What we have here is an adjustment period.
It happens in sports all the time.
The pitcher who used to mow down batters like an adult versus kids suddenly can’t get out of the second inning without allowing crooked numbers on the scoreboard. The runningback who used to dart around would-be tacklers and scoot up sidelines for huge gains, is caught in the backfield and dropped for losses.
It also happens for teams.
Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers in the mid 1960’s won nearly as often as they took the field. But, after Lombardi was gone, the Green Bay head coaches that followed him for the next 25 years; Phil Bengtson, Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante, all ended their careers with more losses than wins while mentoring the once powerful Packers.
During my years in the league, I have seen the rise of some great dynasties, some for periods of time that continued for more than a decade. The Miami Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers have all had extended periods of time at the top of the heap and have multiple Super Bowl victories.
But only one team in the modern era has dominated the game uninterrupted for two decades, that team is the New England Patriots. For the life of their glory years, beginning with a Super Bowl triumph to complete the 2001 season, the tandem of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady was the most dynamic pairing in the game. In every season since 2001 the Patriots have had a record as good or better than every other team in their American Football Conference division. They have the most division titles along with the most Super Bowl appearances and wins.
Now, with Brady in Tampa, and Belichick working with a new cast of characters, the playing field in the AFC East has been leveled and both the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins currently have better records than the third place Patriots.
The gambling world was just getting used to New England no longer being a Super Bowl contender. In fact, just last week, the Patriots were a bet-against home underdog when they hosted the Baltimore Ravens. This, following the Patriots Monday Night Football appearance that saw them struggle to get by the still winless New York Jets.
But, that win over the Jets was the first of two straight victories for Belichick and his new crew, led on the field by one-time Super Bowl quarterback Cam Newton. While the Patriots success was pinned to a signal caller selected in the sixth round of the draft, Brady was, Newton was the first player selected out of Auburn in 2011. Chosen by the Carolina Panthers after a college career that included a National Championship and Heisman Trophy.
Newton became expendable in Carolina after injuries plagued his 2019 campaign and the organization looked to go in a new direction after firing head coach Ron Rivera. With Brady gone, and the Patriots quarterback position seemingly ready to fall to a career backup, the opportunity to bring Newton to New England seemed a very good alternative.
An opening day ten point win over the Miami Dolphins sparked by Newton’s ability to score on the ground, gave the Boston fan base hope. A second week loss to the talented Seattle Seahawks on the road, did not douse all optimism, and a third week home victory over the Las Vegas Raiders had New England fans preaching the magic of Belichick reincarnated.
Then, in fourth week action, the team got a taste of what was to come. When this edition of the Patriots met one of the league’s best, they were outmatched. The Kansas City Chiefs sent New England into their bye week off a 16 point loss in a game the Patriots were double-digit underdogs. Home losses to the Denver Broncos and a blowout defeat against the San Francisco 49ers, 33-6, were their first two results after their open date.
Still, if they could beat Buffalo on the road in Week Eight action, they could climb back into the AFC East race. They couldn’t.
Then the narrow win over the Jets, and faith in their 2020 prospects were as tainted as a Republican’s view of election results in Georgia.
Last week, nearly 80% of the bets on the Patriots game were backing the Baltimore Ravens as a road favorite, giving New England a touchdown on the spread before the game began. Then, as if magic, New England played their most impressive game of the year and downed one of the team’s considered the best in football, 23-17.
Was it Belichick? Was it Newton? Was it the Patriots team that drove the New England victory last Sunday night?
It was an ideal motivational spot for a bet-against home underdog.
But the public saw the Patriots success in primetime and has leaped back on their bandwagon as if they might be capable of challenging the Bills and Dolphins in their division race.
The Patriots success last week was more tied to the situation than their talent. This Sunday, the Patriots go from being a bet-against home underdog to a bet-on road favorite against a Houston Texans team hungry for a win.
Old habits are tough to break … like thinking the Patriots are good.
Qoxhi Picks: Houston Texans (+2) over New England Patriots