AFC East Betting Preview: Are Patriots Still Best Bet To Win Division?

Don't write off the Patriots just yet

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The following is an excerpt from VSiN’s 2020 Pro Football Betting Guide

The favorite: Patriots
It?s not as clear-cut in the East as it has been since early this century. Only once since 2003 has New England failed to win the division. We still back the Patriots, but with some provisos. No more Tom Brady, off to Tampa Bay to ride into the sunset of his career. Wasn?t it the season that Brady missed — 2008 — that the Pats last failed to win the East? That?s true, but Bill Belichick still squeezed 11 wins out of a team with Matt Cassel taking almost all the snaps. And Belichick has won games in recent years with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett taking snaps when Brady was out. Now it looks like Cam Newton will be the man behind center, but the Pats didn?t win the East again for an 11th straight season in 2019 because of the Brady-led offense. The defense ranked best in the league for most of last season and is still probably the most formidable platoon in the division even as Belichick deals with a handful of opt-outs for 2020. The rest of the East looks as if it is closing the gap, and Buffalo is a chic pick to usurp the Pats. But it?s worth noting that it has been a decade since any other East team has won a playoff game, which the Mark Sanchez-led Jets did in 2010. In the end, the edge New England holds over the East is the same as it has been since the Patriots won their first Super Bowl in the 2001 season. Belichick: Bet against him at your own risk.

Live dog: Jets
Since many believe Buffalo is ready to overtake New England and win the East, we can?t really call the Bills underdogs. And since we?re not ready to back the Dolphins, that leaves us with the Jets. Why not? Quietly, coach Adam Gase saved a job that looked precarious at midseason by winning six of the last eight in 2019. Included were wins in the last two, amid rumors of internal strife, one of those effectively knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs. Will they have as much adversity to deal with this season, especially if they avoid another 0-4 start? In the offseason, Gase set about rebuilding his offensive line via free agency, adding versatile pieces to better protect quarterback Sam Darnold, who has been under siege most of his first two seasons. That should allow first-round pick Mekhi Becton, an offensive tackle from Louisville, to ease into the lineup. Second-round pick Denzel Mims, a WR from Baylor, could prove an exciting addition to Darnold?s group of targets, while ageless RB Frank Gore was enlisted in free agency to take some of the load off Le?Veon Bell. General manager Joe Douglas also believes he has ample replacements for safety Jamal Adams, including Bradley McDougald, acquired from Seattle in the same deal that landed the Jets a trove of draft picks down the road. But the key to making a playoff run remains Darnold, now working in the second year of the Gase system with what seems an upgraded supporting cast.

Player props
A slew of Patriots quarterback Cam Newton props are being offered, including some head-to-head props versus other QBs, such as Teddy Bridgewater. The prop that intrigues us the most with Newton is his +360 price to win Comeback Player of the Year. His main competition figures to come from Ben Roethlisberger, but we view this as a two-horse race, with Newton?s price worth a look. Meanwhile, amid the Buffalo ballyhoo is a lot of support for second-year running back Devin Singletary to have a bust-out campaign, though we suspect many of the carries Frank Gore had last season will instead be going to rookie Zack Moss. The Buffalo offense might be leaning on quarterback Josh Allen?s aerial exploits a bit more in the fall.

Big games on the board

Miami at New England, Week 1: As we don?t have a traditional preseason this summer, Sept. 13 will be the first chance we get to see Newton as Brady?s successor with the Patriots. If nothing else, this matchup provides an early barometer of what the Pats? starting point will be post-Brady. Belichick certainly has this one circled versus disciple Brian Flores, whose Dolphins kept the Patriots from a first-round playoff bye with a shocking win in Week 17 last December at Gillette Stadium.

New York Jets at Buffalo, Week 1: Another Week 1 game, but we think this one is key, too. Remember last September, when these two met in the opener at MetLife and the Bills narrowly won 17-16? That result set the tone for both in the first half of the season, and consequences could be similarly high for this year?s opener. Besides, even Hoda Kotb and Al Roker can tell you Gase is well advised to get off to a fast start to avoid the Big Apple tabloids starting to beat the drums for another coaching change.

Kansas City at Buffalo, Week 6: This Thursday night special on Oct. 15 ought to provide a chance for the Bills to legitimize themselves as serious contenders in front of a national audience if they can make a fist against Patrick Mahomes and the Super Bowl champs. Or it could illustrate how far they are from serious contention. This could be a watershed game.

New England at Los Angeles Rams, Week 14: Since the Patriots were scheduled to play the Chargers and the Rams on the road, the NFL decided to give Belichick a bit of a break and schedule the games back to back at the new SoFi Stadium in early December. The Rams battle is on a Thursday, creating the odd dynamic of the visiting team already being in town before the hosts get back the preceding Sunday night from a date vs. the Cardinals in Phoenix. That day, New England will play at SoFi against the Chargers. By this point in the season we should have an idea whether the Newton experiment has worked for the Patriots, though it?s also possible we could see two teams that have fallen from the heights after meeting in Super Bowl LIII just 22 months earlier.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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