At the polls, which we know as the betting windows, public support is fading fast for the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady ticket. Voter confidence in the New England Patriots has plummeted and many longtime loyalists are switching sides.
This happened a few times in the past, of course, and sticking with the Patriots always paid off. This time might be different.
It’s an odd year in the NFL. There is no elite team, and star players are dropping like flies. What’s really strange is how bad Belichick’s defense has become and how poorly New England has played at home.
Some things remain the same. The office of the commissioner is tangled in a court battle, the officiating is a mess, the Cleveland Browns are winless and the Atlanta Falcons still know how to blow big leads.
A Super Bowl rematch takes the spotlight Sunday night, but it’s not about revenge. That’s no factor at all in handicapping another Falcons-Patriots showdown. A regular-season win by Atlanta would in no way erase the memory of its historic Super Bowl collapse.
On the first Sunday in February, when VSiN debuted on the air, the Falcons led 28-3 in the third quarter. Brent Musburger, holding a ticket on Atlanta, put on his coat and hat and swaggered to the studio door. “Turn out the lights, folks, the party’s over,” he said.
Never count out those Patriots. But what about these Patriots? These are not the same teams that met when everything was on the line. These teams are far worse.
Belichick is overseeing the league’s 32nd-ranked defense that has yielded six straight 300-yard passers and an astounding 440.7 yards per game. The personnel is not there for Belichick to clean up the mess overnight. Bet on Matt Ryan throwing for more than 300 yards, too.
But the Falcons also have plenty of problems. Ryan just lost a 17-0 lead on his home field, and Julio Jones has zero touchdown receptions this season. Atlanta (3-2) is 0-2 against AFC East opponents (Buffalo and Miami) and just two plays from being 1-4, barely dodging defeats at Chicago and Detroit. Bigfoot might be a myth, but the Super Bowl hangover is not.
Brady is not the Patriots’ problem. Brady has 13 touchdown passes with two interceptions while ranking No. 2 in the league with 1,959 passing yards. (By comparison, the slumping Ryan has six TD passes and has six picks.) When Brady has to deliver under pressure, he still does.
At home, New England (4-2) is 1-2 and dangerously close to 0-3. That makes no sense for a team projected by some to go 16-0. Just as it’s hard to believe in Belichick’s defense, there are few reasons to believe in the Falcons.
So this is a vote for Brady and a bet on the Patriots as 3-point favorites. Go with the money quarterback at a bargain price, and here are four more picks for Week 7 (home team in CAPS):
* BEARS (plus-3) over Panthers: The Carolina defense will miss middle linebacker Luke Kuechly (concussion) against the Jordan Howard-led Chicago running attack. The Bears, 3-0 against the spread at home, rank No. 6 in total defense. If the good version of Cam Newton shows up for the Panthers, the Bears will need rookie Mitchell Trubisky to make more big plays in the passing game, and Trubisky is capable.
* PACKERS (plus-4) over Saints: Before the injury to Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay was posted as a 6½-point home favorite over New Orleans. The 11-point line swing looks like an overreaction. A little of that line inflation is due to the Saints, who have won three straight, showing significant improvement. Drew Brees should beat Brett Hundley. Still, Brees and the Saints are not at their best on grass in bad weather conditions. Hundley is in his third year in the offense and had a full week to prepare. He’s working with a talented receiving corps (Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams, Randall Cobb, Martellus Bennett), good running backs (Ty Montgomery, Aaron Jones) and a line that is finally back to full strength. New Orleans ranks 26th in total defense, 12 spots below Green Bay. This calls for a play on the disrespected home ‘dog.
* 49ERS (plus-6½) over Cowboys: The Dallas defense will get a boost from the return of middle linebacker Sean Lee, but it’s still the league’s 29th-ranked scoring defense (26.4 points per game). The Cowboys are not consistent enough offensively to trust laying a touchdown. San Francisco has lost each of its past five games by three points or fewer. While rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard is no star, he can provide the 49ers with more of a spark than Brian Hoyer.
* Broncos (-1) over CHARGERS: The league’s worst run defense (152.5 yards per game) should put the Chargers on their heels against C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles. Denver ranks No. 1 in total defense and No. 2 against the run. Bet on a good team off of a bad loss, and the Broncos might actually have the home-fan advantage in Los Angeles. Philip Rivers and the Chargers are better in the road ‘dog role for a reason.
Last week: 3-2 against the spread