Possible Patriots Lines for Final Five Games
by Trevor Whenham - 11/28/2007
If 16-0 is the goal, then the Patriots came dangerously close to messing that up against Philadelphia on Sunday night. They didn't play badly, but they didn't look like the incredibly dominant team they have been for most of the year (with the exception of most of the game against Indianapolis, and a good portion of the one against Cleveland), and they made A.J. Feeley, a quarterback who hadn't started a game since 2004, look much better than he had any right to look.
That elusive 16-0 record is likely a driving force for the team, and it certainly has captured the imagination of the public. Other teams have come closer to that mythical mark in recent years, but none have done it with the dominance and aura that New England has. The Patriots are the team you either love or hate, and pretty much everyone has an opinion. The closer they get to the record, the more intense the scrutiny will be, and the more attention the public will pay. You can already see the effect from a betting perspective - New England was favored by a ridiculous margin of 24 points on Sunday. That's the second biggest spread in regular season history, and is totally unjustified in any circumstance in the NFL, never mind when the opponent is a team at 4-5. By contrast, the highest line the Colts faced in 2005 when they started 13-0 was 17.5 points, and that was against a pathetic 1-7 Houston team.
Can the Patriots pull off the impossible? Can they go undefeated and finally shut the obnoxious 1972 Dolphins up? Here's a game by game look at their remaining schedule, along with predicted odds:
at Baltimore (+20.5, Monday, Dec. 3) - The spread is ridiculously high, but then the home team is a ridiculously bad 1-10 ATS this year, so it's at least somewhat justified. In the last few years we have become accustomed to a Baltimore team that can't score but is relentless on defense. The offensive part is still as true as ever, but the defense has lost a step or three. They have given up an average of 31 points per game over the last four. A part of the explanation for the problems is that Adalius Thomas will be in the visiting dressing room this weekend. I refuse to make a prediction on a line this high unless the pllayers are on scholarship, but it's not hard to imagine the Pats at 12-0, is it?
Pittsburgh (+13.5, Sunday, Dec. 9) - In the minds of most people this is the biggest obstacle between the Pats and perfection. The biggest factor against the Steelers is that they will be visiting Foxboro. Not only are the Patriots usually very good at home, but the Steelers have struggled on the road, with losses to some pretty average teams - Arizona, Denver, and the Jets. Pittsburgh has failed to cover three in a row, and they played the worst Monday night game in the history of football this week, so they aren't playing up to expectations lately. If the Patriots are on their game, and there is every reason to think that they will be after the wake up call against Philadelphia, then this game is certainly very winnable.
New York Jets (+25, Sunday, Dec. 16) - This is where it could get ugly. The Jets are pretty terrible, they have played poorly on the road, and we saw on Thanksgiving that they aren't even in the same class as Dallas - a team that wasn't particularly competitive against New England. On top of that the Jets blew the whistle on Spy-gate, and created all the controversy that has dogged the Patriots all season. Bill Belichick didn't much like Eric Mangini before that happened, so he will be out to crush him this time around. New England beat the Jets by 24 to start the season, so who knows what could happen here? If the Pats are undefeated coming into this game then I fully expect a new record spread to be set.
Miami (+26, Sunday, Dec. 23) - That spread record that gets established against the Jets could be broken this week if the Pats cover against the Jets and they are still undefeated. There's a solid chance that Miami will be winless coming into this game, though their schedule couldn't be much easier between now and then. It's hard to imagine how the Dolphins could win this game - New England beat them by 21 last time out, and the Dolphins certainly haven't improved since then. The public will obviously be all over the Patriots. You could make an argument that the Fins would cover (their 3-5-3 ATS mark is very solid given the way the season has gone), but it would take a truly bizarre chain of events for the Dolphins to win.
at New York Giants (+14.5, Saturday, Dec. 29) - This has the potential to be the biggest regular season game any of us have seen in a long time. Or at least those of us who get the NFL Network and are able to watch it. The Giants have a solid record, but I'm not buying it at all. They haven't been competitive against a good team all year, and their showing against Minnesota last weekend showed that they aren't always that competitive against average teams, either. The Giants will be at their best on this day, and their pass rush could cause Brady some problems, but it seems likely that the Pats will do a much better job of handling the pressure and scrutiny of the game than Eli and his Giants will.
The Verdict: It's not hard to imagine an undefeated season, is it? Very good teams have come close before, but it is very, very hard to go undefeated for a whole season. Still, if the team can get past Pittsburgh, and if they can stay healthy, it would seem possible here. In fact, the odds wouldn't have to be too high before you would have to think that there is real value in betting that the Pats will succeed in going unbeaten. Of course, the public is so certain of the Pats invincibility that it would be almost impossible to find that value.