The Patriots getting 5.5 points is the no brainer play we all need. The Patriots are the better team by a few advanced metrics:
It's one of those wagers that we don't even need a model for, but luckily we have one anyway. With a strength of 5.69, we're throwing 3 units at this bad boy. Some big dick energy for the site. As is often the case, when everybody agrees what the best bet is, it typically doesn't last. As of Saturday morning, the line is down to 4.5. Get your damn bets in early, people. Onto the matchup:
Mac Jones has been the only rookie quarterback in the league who hasn't shit his pants (advanced metrics only at First And Thirty). He's 12th in the league in PFF passing grades (80.5), has gained 7.2 yards per attempt while completing 70.4% of his passes (3.6% above expectation). Jones has shown impressive accuracy -- his completion percentage is 4th best in the league -- and pocket awareness. PFF has deemed him responsible for just 4 pressures (8th best in the league) and 1 sack all season. He gets rid of the ball quickly, his average of 2.55 seconds to throw is 8th fastest in the league. The downside is New England hasn't asked much from Jones -- taking a knee with 90 seconds left in the half against a Dallas team that is objectively better than you was quite pathetic. Jones's aDOT (average depth of target) is 8th lowest in the league, and 49.4% of his passes have traveled less than 10 yards, which is 7th highest in the league. None of this is a knock on Jones per say, but it paints a picture that New England either isn't quite ready to trust Jones to make more difficult throws, doesn't trust that their receivers are good enough, or some combination of the two. It's also worth noting since it will make it more difficult for New England to win shootout games, and given the high total (48), they may need to put more on Mac's plate to win outright. Speaking of the receivers, it's a bunch of decent players, but there's zero star power. The team leaders by targets: Jakobi Meyers (57), Nelson Agholor (32), Hunter Henry (32), Jonnu Smith (28), and Kendrick Bourne (27). Agholor and Bourne run the deep routes, while Meyers/Henry/Smith take care of the short/intermediate part of the field. Damien Harris will handle the bulk of the carries -- though he's had fumbling issues, he's averaging 4.6 yards per carry (3.27 after contact) and has been an efficient runner all season. The offensive line has had its issues, but that's mostly due to COVID/injuries. They're almost completely healthy now, the lone exception being RT Trent Brown, who is on IR with a calf injury. Michael Onwenu, who started the season as the LG, has moved over to tackle. Onwenu was a 2020 6th round draft pick out of Michigan who was one of the better rookie offensive lineman last season and has picked up right where he left off -- it's truly impressive that he can play both guard and tackle at such a high level. Ted Karras has filled in at left guard -- he player center in 2019 when David Andrews missed the entire year, then played center full time for the Dolphins last season before coming back to New England. He's playing well in limited snaps as a guard, leaving New England with a line that doesn't have any weaknesses. Overall, the offense is 18th in EPA/play and 15th in DVOA this season. The defensive side of the ball hasn't been impressive for New England -- though they seem to be capable of limiting Tom Brady and the Bucs, there's weaknesses all over the field. Now up to 29 pressures, Matthew Judon has been their only consistent pass rusher. All three linebackerse (Kyle Van Noy, Donta Hightower, and Ja'Whaun Bentley) have all struggled in coverage and rushing the passer, though Hightower and Bentley have at least been solid against the run. On the back end, Jalen Mills has been a liability in coverage all season. Safety Devin McCourty, now 34 years old and the oldest safety in the league (by a full 27 minutes over his twin brother Jason) is having the worst year of his career. They're 14th in DVOA and 12th in EPA/play, surprisingly impressive results given the quality of play from individuals. Scheme still matters, and Bill Belichick has unsurprisingly found a way to get the most out of their players.
Just in his second season, Justin Herbert is cementing himself as one of the better quarterbacks in football. A tough game against Baltimore last week brought his numbers down, but overall he's 10th in PFF passing grades (83.5) while completing 65.4% of his passes (-0.4% below expectation) and gaining 7.2 yards per attempt. His TD:INT ratio (14:4) does paint a betting picture than his big time throw:turnover worthy play ratio (10:6), the latter stat being more predictive and more valuable for evaluating quarterbacks. He has an aDOT of 7.9 and 48.4% of his passes have traveled less than 10 yards, both numbers are very similar to Mac Jones. The Chargers have run play-action on 31.6% of Herbert's dropbacks, 7th highest in the league. The top receivers by targets: Keenan Allan (56), Mike Williams (53), Jared Cook (33), and Austin Ekeler (29). Allan lines up in the slot about 60% of the time, leaving Williams to line up wide 85% of the time and handle the deeper routes. Allan is well known to be a capable receiver, but Williams is now enjoying his 4th straight season with a 70+ PFF receiving grade and needs to be recognized as a solid number 2. To slow down the Chargers offense, you need to focus on those two. In the backfield, Austin Ekeler showed up on the injury report Thursday with a hip injury. He didn't practice Thursday or Friday and is a true questionable. If Ekeler can't go, rookie Larry Roundtree III and Justin Jackson have been the backs behind Ekeler, and both are clear downgrades Ouas runners and receivers. 13th overall selection Rashawn Slater has been a rock solid left tackle -- combined with LG Matt Feiler and C Corey Linsley, the left side of the line is difficult to penetrate. However, both RG and RT (Michael Schofield and Storm Norton) have both been liabilities, creating a clear plan for opposing defenses for trying to get to Justin Herbert. Overall, the offense is 11th in DVOA and 8th in EPA/play. On the defensive side, Joey Bosa is the lone productive pass rusher, now at 26 pressures on the season. Every other member of the front 7 has struggled as a pass rusher and on run defense. On the back end, Derwin James and Nasir Adderley have been a productive safety tandem, but there's weaknesses at corner. Now 32 years old, slot corner Chris Harris Jr has been the best of the bunch. It's a defense that has been significantly better against the pass (5th in DVOA) then the run (dead last), and that isn't an accident. Brandon Staley clearly prefers teams to run on his defense, a smart strategy given today's NFL and how it highlights passing -- but it's lead to a liability on the ground. Per PFF, the Chargers are the only defense in the league allowing more than 2 yards before contact. Overall on defense, they're 16th in DVOA and 19th in EPA/play.