A quarterback competition is developing in Patriots camp, and it won’t stay under the media radar for long. Sooner or later, rookie Mac Jones will pass veteran Cam Newton in the race to be the starter.
Bill Belichick’s attempt at a bounce-back year appears to be one of the NFL’s most intriguing storylines, beginning with a big decision the New England coach might be forced to make after evaluating his top two quarterbacks in August.
Jones, the 15th overall pick in the draft, is considered the future and the heir apparent to Tom Brady. Belichick has named Newton the starter for now. But if Jones continues to develop in the preseason, his future figures to arrive sooner than initially expected.
The Newton-Jones duel might make the Patriots a bet-on team in the preseason, when quarterback competitions become a high-priority handicapping angle.
“I am high on the Patriots,” said VSiN analyst Michael Lombardi, a former NFL executive who worked in the New England organization in 2014-15. “I think they can win 10 games, and I have faith in Belichick. I know they really like Mac Jones a lot. Will he beat out Cam by Week 1? I don’t know. If they can get anything from the quarterback position, they’re going to be OK.”
Belichick plans to start Newton, but he might play only one or two series when the Patriots open the preseason Thursday as 2-point home underdogs to Washington. Jones is the current No. 2, ahead of Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham.
The Patriots played three quarterbacks last season — Newton, Hoyer and Stidham — who combined for 10 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. Newton was the team’s second-leading rusher with 592 yards. New England ranked 27th in the league in scoring offense at 20.4 points per game. The Patriots upgraded their quarterback depth chart significantly by drafting Jones and added playmakers to an offense that lacked big-play ability.
Jones, who led Alabama to the national championship last season, is a rhythm passer and a good fit for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ system. Newton is more of a read-option running threat, so the Patriots essentially operate different offenses with Newton and Jones.
“For me in preseason, I look at the coaches’ interest in winning, offensive lines and quarterbacks,” Lombardi said.
Belichick is off a 7-9 finish, his first losing season since 2000 and his first regular season with fewer than 10 wins since 2002. The BetMGM win total for the Patriots is 9.5. After beefing up the offensive line and rebuilding the defense, Belichick must find an answer to the quarterback question and seems likely to put more emphasis on the three preseason games.
Based on experience and talent, the Patriots’ quarterback rotation is one of the strongest in the league. Here’s a look at some of the best and worst QB rotations heading into the preseason.
Bears: First-round pick Justin Fields from Ohio State will get a thorough audition. Fields’ mobility should help him move the ball when the offensive line breaks down, something that will happen more frequently when backups play this month. Coach Matt Nagy will give Fields a long look Saturday against the Dolphins. Andy Dalton is the starter, and former Super Bowl winner Nick Foles is No. 3, unless he’s traded.
Bills: Josh Allen is rising into the elite category as a starter, so his August action will be limited. He’s backed up by former Bears starter Mitchell Trubisky, Jake Fromm and Davis Webb, a third-round pick by the Giants in 2017. Trubisky, Fromm and Webb are not quarterbacks you want to bet on in the regular season, but these games are handicapped differently.
49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo is the starter, but rookie Trey Lance is having a strong camp and the No. 3 pick will see extensive playing time. Josh Rosen and Nate Sudfeld are experienced backups for coach Kyle Shanahan.
Jaguars: Urban Meyer plans to play No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence along with last year’s starter, Gardner Minshew. C.J. Beathard and Jake Luton are solid backups. A perfect storm is brewing in Jacksonville with a new coach who’s motivated to win and two good quarterbacks competing for the top job. Sharp bettors picked up on these angles last week, when the Browns-Jaguars line moved 5.5 points in favor of Jacksonville.
Raiders: Fact or fantasy, Jon Gruden considers himself an expert quarterbacks coach and will want to evaluate Marcus Mariota and Nathan Peterman behind Derek Carr. Gruden likes to win preseason games, and Las Vegas looks like a good bet Saturday as a 1.5-point home favorite over Seattle.
“I ranked who I think has the best QB rotations and, to the other extreme, which teams have the most concern,” VSiN oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo said. “I think the Raiders are one of the teams in the best shape. With Carr and Mariota, the Raiders really have two starters.”
Bengals: The backup plan to Joe Burrow, who’s returning from an injury-shortened rookie season, is not promising with Brandon Allen, Kyle Shurmur and Eric Dungey.
“Who are you going to beat with those guys?” Lombardi asked. “A team I think is going to be bad is Cincinnati.”
Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa is followed by Colts castoff Jacoby Brissett and Reid Sinnett, who went undrafted out of the University of San Diego.
“A team that should really be concerned is Miami,” Magliulio said. “You can’t like what you were seeing out of Tua last year, and he has not been great in camp.”
Jets: Second overall pick Zach Wilson is already going through rookie growing pains in practice, and the cast behind him is weak: Mike White, James Morgan and Josh Johnson.
“I think the Jets would be a bad team in preseason,” Lombardi said.
Lions: Rams reject Jared Goff is backed up by David Blough and Tim Boyle. Blough and Boyle are not terrible, yet they rank in the bottom half of the league when comparing teams’ Nos. 2 and 3 quarterbacks.
Rams: Matthew Stafford will not play a snap in the preseason, says coach Sean McVay. John Wolford won’t either after an appendectomy. Bryce Perkins and Devlin Hodges will play a lot for McVay, who cares little about winning in August.
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