Betting the New England Patriots is complicated this year.
The roster didn’t really improve off a 10-7 campaign and there are plenty of valid questions surrounding the team. Can any cornerback slow an opponent’s top receiver? Is DeVante Parker a legit No. 1 wideout? And the biggest question of all: which play-caller who has never called plays will be running the offense?
It’s difficult to feel great about taking the Pats “Over” or “Under” the win total (8.5), I don’t like them to unseat the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East and there’s no way I’m laying -200 on them to miss the playoffs.
Enter NESN Patriots beat writer Zack Cox, somebody who is around the team every day.
“I would expect more passing this year,” Cox forecasted. “I don’t think they’re going to be quite as run-heavy because of the scheme changes. They don’t have the fullback in there anymore. They don’t have that traditional, power running game. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson will get a lot of work, but you should expect to see strides from Mac Jones thanks to an improved pass-catching group and a playmaker like DeVante Parker.
“I think you’ll see a better statistical passing season from Jones this year.”
Jones’ passing yardage prop is O/U 3,850.5 and his touchdown passes number is as low as O/U 22.5 in the betting market. If you’re feeling froggy, you could dabble on most passing yards at 40-1, most passing touchdowns at 60-1 or Most Valuable Player as high as 65-1.
“I like the ‘Over’ on touchdown passes,” Cox admitted. “They’re going to put more on Mac’s plate and trust him more given the traditional jump from a rookie year to year two. I don’t think they’re going to protect him as much with the play-calling. You’ll see more aggressiveness from the passing offense.”
Tight end Hunter Henry was a red-zone monster last year with nine touchdown catches and it’s fair to say he’ll remain Jones’ favorite weapon inside the 20. However, it’s the forgotten tight end — Jonnu Smith — who has really been turning heads at training camp.
Smith only caught 28 passes and one touchdown last season and not a single American sportsbook is dealing player props on him for the coming season. You should still expect him to be more involved.
“Smith has looked a lot more comfortable this year,” Cox explained. “He didn’t participate in any of the OTAs last year, then instantly got hurt in mini camp, then got hurt again in training camp. It kind of threw off his entire acclimation process with the Patriots’ offense.
“He was at OTAs this year, he’s been healthy and he’s been very heavily involved in this offense as a pass catcher. We’ve also seen him take handoffs out of the backfield and on end-arounds and jet sweeps. Given all the money the Patriots are paying him, they had to have sat down this offseason and thought about how to accentuate him and utilize his skills in more ways.
“There’s a chance Smith is a legit weapon in this offense this year.”
I thought it was fitting to ask Cox about the AFC East’s second tier. Everybody knows the Bills have the most-talented roster and they’re Super Bowl favorites for all the right reasons. Second place is right there for the taking, though, if the Patriots’ issues aren’t as problematic as they appear on the surface.
So who wins more games, Miami or New England?
“I think they both finish around nine,” Cox said after a deep breath. “I’m going to say the Patriots win more games. That’s a bit of a gamble because the Dolphins have more talent, especially the offensive end of the ball. But there’s something to be said about having a first-year head coach and I’m not sold on Tua Tagovailoa as a starting quarterback by any means.
“I’ll go nine wins for the Patriots and eight for the Dolphins.”
When it comes to betting New England, I love Cox’s assessment of Jones and agree on the touchdown tosses. He is definitely the most important Patriot and after two straight years of relying on the running game and a stingy defense, New England needs its quarterback of the future to guide the ship.
In 17 regular-season games, it’s very possible that Jones throws 30 touchdowns.
Mac Jones “Over” 22.5 passing touchdowns (-112)
RECORD: (118-124, +21.7)