The New England Patriots not only lost their Super Bowl title, but rumors are swirling about Bill Belichick's future as well as a host of off-field issues. Let's determine why the Pats are still the bookmakers' choice to hoist the Lombardi Trophy next season.
The New England Patriots are favored on the NFL odds board to return to the top of the football world in 2018. However, with all the changes and distractions facing the franchise, does that make sense?
No Butler Services Required
There is a firestorm brewing in New England regarding Coach Bill Belichick's decision to bench starting cornerback Malcolm Butler, the hero of Super Bowl XLIX three years ago, right before game time of this year's Super Bowl. It is rumored that backup Eric Rowe was not even aware of his promotion to the starting unit until moments before the game started. The demotion was allegedly a confluence of illness, tardiness and naughtiness on Butler's part.
However, all of Patriot Nation and even most of the New England players themselves cannot understand why -- after getting torched by the Eagles on the league's biggest stage -- Belichick didn't eventually put Butler in the game. The stat sheet recorded just one special-teams play for the man who started more than 97 percent of New England's defensive plays this season. In typical Belichick fashion, the future Hall of Fame coach has imparted little as to why he refused to play Butler. Needless to say, this has not gone over well with anyone, including Butler's teammates, and it could be the first time during his storied tenure that Belichick has lost control of the locker room.
Tom Brady and Belichick are cemented as the greatest quarterback/coach tandem in the history of the sport. There has always been a mutual admiration between the two, although to say they are friends would be overdoing it. They will spend hours together reviewing game footage in the office, but you won't catch them sharing a golf cart on the fairway. However, the specter of another GQ model type turned quarterback named Jimmy Garoppolo was one too many for Tom "Mirror, mirror, on the wall" Brady.
Brady wanted him gone but Belichick wanted him to stay. The story goes that Brady went to the very top and convinced team owner Bob Kraft to muscle Belichick into trading the backup quarterback away. Prior to the season, Belichick could have easily dealt Jimmy G for at least a first-round draft pick and a few other goodies, but he spurned all overtures. Then, at the beginning of November, Belichick made just one call to one team and sent Garoppolo to San Francisco for the 49ers' second-round pick.
Garoppolo has since reignited that franchise and is the west coast's version of Tom Terrific, much to the chagrin of Patriots fans everywhere. Belichick's paltry return for the highly touted Garoppolo appears to have been a premeditated shot across the bow to Kraft and Brady.
McDaniels Humiliates Colts
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had already hired some of his assistant coaches before he formally accepted the job as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. One day before he was scheduled to be introduced to the Indianapolis press corps, McDaniels did an about-face and left the Colts in the lurch. The question is, why?
The answer lies with the future of Belichick as the head man in Foxboro. Clearly, promises were made to McDaniels and enough dough was thrown his way by New England to convince him to remain as the offensive coordinator and bide his time until Belichick hangs up his hoodie. Indeed, this could be Belichick's last season as New England's coach because McDaniels would not stay in Foxboro if Belichick's departure was not relatively imminent.
Pats NFL Odds Favorites Despite the Drama
Matt Patricia, the Patriots' former defensive coordinator, is now head coach of the Detroit Lions. Butler, a key cog in the Patriots' defense for the past three years, is most definitely not coming back to New England after his public humiliation courtesy of Mr. Bill. Brady will be 41 years old next season and his favorite target, All-World tight end Rob Gronkowski, could retire after suffering a litany of injuries over his career and most recently a jarring concussion against the Jaguars that almost prevented him from playing in the Super Bowl.
Factor into all of this that Belichick might sense a different vibe in the locker room than any he has experienced before. He has a defense that needs retooling and won't have Patricia around to make the adjustments to get maximum production out of merely serviceable (for the most part) defensive players. Yet the NFL odds are reflecting the Pats as favorites to win Super Bowl LIII at +550, with the reigning champion Eagles the No. 2 choice at +800.
You could do a lot worse than include the Patriots in your NFL picks to win it all next year, but something feels different this time around. If I was you, I might look elsewhere.