As long as Tom Brady shows no signs of old age, and Bill Belichick continues to coach with the same edge, there’s no sense in betting on the New England Patriots to break down and decline.
There’s no sense in staring at the midday sun or wrestling an alligator, either, but some people do it. Maybe the challenge of pulling off a ridiculous feat is tempting.
Maybe it’s better to bet on the Patriots, which is what some sensible people did Sunday when NFL regular-season win totals were posted for 2017. New England’s total opened at 11 and immediately was bet to 11½.
South Point sports book director Chris Andrews said he almost opened the higher number, but he adjusted it quickly, and don’t count on seeing 11 show again this summer.
Here’s why: In the past seven seasons, New England won 14, 12, 12, 12, 12, 13 and 14 games. It’s highly unlikely the Patriots will slip to 10 wins this season, so betting under 11 is senseless.
Brady will turn 40 in August, yet he’s still the best or second-best quarterback in the league. Three months ago, he passed for 466 yards and overcame a 25-point third-quarter deficit to win his fifth Super Bowl with Belichick alongside.
New England reached 14 wins last season despite Brady sitting out a four-game suspension.
It’s true the Patriots face some tough spots on their schedule — including road games against Denver, New Orleans and Pittsburgh — but they have handled a similar schedule each year, and the rest of the AFC East is as weak as ever.
There’s a chance New England will go off as the favorite in all 16 games. So, all factors considered, playing over 11 was a great bet and playing over 11½ still is a good idea. Really, only an injury to Brady would put the bet in jeopardy … but Jimmy Garoppolo is not a bad backup plan.
Other opinions on the South Point’s opening numbers:
Arizona Cardinals (Over 7½, minus-110)
The Cardinals won 13 games two years ago before dipping to 7-8-1 last season, when a plus-56 point differential indicated they were not far from being a better team. This is probably quarterback Carson Palmer’s final year, if he can make it through December, and that’s a potential problem. Larry Fitzgerald, who led the league with 107 receptions, remains a threat. David Johnson is a difference-maker at running back. Bruce Arians is a reliable coach. Arizona’s top two draft picks were big-time defensive players. With the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco still among the league’s bottom feeders, the Cardinals should at least be a .500 team.
Atlanta Falcons (Under 10, minus-120)
No matter how talented a roster is, the Super Bowl hangover is the real deal. Ask the Carolina Panthers, who dropped from 15 wins to 6-10 last season. Matt Ryan took the next step to become an elite quarterback, and he has all sorts of weapons, so there’s a lot to like about Atlanta. Still, the Falcons needed to close last season with a four-game win streak to reach 11-5. Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay all appear to be improved in the NFC South.
Chicago Bears (Under 5, minus-110)
Seven teams finished with five or fewer wins last season — including the Bears (3-13) — and the same was true in 2015. Chicago shows no signs of escaping that cellar this season. The quarterback situation could prove toxic. Mike Glennon was guaranteed $18.5 million just a month before the team made a strange trade up for Mitchell Trubisky to be the quarterback of the future. The Bears’ best offensive player, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, was allowed to flee to Philadelphia. John Fox is a coach walking into a bear trap.
Cincinnati Bengals (Under 8½, plus-100)
A fish rots from the head down. Cincinnati is a rotten organization, starting with owner Mike Brown. It was fine for a team to draft Joe Mixon, the former troubled running back from Oklahoma, but why did it have to be the Bengals? The locker room already has some bad characters in it. Andy Dalton is a good guy but only a slightly above-average quarterback. Pittsburgh and Baltimore again will lead the way in the AFC North. Cincinnati, 6-9-1 last season, does not look anything like a nine-win team.
Dallas Cowboys (Over 9½, minus-120)
This will be considered a square opinion, but so be it. The Cowboys are set up to regress after a stunning 13-win season. Dak Prescott was a rookie sensation who’s probably due for a sophomore slide. He still will be good enough that Dallas regressing to 10 or 11 wins is realistic. The offensive talent is undeniable, and the defense just improved in the draft. The NFC East is up for grabs, yet the other three teams have more flaws than the Cowboys.
Green Bay Packers (Over 10, plus-100)
Aaron Rodgers ran the table, just as he promised, by winning six straight to finish 10-6. The Packers addressed some of the problems with their terrible pass defense in a solid draft. In the past seven seasons, Green Bay won 10, 10, 12, 8, 11, 15 and 10 games. Obviously, the Packers would have to slip to nine wins to lose this bet. Rodgers remains by far the best quarterback in the NFC North, so betting over 10 at even money is a reasonable risk.
Los Angeles Rams (Under 5½, plus-100)
Jeff Fisher took some hard knocks last season. If he was tired of coaching 8-8 teams, how did 4-12 feel? The Rams were a train wreck, ranking last in the league in total offense (262 yards per game) and scoring offense (14.0). Jared Goff has a long way to go to become a competent NFL quarterback. The Rams treated their new fans in L.A. to a 1-7 home record, and another dull season is on the horizon. St. Louis football fans should be happy this team left town.
Minnesota Vikings (Under 8½, minus-110)
A sturdy defense coached by Mike Zimmer will help the Vikings win some games. The forecast here is not enough to push this over the total. Sam Bradford is as mobile as a mannequin and no better than an average quarterback. Minnesota started last year 5-0 and finished 3-8. The truth was and still is in the middle.
New Orleans Saints (Under 8½, minus-120)
After three consecutive 7-9 seasons, the Saints suddenly are going to surge to nine wins? More positives are evident in this team. The defense figures to be improved, and the running back position is stacked with Mark Ingram, Adrian Peterson and rookie Alvin Kamara. Drew Brees, the NFL leader in passing yards in five of the past six seasons, has the weapons to continue to orchestrate one of the league’s highest-scoring offenses. But New Orleans did deal big-play wideout Brandin Cooks to New England (as if Brady needed more help), and we need to see proof the defense is significantly improved. It will be tough to climb to nine in the competitive NFC South.
New York Jets (Under 5½, plus-100)
Sometimes, it’s too easy to predict bad teams to stay under low win totals. But most times, the really bad teams stay that way, especially if the quarterback depth chart is topped by Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg. This league is first about quarterbacks. It’s also about coaches, but the sleepy, uninspired Todd Bowles might not be able to coach a cat to chase a mouse.
Pittsburgh Steelers (Over 10½, minus-120)
The flaws in the Steelers surface when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is injured or Mike Tomlin is forced to coach a defense against Brady and the Patriots. Otherwise, Pittsburgh is built to be one of the top three or four teams in the league. It just got stronger on both sides of the ball after an outstanding draft. The Steelers finished last season 11-5 and on a seven-game win streak that was no fluke. Roethlisberger was wise to ignore those nagging retirement thoughts because he’s headed for a huge year, health permitting.
Seattle Seahawks (Under 10½, minus-110)
Off of a 10-win season, Seattle is showing signs of decline. The defense is not what it was two years ago, with cornerback Richard Sherman at least hinting at wanting a trade and safety Earl Thomas returning from a broken leg. The running attack is not as strong without Marshawn Lynch, and quarterback Russell Wilson is working behind a leaky offensive line. The Seahawks open at Green Bay and also face the NFC East, so their schedule is no cupcake.
Tennessee Titans (Under 9½, minus-120)
This is no knock on Marcus Mariota, who’s a true franchise quarterback. He passed for 26 touchdowns before getting knocked out with a broken leg in late December. The Titans have yet to prove they can be consistent winners, however. This was a 3-13 team in 2015. The jump to nine wins last season caught everyone by surprise. When a team improves by six wins, some regression is no surprise. It would take a big leap of faith to forecast 10 wins this season.
Washington Redskins (Under 7½, plus-100)
The Redskins needed defensive help, and they found it in a productive draft. The bottom line, though, is this is a fragile team because of quarterback Kirk Cousins’ shaky status. He does not appear to be in D.C. for the long haul, and that’s a short-term problem. Most signs are pointing to Cousins being in San Francisco this time next year. With a quarterback and a coach (Jay Gruden) on thin ice, Washington could be sinking to the bottom of the NFC East.
This is the view on the first day of May. August might call for an audible or two, but this writer rarely changes plays and never wrestles alligators.