The New England Patriots have won the AFC East Division an NFL-record 11 straight seasons, and to make it 12 the Pats will have to do it not just without six-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady but six players who opted out of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus. That list includes three starters: offensive tackle Marcus Cannon, linebacker and defensive captain Dont'a Hightower and safety Patrick Chung. No other team in the league has had close to that many players opt out.
Despite losing Brady to Tampa Bay, the Patriots are +125 betting favorites at William Hill sportsbook to win another AFC East title, just ahead of the up-and-coming Bills (+140). New England had been priced at +120 before signing quarterback and former NFL MVP Cam Newton to a one-year free-agent deal. He will battle young Jarrett Stidham for the starting job, with SportsLine oddsmakers listing Newton as the -500 favorite to be the Week 1 guy because Stidham is dealing with a hip injury. Newton quickly rose to become the +450 third-favorite to win NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
It might be tough for the Patriots to start strong whomever is under center, given their first seven opponents on the 2020 NFL schedule. In the first eight weeks (the bye comes in Week 6), the Pats and expected starting QB Jarrett Stidham visit Seattle (Week 2), defending Super Bowl-champion Kansas City (Week 4) and Buffalo (Week 8) and also host defending NFC-champion San Francisco (Week 7). The other three games (vs. Miami, vs. Las Vegas, vs. Denver) aren't gimmes either.
When New England opens against the Dolphins, Bill Belichick will be trying to avenge a shocking 27-24 home loss in last year's regular-season finale. The Pats were 17.5-point favorites and cost themselves a first-round playoff bye, accelerating their postseason downfall and perhaps Brady's exit.
Consider backing the Pats in Week 7, when they come off the bye to host the 49ers. The Pats have covered five straight off a bye and are 9-2 ATS in that spot since 2014, winning by an average of 13.5 points.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS BETTING PROFILE
2019 record: 12-4 (first, AFC East)
2019 against the spread: 8-7-1 ATS
2019 ATS margin: +2.4
2019 Over-Under: 7-9 O-U
2020 strength of schedule: Toughest in NFL; Pats' opponents combined for a .537 winning percentage last year (137-118-1).
WILLIAM HILL 2020 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS FUTURES ODDS
Win total: 9.5 (Under -145)
To make playoffs: Yes -200, no +170
Division: +125 to win AFC East
Conference: +850 to win AFC
Super Bowl: +2000 to win SB 55
MVP: QB Cam Newton +3000, RB Sony Michel +20000
Coach of the Year: Bill Belichick +850
Defensive POY: CB Stephon Gilmore +2000
Defensive ROY: S Kyle Dugger +4000
Comeback Player of the Year: QB Cam Newton +450
SportsLine Model's projection: 9.3 (with Newton starting)
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS GAME-BY-GAME BETTING TRENDS
Week 1 vs. Miami, 1 p.m. ET: Even after last year's shocking regular-season finale, the Pats are 14-6 ATS (70 percent) in the last 20 home meetings. The Under is 7-0 when the Patriots are playing a division game with two non-divisional games on deck.
Week 2 at Seattle, 8:20 p.m. ET (SNF): New England is 23-9 (72 percent) ATS in its last 32 games versus NFC teams.
Week 3 vs. Las Vegas, 1 p.m. ET: The Pats are 42-21-3 (67 percent) ATS in their last 66 home games.
Week 4 at Kansas City, 4:25 p.m. ET: The Over is 5-1 in Pats-Chiefs games since Andy Reid took over in K.C. Last year's 23-16 Chiefs' win in Foxborough (O/U 49) ended a five-game Over streak in the series.
Week 5 vs. Denver, 1 p.m. ET: Over the past four years, the Pats are 7-4 ATS when they have a rest disadvantage. (Broncos play on Thursday night in Week 4).
Week 6: Bye
Week 7 vs. San Francisco, 4:25 p.m. ET: The Pats have covered five straight off a bye and are 9-2 ATS in that spot since 2014, winning by an average of 13.5 points.
Week 8 at Buffalo, 1 p.m. ET: The Pats have won nine of their last 10 games in Buffalo, going 7-3 ATS.
Week 9 at NY Jets, 8:15 p.m. ET (MNF): The Pats have won their last two visits by a combined 60-13, part of a 14-7 ATS run against the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Week 10 vs. Baltimore, 8:20 p.m. ET (SNF): The Under is 9-0 the week after New England visits the Jets. Since 2007, the Patriots have only been underdogs 22 times (likely will be here). In those games they're 14-6-2 (70 percent) ATS.
Week 11 at Houston, 1 p.m. ET: The Pats had covered eight straight meetings until losing 28-22 in Houston as 3-point favorites last December
Week 12 at Arizona, 1 p.m. ET: New England is 14-5 (74 percent) ATS vs. NFC foes over the past four years.
Week 13 at LA Chargers, 4:25 p.m. ET: The Pats have won and covered five straight in the series, most recently prevailing 41-28 (-4) in the 2018 Divisional Playoffs.
Week 14 at LA Rams, 8:20 p.m. ET (TNF): New England has covered six straight in the series, the most recent meeting coming in Super Bowl 53 (13-3 Pats).
Week 15 at Miami, 1 p.m. ET: Before their 43-0 cakewalk in Week 2 last year, the Pats had lost five of six in Miami (1-5 ATS).
Week 16 vs. Buffalo, 8:15 p.m. ET (TNF): The Pats have won 17 of the past 20 home meetings, but are just 2-3-1 ATS in the last six, including a half-point cover in Week 16 last year (24-17 win, -6.5).
Week 17 vs. NY Jets, 1 p.m. ET: The Pats have won 11 straight home meetings. Over the last four, New England has outscored the Jets 135-26 while going 3-1 ATS.
EXPERT PLAY FROM SENIOR ANALYST LARRY HARTSTEIN (60 percent ATS last year): Under 9 wins (-115)
Strong-armed second-year pro Jarrett Stidham should develop into a solid starter. But I'm not expecting a ton of success in Year One post-Brady. The Patriots desperately needed a wideout, and somehow they did not add one in a draft loaded with receiver talent. Plus, they face a brutal schedule made more difficult by a fast-improving division. This team won't get to 10 wins, so at worst you're looking at a push. An 8-8 finish seems far more likely.
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS SCHEDULE NOTES
The Patriots have seven games versus 2019 playoff teams: vs. Ravens, vs. 49ers, vs. Bills, at Chiefs, at Seahawks, at Texans, at Bills.
For the second straight year, New England has five prime-time games. They went 3-2 SU and ATS in those contests last year.
One of those marquee games, the Week 11 Sunday nighter vs. Baltimore, happens on a short week with the Pats coming off Monday Night Football at the Jets.
While New England's schedule is the toughest based on 2019 records, it is tied for 13th-hardest based on Vegas win totals.