In the offseason, Bill Belichick showed he was ready to roll the dice. He made bold moves in free agency, drafted a quarterback in the first round, released veteran Cam Newton and triggered a new era in New England by making a rookie his starting QB.
Six weeks into the season, the Patriots are winless on their home field and dealing with a lot of problems, but rookie quarterback Mac Jones is not one. Jones represents the primary reason to be optimistic about the Patriots’ future.
Belichick made the right move by picking Jones 15th overall, and he actually caught a lucky break that Jones was still available. But the coach who runs all aspects of New England’s operation has made costly mistakes that are reflected in the Patriots’ 2-4 record.
Everything was exposed Sunday when Dak Prescott passed for 445 yards — the most ever against a Belichick-coached Patriots defense — in Dallas’ 35-29 win at New England. The overtime result was a heartbreaker for bettors who had the Patriots +3.5, and it was a low blow to bookmakers who needed the underdog to win or at least cover the number.
“That was like a stake through our hearts,” South Point sportsbook director Chris Andrews said. “If New England holds on and wins, we might escape for the day. That was a brutal, brutal finish.”
There will be no crying or sympathy for the bookmakers, who always win in the end, but Week 6 was a big loser for the sportsbooks because too many dogs such as the Patriots came up short.
Favorites finished 7-0 ATS in the day’s early games. There were blowouts (Bengals over Lions, Chiefs over Washington, Colts over Texans, Rams over Giants) and a close call (Packers over Bears) that went Aaron Rodgers’ way in Chicago, as usual.
The bookmakers were at the mercy of the public favorites. The Cowboys, the only NFL team that’s 6-0 ATS, were about as popular as it gets.
“It’s a rough week,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “Everything went south for us. I’ve been through this many times. I’m happy for the players to have a couple good weeks in a row. As a bookmaker, you get through it and look forward to another weekend.”
The Patriots can look forward to another matchup with the Jets. New England beat the Jets 25-6 in Week 2 and is a 7-point favorite in the rematch. Belichick has been unable to take advantage of a soft early schedule that features five home games in the first seven weeks.
After letting the season opener slip away against the Dolphins, who have not won since, the Patriots lost at the wire to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers and let the Cowboys off the hook. Belichick’s defense was a disaster against Dallas, and the inability of his tired defense to get off the field is why Belichick should not have sent in the punter on the first possession of overtime.
Prescott did the predictable. Near the end of the fourth quarter, Prescott hit CeeDee Lamb for a 24-yard pass on third-and-25. In overtime, he connected with Lamb on a 35-yard pass to win the game. New England ranks 17th in the league in total defense, and the personnel Belichick has assembled is not good enough, especially in the secondary.
Always a gambler in the past, Belichick made unconventional moves when the percentages were slightly in his favor. Now, as more NFL coaches are getting smarter about the percentages, Belichick is growing strangely conservative. He’s opting for long field-goal attempts or punts instead of going for it on fourth down.
His offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, is playing it way too close to the vest with play-calling. On a day when Prescott completed 35 of 51 passes, Jones attempted only 21 passes and completed his first 11. Jones has completed 71.1 percent of his passes, which is remarkable for a rookie at this stage of the season, and has seven touchdowns with six interceptions.
Jones is the real deal, and those who don’t see it simply don’t know how to evaluate quarterbacks. He plays intelligently with poise and has the physical tools. McDaniels needs to let him cut it loose, and Belichick’s defense needs to be better.
I truly believe in a few years we will look back on the 2021 draft and rank Jones as the best or second-best quarterback of the five who were picked in the first round. He’s better right now than Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars, Zach Wilson of the Jets, Trey Lance of the 49ers and Justin Fields of the Bears.
Jones is exactly what the Patriots needed to replace Brady as the franchise’s future. Brady is the NFL leader in passing yards with 2,064 through six weeks. The Raiders’ Derek Carr is second with 1,946, and Carr has Las Vegas sitting at 4-2 after passing for 341 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-24 win at Denver, which closed as a 5-point favorite.
“We needed dogs, and the Raiders’ win was a good one for us,” Andrews said. “Everybody bet the Broncos.”
The Raiders were in a tough spot during a week of controversy and distractions after coach Jon Gruden’s abrupt resignation. But the team rallied behind interim coach Rich Bisaccia, and offensive coordinator Greg Olson got Carr back on track with creative play-calling.
Gruden’s absence was not a negative for the Raiders in Denver, but was the team’s performance just a short-term burst after a tumultuous week? Let’s see how the Raiders, who are 0-2 ATS as favorites and 3-1 ATS as underdogs, fare as 3-point home favorites against the Eagles in Week 7. It could be a letdown spot.
“I don’t know how much they lose with losing Gruden because I’m not sure Gruden was a great coach,” said handicapper Scott Kellen, a VSiN analyst. “If the Raiders are dogs, you go with them. But I think laying points with the Raiders is a dangerous proposition.”
The Raiders (Over 7) and Patriots (Over 8.5 and 9) were two of my best bets for season win totals. Ironically, the best coach in NFL history is underachieving in New England, and the team that lost its coach is overachieving in Las Vegas.