They might be the most public team in the NFL, but the New England Patriots keep on beating the football odds – when it comes to regular-season win totals, that is.
Let's travel back in time, way back to the magical year 2008. New England Patriots fans were freaking out about their starting quarterback: Tom Brady tore up his left knee in the opening game, leaving Matt Cassel to guide the team the rest of the way. Cassel played well enough (89.4 passer rating), and the Patriots won 11 games, but they went UNDER their posted total of 12 wins and missed the playoffs.
At least Brady won't be gone for the whole season this time. But people are still up in arms over his four-game suspension, which was handed down in response to the Deflategate scandal. Can the Patriots possibly hit that regular-season total of 10.5 games on the NFL odds board without their 10-time Pro Bowl quarterback? Inquiring minds want to know.
Ten Wins or Bust
Given the way the Patriots have pounded the OVER in recent years, there doesn't seem to be much cause for alarm. Here's how New England fared in every season of the Post-Cassel Era:
2009: 10-6 (UNDER 11.5)
2010: 14-2 (OVER 9.5)
2011: 13-3 (OVER 11.5)
2012: 12-4 (PUSH 12)
2013: 12-4 (OVER 11.5)
2014: 12-4 (OVER 10)
You're not going to find too many teams who have performed as consistently as this decade's Patriots. The interesting thing here is how consistently the market has undervalued the league's most public franchise. We keep hearing how Brady (age 37) is washed up, that his offensive line and his receiving corps just aren't what they used to be. Yet New England keeps cashing in. Amazing.
We've been on the wrong side of this dynamic before here at the ranch. Last year, Rob Gronkowski saved the day by playing 15 games, scoring 12 touchdowns on 82 catches and making the Pro Bowl. This year's potential hero is someone a little less famous: back-up QB Jimmy Garoppolo, who's expected to start the first four games of the season while Brady serves his suspension.
We're buying in. If you're a long-time reader, you know we've been kinder to Cassel than most analysts. But even if you're one of the haterz, you have to admit the Patriots played well in 2008 with Cassel under center. How much better will they do this year with Garoppolo only needing to start four games instead of 15? He could even be the next Tony Romo – Garoppolo broke Romo's passing records at Eastern Illinois, and looked very good in limited action last year (101.2 passer rating).
Besides, Garoppolo's services might not be required after all. Brady was due to appear at the NFL's Park Avenue offices Tuesday morning to have his appeal heard. A second day of deliberations could take place on Thursday if required, then the league will issue its verdict at some point afterwards. Brady could have his suspension trimmed, or lifted entirely. We're not going to speculate what may happen; it's just one more reason to be optimistic about New England's chances against the win total.
We're still left wondering why the NFL odds market keeps undervaluing the Pats, though. Maybe it's just the usual hand-wringing that comes with a marquee team and an aging quarterback. Note that the Denver Broncos have gone OVER the posted total in each of their three seasons with Peyton Manning at the helm. We admittedly whiffed on the Broncos last year, too.
No sweat. We did all right in the end by picking the Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and New Orleans Saints to go UNDER. The Browns, by the way, have made a habit of going UNDER: They're 8-1 during the past nine seasons. We may or may not jump on that bandwagon again, but when it comes to making our NFL picks, it's going to take more than quarterback panic to sway us this year.