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Patriots schedule, 2021 NFL odds: Cam Newton favored over Mac Jones to start Week 1 vs. Dolphins; Tom Brady returns to New England Week 4

No team was more active this offseason in free agency than Bill Belichick's Patriots. Will it result in a return to the playoffs?
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SportsLine oddsmakers list Cam Newton as the -300 favorite to be the Week 1 starter at quarterback for the New England Patriots against the visiting Miami Dolphins over rookie first-round pick Mac Jones (+300). New England opened as a 2-point favorite on the William Hill Sportsbook NFL odds. However, the game most Pats fans will circle first this year is Week 4 as Tom Brady (and Rob Gronkowski) returns to Foxboro for a prime-time epic.

The most dynastic run in NFL history ended last season for the Pats thanks in large part to Brady leaving for Tampa Bay. With awful play at quarterback, mostly from Newton, the 2020 Patriots finished 7-9. It was Bill Belichick's first time not winning the AFC East and missing the playoffs since 2008 and the Pats' first losing record since 2000 – the year they drafted Brady in the sixth round. After an incredibly busy offseason, New England is given an Over/Under win total of 9 at William Hill Sportsbook for 2021; the SportsLine Projection Model has the Pats at 9.2 victories.

While New England's offseason began with the re-signing of Newton to a one-year deal, in a bit of a surprise considering his struggles in 2020, and a trade for ex-Pro Bowl offensive tackle Trent Brown from the Raiders, things really got crazy in mid-March when free agency opened. The Patriots' $159.6 million in guaranteed money spent on free agents signed after the start of the 2021 league year on March 17 set an NFL record.

That was incredibly out of character for Belichick, but New England had a ton of cap room and it was a depressed market with so many other teams tight up against the lower salary cap.

Newton will have a MUCH better group of pass-catchers this year with the additions of tight ends Jonnu Smith (Titans) and Hunter Henry (Chargers). The Patriots have had the NFL's lowest pass-catching production from tight ends over the past two seasons.

In addition, receivers Nelson Agholor (Raiders) and Kendrick Bourne (49ers) were signed. Agholor averaged 18.7 yards per catch last season in a breakout season for the Raiders. Bourne rose from undrafted free agent in 2017 to a No. 3 receiver in San Francisco in 2020 and should fill the spot left by Pats fan-favorite Julian Edelman, who was released in a cost-cutting move and then retired. Jones, meanwhile, was selected at No. 15 overall -- the fifth and final quarterback chosen in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft. At least Belichick didn't have to trade up to get him. 

Defensively, the Patriots added pass-rush help with former Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon, who has 34.5 sacks over his first five NFL seasons. The team also brought back linebacker Kyle Van Noy after one disappointing season in Miami and signed safety Jalen Mills (Eagles). Linebacker Dont'a Hightower returns after opting-out of 2020. Another opt-out, safety Patrick Chung, retired.

A few other players on both sides of the ball were added/lost/re-signed. An arguably certainly can be made no team improved more on paper this offseason than the Patriots, but it won't matter if the quarterback play doesn't improve.

The Patriots' 2021 schedule is ranked as the 19th-toughest in the league as their 17 opponents – hosting Dallas is the 17th game -- were a combined 133-139-0 last season.

New England Patriots trends/William Hill Sportsbook odds

  • 2020 record: 7-9 (7-9 against the spread, 5-10-1 Over/Under)
  • 2021 strength of schedule rank: 19th (opponents' combined winning percentage of .489)
  • 2021 Over/Under win total: 9
  • SportsLine Projection Model forecasted wins: 9.2
  • Odds to win Super Bowl 56: +3000
  • To win AFC: +1500
  • To win AFC East: +375
  • To make playoffs: No -150, yes +125
  • NFL MVP odds: None

New England Patriots Schedule

Week 1 vs. Miami Dolphins: Pats' lone SU & ATS loss in past nine at home vs. Fins was 27-24 loss two years ago

Week 2 at New York Jets: Jets are 6-4 ATS in past 10 at home in series after 30-27 loss last year

Week 3 vs. New Orleans Saints: First meeting between teams since 36-20 Pats road win in 2017

Week 4 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (SNF): Tom Brady returns to Foxboro; think this may do decent TV ratings?

Week 5 at Houston Texans: Houston hosted Pats last year and Texans won 27-20 as 2.5-point dogs

Week 6 vs. Dallas Cowboys: Added 17th opponent; in 2019, Patriots beat visiting Cowboys 13-9

Week 7 vs. New York Jets: Gang Green hasn't won a regular-season road game in series since 2008

Week 8 at Los Angeles Chargers: New England's best game of 2020 was a 45-0 blowout at the Chargers

Week 9 at Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton, assuming healthy, faces his former team for first time

Week 10 vs. Cleveland Browns: Cleveland has dropped all five trips to New England since return to NFL  

Week 11 at Atlanta Falcons (TNF): New England 6-0 SU & ATS in past six overall in series, including Super Bowl comeback

Week 12 vs. Tennessee Titans: Tom Brady's Patriots career ended with playoff home upset to Titans

Week 13 at Buffalo Bills (MNF): New England 7-3 ATS in past 10 at Buffalo and covered close loss in 2020

Week 14 BYE

Week 15 at Indianapolis Colts: Indy has covered just two of past 10 at home in regular-season series

Week 16 vs. Buffalo Bills: Buffalo's three-game skid at Foxboro ended last year in 38-9 blowout win

Week 17 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: Pats are 4-0 (3-1 ATS) at home in series, last hosting in 2015

Week 18 at Miami Dolphins: Pats have covered just three of past 10 trips to South Florida

Where does every player appear in our 2021 Fantasy football rankings? And which rookie quarterback will provide shocking value? Join SportsLine right now to get 2021 Fantasy football rankings, all from the model that simulated the entire season 10,000 times.

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