Let’s go back to 2012 for a second. I’d watched the American football for a little while but I wasn’t really watching the football. I started to have a few wagers on the games and more than anything, I was watching how my bets were doing. 2012 was when I really became enamoured with the NFL. A 31-year-old Eli Manning took down the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick juggernaut for the second time in four years. Brady would be 35 the next year and I was hearing questions about how much longer the Brady/Belichick era would last in New England.
Well, here we are in 2019, I’m a lot more knowledgeable about the game (at least I like to think so) – so much so that I would never think of calling it American football – Tom Brady is leading the NFL’s third-ranked offense in points per game while Bill Belichick is overseeing the NFL’s number one defense… and the Giants don’t stand a chance. I know, any given Sunday (or Thursday in this case) and all that, but let me paint you a picture.
A weird and wonderful start for the Patriots
We begin Week 6 (these weeks are flying by) in Foxborough as the 5-0 Patriots, coming off another coasting victory against the Redskins, host a New York Giants team with a fresh face at QB sitting at 2-3 on the year. It’s been a weird start to the year for the Pats, an absolute gift of a schedule, un-Patriots-like offensive line issues, signing and playing Antonio Brown after he forced the Raiders to sack him, only to then release the attention-seeking wide receiver after more allegations came to light about his personal life. Even the always excellent Patriots power run game got off to a sputtering start. But they’re 5-0, the sun is shining (It’s Always Sunny In Boston, Massachusetts?) so let’s forget all the rest.
Brady has completed 118 of 187 (63.1%) pass attempts for 1,409 yards and 10 touchdowns through five weeks, averaging around 7.5 yards per attempt. After throwing for 348 yards against the Redskins last week, Brady moved past Brett Favre into third place in the NFL’s all-time passing yards list and he will move past Peyton Manning into second on Thursday, needing only 18 yards more. Tom Brady continues to be Tom Brady. As stated above, the Patriots currently rank third in the league for points per game (31.0) although Football Outsiders have them ranked as the eighth-best offense according to their DVOA rankings, which are adjusted for strength of opponent.
At one point this season, it looked like Brady’s supporting cast might comprise of Antonio Brown, Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and maybe even a returning tight end legend, Rob Gronkowski. Instead, we’re seeing plenty of Edelman and a little of the out-of-sorts Josh Gordon, with some Phillip Dorsett mixed in. Gordon currently ranks outside the top 50 in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grade (65.2) among wide receivers who have played at least 10% of snaps. He has caught 19 of 32 targets (59.4%) for 280 yards and a touchdown while he has dropped three “on target” passes according to PFF. Out of sorts may be a tad harsh; he hasn’t really needed to be that dynamic due to the uncompetitive nature of most of their games so far. Edelman has been banged up most of the season yet he still continues to churn out consistent performances with a PFF receiving grade of 72.8 while catching 72.5% of his targets (29 catches) for 336 yards and two TDs. It’s likely Dorsett misses this one; he has three TDs this year. The ever-reliable James White (22 receptions, 178 yards, 1 TD) and Rex Burkhead (14 catches, 117 yards) are threats out of the backfield too.
The running game hasn’t really been gashing teams all that much, in fact they only have one carry that’s gone for more than 20 yards all season, and the loss of James Develin will be felt in that area. Then again maybe not; against the Redskins last week Sony Michel saw an eight-man box on 62.5% of his snaps and still had 91 yards and a touchdown, his best game of the season. It will be interesting to watch how the run game gets on against the better defenses down the line.
The defense has been the wonderful aspect of this season so far for the Patriots. According to Football Outsider’s opponent-adjusted DVOA rankings, they are the best defense in the league. According to completion percentage allowed, they are the best defense in the league (54.2). According to passing TDs allowed, they are the best defense in the league (zero). Based on interceptions, they are the best defense in the league (11). Based on sacks made, they are the best defense in the league (24). Need I go on? One thing I will say is that I’m wary of the schedule of opposing offenses played (easiest schedule in the league thus far) but make no mistake, this defense is one of the top five units in the league.
Eli Manning 2.0?
I hear this Daniel Jones kid is lot like Eli Manning, so can he replicate his predecessor’s heroics against the Patriots? Short answer – no. Jones took over at QB for the G men in Week 3 and thus far has completed 70 of his 109 passing attempts (64.2%) for 760 yards and four TDs, throwing three interceptions in the process. He came out with decent performances against Tampa Bay and Washington in Weeks 3 and 4 but those are two terrible defenses when it comes to covering receivers. Jones got his reality check last week against the Vikings, being handed his first loss.
You have got to feel for Jones, as he takes over they almost immediately lose the best running back in the league in Saquon Barkley (I will not listen to arguments against that statement). They then lose his backup Wayne Gallman, and now they have to face the Patriots without Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram it looks like, their two best receivers. Jones has also been throwing a turnover-worthy pass on 5.67% of his attempts so far according to PFF (for perspective, Brady’s turnover-worthy play percentage is 0.86%). You’ve read the stats on New England’s defense so you know how this one goes.
I’m not going to say much about the Giants defense because the less said the better. In coverage, they have been absolutely abysmal; Janoris Jenkins has the highest coverage grade of the cornerbacks at 52.3 according to PFF, rookie DeAndre Baker has a coverage grade of 29.7! In contrast, the Pats’ Jason McCourty has a coverage grade of 89.5 whilst Jonathan Jones’ grade is 90. Football Outsiders has this defense ranked 29th against the pass and 12th against the run, but why try run it against a defense that can’t cover anyone?
So what’s the betting?
The look-ahead line on this one was Patriots -13.5. It reopened at Patriots -15 and now we’re getting New England at -17 so it’s fair to say the Patriots have been absolutely hammered off the board. Any value that may have been available in this line is long gone and I’m never going to be backing anyone at -17, I just can’t do it, it’s too easy for a team to backdoor into covering a spread like that in garbage time. The total has been hammered down to 41 as well, it seems like the so-called sharps were all over this game. Under would be the look here but would anyone be surprised if the Pats put up 40 by themselves here? I’d have liked a bit of 44 but no bet now for me.
If you want an indication of how one-sided this game is expected to be, Skybet have the Patriots D/ST a shorter price to score a TD (100/30) than all but one New York Giants player. The first bet is Sony Michel to score the first TD, you can get 11/2 with Redzone but that may go as most other places are 4/1 or 9/2. There’s not much thought required on this one: they’re going to take it down the field and punch it in as soon as they get the ball. You can also get 4/5 with Redzone for Michel to score anytime – how do you not take that? He has scored in three out of five games thus far and is coming off his best game of the season. The Giants managed to keep Cook out of the end zone last week but the Vikings were trying to get the ball in their receivers hands in that one.
A lot of the player props in this one are extremely juiced or very inflated as a result of the huge line. I’m getting pretty sick of these ridiculous lines this year, I have never seen so many 2+ touchdown spreads in a season and it’s only Week 6. Rant over now! I’m taking the over 18.5 on Daniel Jones rush yards. He will see an awful lot of tight man-to-man coverage here and I expect him to take off and get outside the pocket a lot.
I’m going to take a chance on Michel’s over 71.5 rush yards too. The Giants have lost a heap of linebackers to injury including rookie Ryan Connelly, so despite them showing up better against the run on the stats sheet, I think they will get gashed here. We are also expecting some weather with winds around 20mph which may affect the passing game enough for the Patriots to just run it down the throats of the Giants.
Sony Michel first TD 11/2 (RZ) & anytime TD 4/5 (RZ)
Daniel Jones over 18.5 rush yards 1.95 (RZ)
Sony Michel over 71.5 rush yards 1.91 (Paddy Power)
Featured Picture – Credit: Billie Weiss/Getty Images