The start of the NFL free agency period was a glorified hunting season for the New England Patriots.
Head coach and general manager Bill Belichick opened up the pocketbook multiple times to reshape a roster that lacked talent on both sides of the ball. The Pats brought in Johnnu Smith, Hunter Henry, Matthew Judon and Nelson Agholor to name a few. They also brought back Trent Brown, Ted Karras and Kyle Van Noy and re-signed David Andrews and James White.
Bookmakers have certainly been paying attention to the myriad of moves.
“The Patriots made some serious upgrades,” PointsBet Sportsbook senior sports analyst Andrew Mannino told NESN. “They’re spending a lot of money, but they’re also addressing needs and getting quality players into that room. These are calculated decisions and smart roster fits. You have to believe Belichick knows what he’s doing.
“We’re so used to seeing the Patriots dominate everything year in and year out. They got a bit humbled last year and you can see that they didn’t like it.”
Money wagered certainly changes the betting odds, but respect can also move the meter behind the counter. After the spending spree, every American sportsbook shortened their future odds on the Patriots in the divisional, conference and Super Bowl markets.
“We had them at +480 to win the AFC East and moved that in to +425,” Mannino explained. “For the conference, we had them at +2000 and moved that to +1500. And we moved them from +4000 to +3000 to win it all. We definitely made our adjustments.
“It’s more than the signings of Johnnu Smith and Hunter Henry,” Mannino continued. “Van Noy and Karras are great adds and solid fits. The patches they’re putting on aren’t with flashy, skill position players. They’re building real depth at key positions.”
In the modern-day NFL, it’s hard to make a playoff run without solid quarterback play. Sure, the circumstances weren’t great for Cam Newton a season ago, but it’s hard to ignore the numbers. In no world will eight touchdown passes and 10 interceptions get the job done.
“Nobody expected Cam to play the way he did last year,” Mannino admitted. “Many of us in the trading room expected him to get back to the level he played at in Carolina. That obviously didn’t happen. So can he take a step forward with another year of tutelage in the Patriots’ system? Or is the ceiling set with what he can accomplish there? I’ll be watching closely.”
Mannino said PointsBet would immediately shorten New England to 15-to-1 if they acquired a quarterback like Deshaun Watson to run the offense.
“The Pats would have lower odds than the Rams, Ravens and Niners if that happened,” he forecasted. “Now you’ve got me all excited. The potential for that Patriots-Bills divisional game in December is really exciting.”
Until New England makes a notable upgrade at quarterback, sportsbooks will keep Buffalo as a sizable favorite to win the AFC East for the second straight season. It all makes sense given how quarterback Josh Allen put up MVP-caliber numbers with 13 wins and 45 total touchdowns.
“It’s their division to lose,” Mannino said. “The room feels the Bills will pick up right where they left off and continue to steamroll lesser team and stack wins.”
Still, there’s no doubt that New England is a much better football team than they were two weeks ago.
“If they went 7-9 last season with [that] roster, I think they get to the other side in 2021,” Mannino predicted. “They’re better than .500. The real problem is that the AFC is stacked. Especially with Buffalo and Kansas City at the top. Anybody that is trying to make noise in the AFC is going to have to get through those two teams.
“The Patriots are much improved after all these moves, but until they address the quarterback position, I’m not sure they’re ready to compete with the big boys.”