Already stuck with two double-digit losses and an injured quarterback, Patriots coach Bill Belichick is facing long odds as he stumbles into foreign territory Sunday.
New England opened the week as a double-digit underdog and could close as one, too. How rare are these occasions? The Patriots are on the brink of being double-digit dogs for the first time since Week 4 of the 2020 season and for only the fourth time since 2001, in Tom Brady’s first year as the starting quarterback.
Mac Jones might eventually become the next Brady, but he’s not there yet and he’s not going to be New England’s starter at Green Bay. Jones is out with a high-ankle sprain. Brian Hoyer, who has lost 11 consecutive starts, gets the relief assignment opposite Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field.
This is not the same Belichick who bettors banked on for two decades. His defense is not among the NFL’s best, his quarterback is a career backup and his offensive coordinator is a former defensive coach. This is strange, but it’s also reality.
Belichick had no answers in Week 3 as Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson accounted for 325 total yards, including 107 on the ground, and five touchdowns in Baltimore’s 37-26 win. Rodgers is a much different type of quarterback because he’s not a running threat, so that should be a positive for the Patriots in this matchup.
Rodgers is not leading on an explosive offense, either. With a new group of receivers, the Packers are using a ball-control passing attack. In a 14-12 win at Tampa Bay, Rodgers relied mostly on short throws as 22 of his 27 completions were within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Green Bay scored a total of three second-half points in its past two games.
In the past, when Belichick was getting points, you almost always took them. The present is a different story. It’s now a case of hoping Belichick can design a defensive scheme to contain Rodgers and an offense that’s lacking big-play firepower.
Hoyer was the starter in Week 4 of the 2020 season when the Patriots took a 26-10 loss at Kansas City. This should be a similarly low-scoring game, and kicker Nick Folk could make the difference in terms of covering the spread. Folk has made 57 consecutive field-goal attempts from inside 50 yards.
DraftKings opened the Patriots as 11-point dogs, and I made a bet at + 10.5. I played the Patriots in both major Las Vegas contests — the Circa Millions and Westgate SuperContest — getting 9.5 points. Public action on the Packers will probably push the line back to double digits before kickoff. With some luck, Belichick can cover the big number.
Pick: Patriots + 9.5
Here are four more plays for Week 4:
VIKINGS (-3) over Saints: Wake up early for this one in London. It’s not a prime-time kickoff in this country, so Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins should be fine. In fact, Cousins passed for 458 yards the last time he played in London. The Vikings are clearly the better team, and the Saints are banged up. New Orleans will be without wideout Michael Thomas and quarterback Jameis Winston is doubtful. Either way, Cousins should be able to beat Winston or Andy Dalton.
STEELERS (-3) over Jets: Second-year quarterback Zach Wilson is off the injury report and ready to start, but that seems like a good reason to bet against the Jets. Wilson has not played since the preseason opener when he suffered a knee injury. The Pittsburgh defense is not getting much pressure on quarterbacks without injured edge rusher T.J. Watt, but the pass defense remains solid. The biggest mystery in this handicap is whether Mitch Trubisky can spark a sleepy Steelers offense and do enough to cover.
RAIDERS (-2.5) over Broncos: The honeymoon in Vegas is over for new Raiders coach Josh McDaniels. This is an ideal situational spot for the only 0-3 team in the league. Expect the short home favorite to play with great urgency, and look for the Derek Carr-Davante Adams connection to resemble Week 1, when Adams had 10 receptions for 141 yards against the Chargers. Denver is 2-1 yet ranks 30th in scoring offense at 14.3 points per game. Russell Wilson took four sacks and his offense had nine three-and-outs in a hideous 11-10 victory over the 49ers on Monday night. It’s simply a must-win situation for the Raiders.
49ERS (-1.5) over Rams: San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan had a six-game winning streak against Rams coach Sean McVay before McVay won their most important meeting in the NFC title game in January. That seemed to be the end of the Jimmy Garoppolo era, but he’s back and has something to prove after Monday’s debacle in Denver. Shanahan’s offense is sputtering, averaging only 15.7 PPG to rank 28th in the league. The continued return to health of tight end George Kittle, who missed the first two games, should be a boost.
Last week: 5-0 against the spread