounce back to their early season form, but instead they had easily their worst performance of the year, getting blown out at home 33-6 by the 49ers in a game in which the Patriots lost the first down rate battle by 6.58% and really didn’t do anything well on either side of the ball. Making matters even worse, the Patriots have been bit by the injury bug over the past week. The Patriots’ offensive line is much more complete than it’s been for most of the season, but they’ll be without their top-2 wide receivers this week from an already thin group, as well as several other questionable players, most notably top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who seems unlikely to play after a mid-week injury.

Given the disparity between how the Patriots played early in the season and how they’ve played recently, it’s tough to know what to make of this team, but it seems like the general public is completely ignoring their early season success and just focusing on their recent struggles, leading to them being 4-point underdogs in Buffalo against a Bills team that will have minimal homefield advantage and that was also better early in the season than they’ve been in recent weeks. The Bills started 4-0, with competitive wins over quality teams like the Raiders and Rams, but then they lost back-to-back games by multiple scores against tougher opponents in the Titans and Chiefs and last week they had trouble with a Jets team that had previously lost by at least 9 points to every team they’d faced all season. 

The Bills obviously have a better record than the Patriots, but they’re much closer together than their records suggest in terms of point differential (-4 vs. -28) and first down rate differential (+0.60% vs. +0.51%), even though the Bills have played a below average schedule, while the Patriots have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league. When schedule adjustments are taken into account, the Patriots actually have a significant lead in first down rate differential, ranking 11th at 1.65%, while the Bills rank 23rd at -1.11%. Of course, if the Patriots come out and play like they did last week again, it won’t matter than they’ve been better statistically than the Bills this season, just like it didn’t matter that they had a statistical edge over the 49ers going into last week, but I don’t expect the Patriots to come out flat like that in back-to-back weeks, especially since this is a must win game for the Patriots against a division rival.

In fact, if either of these teams comes out flat again this week like they did last week, it’s likely to be the Bills, as the Bills still were able to pick up the win last week because of their easy competition and would still hold a healthy divisional lead even if they lose this game. This isn’t to say the Bills are going to look past the Patriots, who they’ve been trying to get past for years, but the Bills have another tough game on deck against the Seahawks, while the Patriots get the Jets next, so the Patriots are much more likely to be fully focused than the Bills, especially given the results of last week. 

Underdogs cover at a 62.7% rate before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs and all three of those are likely to be the case in this one. On top of that, teams are 115-67 ATS as underdogs since 1989 before being road favorites of 4 or more, which the Patriots will be in New York next week (-7 on the early line). There is too much injury uncertainty for me to lock in a bet on the Patriots now, but if their inactives list is favorable and/or the Bills’ isn’t, the Patriots are worth a bet this week. I will have an update before gametime most likely.

Update: Gilmore is out for the Patriots, but I was expecting that. The bigger news is that their other questionables are playing, most importantly JC Jackson, who will be their new #1 cornerback in Gilmore’s absence, while the Bills will be without safety Micah Hyde. Despite that, this line has dropped to 4.5, likely due to the Gilmore news, so the Patriots are worth a bet this week. The Bills haven’t been much better than the Patriots have been lately and the Patriots played better against tougher competition earlier in the year.

Buffalo Bills 24 New England Patriots 23

Pick against the spread: New England +4.5

Confidence: Medium

San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

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

Denver Broncos at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (1-4) at New England Patriots (2-2)

This game looks like it is finally going to be played. It was originally scheduled to be played last week, but due to the Patriots’ COVID outbreak, the game was moved to week 6 and week 5 was made a bye week for these two teams. The Patriots had an additional COVID positive on Friday, but it appears to be an isolated case and, without a good re-scheduling option, the NFL will play this game this week, barring any further positives.

The Broncos get starting quarterback Drew Lock back for the first time since he injured his throwing shoulder in week 2, but the Patriots definitely benefit the most from the additional time off, as it allowed them to get starting quarterback Cam Newton and top cornerback Stephon Gilmore back from the COVID list and those are probably the Patriots’ most important players on either side of the ball. The additional positive test also doesn’t hurt the Patriots in this game because it was a reserve offensive lineman who was unlikely to see the field on offense. 

The Patriots are just 2-2, but, now with their key players back, they’re much better than their record suggests. Their two losses both came on the road against two of the better teams in the league in Seattle and Kansas City. The Seattle game came down to a goal line stop and the Patriots arguably would have won in Kansas City if they had Cam Newton starting that game rather than Brian Hoyer, as their defense managed to hold the Chiefs’ offense to just two offensive touchdowns all game. Their two wins, meanwhile, were both convincing victories by double digits over the Dolphins and Raiders.

The Broncos are much more in line with the Dolphins and Raiders than the Seahawks and Chiefs, but they’re better than their 1-4 record would suggest, so we’re not really getting line value with the Patriots as 9-point home favorites, especially with the Patriots being one of the few teams in the league to still not have any fans in their stadium. The Broncos have been ravaged by injury this season, even beyond the injury to their starting quarterback, as Lock will be missing his #1 receiver Courtland Sutton and their defense is without stud edge defender Von Miller, talented defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, and expected top cornerback AJ Bouye, but their defense is still very well coached by Vic Fangio and ranks 2nd in the league with a 31.67% first down rate allowed. 

Given those absences, it’s unlikely the Broncos’ defense will be able to keep that rate up all season, but any decline on defense could be offset by improvement on offense if Lock can return healthy and progress going forward after 7 career starts. My calculated line is actually only New England -7, giving the Patriots a 6-point advantage over the Broncos and a point for their nominal homefield advantage.

Unfortunately, this is a bad spot for the Broncos, as they have another tough game on deck against the Chiefs, a game in which they are currently 9-point home underdogs on the early line. Teams are 44-106 ATS since 2010 before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, including 17-44 ATS as underdogs of a touchdown or more before being home underdogs of a touchdown or more, like the Broncos are this week. It’s very tough for an inferior team to keep a game close against a much better opponent when they have another tough game on deck. For that reason, I’m taking the Patriots, but you could make arguments for both sides in this game, as the Broncos’ well coached defense could easily be able to keep this game close.

New England Patriots 24 Denver Broncos 13

Pick against the spread: New England -9

Confidence: None

New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (2-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (3-0)

At one point it looked like this game might not go on as scheduled, with Patriots quarterback Cam Newton testing positive for coronavirus on Saturday, at the same time a Chiefs practice squad player tested positive. However, after re-testing both teams, it appears to be isolated to the two players and this game will go on as scheduled, with the obvious difference being that the Patriots will have to start to veteran backup Brian Hoyer rather than Cam Newton. 

That’s clearly an impactful absence, as Newton has been one of the more effective quarterbacks in the league this season, leading an offense that ranks 2nd in the league with a 45.77% first down rate. More so than the passing game, the Patriots’ run game figures to be significantly affected by the switch to Hoyer, as the threat of Newton taking off and running has helped propel this running game to 5.09 yards per carry (5th in the NFL), as opposed to a 25th ranked 3.81 yards per carry last season, when they ranked 21st in first down rate even with Tom Brady under center. 

The Patriots’ offensive line is better this season, but their wide receivers aren’t and their defense has taken a big step back, ranking 22nd in first down rate allowed after leading the league in that metric by a wide margin in 2019. Because of how many teams around the league have been plagued with injuries, the Patriots still rank 21st in my roster rankings even without Cam Newton and they do still have a solid supporting cast, but it’s hard to see this being a competitive game anymore.

Of course, the line has shifted to compensate, with the Patriots opening up as 10.5-point underdogs when the line was re-posted, after being 7-point underdogs earlier in the week. I was originally leaning towards New England, possibly for a bet, with my calculated line being -4.5, but without Newton, that calculated line shifts up to 9.5 points. We’re still getting a little bit of line value with the Patriots, who may be better prepared for the abrupt shift because they are going to a quarterback who has been in the system for years, while the Chiefs spent all week game planning for a very different kind of quarterback, but there’s way too much uncertainty for this to be worth betting.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 New England Patriots 17

Pick against the spread: New England +10.5

Confidence: Low

Las Vegas Raiders at New England Patriots: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (1-0) at Seattle Seahawks (1-0)

The Patriots’ first season without Tom Brady got off to a good start last week, as Cam Newton and company led the team to a 21-11 win that could have been a lot more lopsided if not for a missed makeable field goal and a fumbled potential touchdown. Overall, the Patriots finished with the 2nd best first down rate differential of the week at +14.59%, only behind the Ravens, who blew out the Browns. The Patriots were only playing the Dolphins, but it’s still good to see them handle them relatively easily. 

This is a completely different style of play from their underwhelming offense a year ago, with the Patriots incorporating a number of option runs that led to Cam Newton carrying the ball 15 times for 75 yards, more yardage than Brady has had in a single season since 2011. The Patriots’ offensive line is much healthier this year and, while they still lack downfield weapons in the passing game, they could follow a run heavy/strong defense style of play to a good amount of success, especially if Cam Newton continues to look as healthy as he did in week 1.

The Patriots get a much tougher test this week though, with a trip to Seattle on deck. Playing in Seattle won’t be as difficult as normal because of the lack of live crowd noise, but there are a couple key reasons why it won’t be easy. For one, the Seahawks look to have as good of a team as they’ve had in years, especially if they continue letting Russell Wilson handle more of the offensive load. Their defensive secondary has been completely reloaded with the additions of Quandre Diggs, Quinton Dunbar, and Jamal Adams over the past calendar year and are a headlining unit for a team that currently ranks 4th in my roster rankings.

The second reason is that this is a night game played between a west coast and an east coast team and, due to differing sleepcycles, the west coast team has a big advantage in night games, covering at about a 65% rate all-time. The Patriots aren’t far behind the Seahawks in my roster rankings in 10th and this line would be fair if this was a day game, but given the sleep cycle advantage, I would go with the Seahawks for pick ‘em purposes. There’s not enough here for them to be worth betting, but they should be the right side.

Seattle Seahawks 26 New England Patriots 20

Pick against the spread: Seattle -4

Confidence: Low