We are at the point on the calendar where the NBA Playoffs are winding down, so that means it's time to start thinking about the NFL season even though it's largely in a dead period for that sport until after June 1 when teams could release players for salary-cap purposes. For the most part, teams pretty much know what their rosters will look like come training camp in July barring injury or suspension.
I thought the Patriots were set at running back after adding free agents Mike Gillislee (Buffalo) and Rex Burkhead (Cincinnati) to the likes of Super Bowl hero James White and Dion Lewis. The Pats kicked the tires on Adrian Peterson before adding Gillislee but reportedly were never that interested in AP and only doing Peterson's agent a favor. Thus, LeGarrette Blount was clearly the odd man out in the New England backfield as he sits out there unsigned. Rather surprising no club has jumped on Blount as the 30-year-old had his best season in 2016 with 1,161 yards and a league-high 18 rushing touchdowns.
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New England seems to be ahead of the curve on just about everything, and the team invoked something I didn't know existed this week: a May 9 tender to Blount. That seldom-used tender means that if Blount remains unsigned past July 22, he can only play for the Patriots this season. If he signs before that date with another team, Blount would count toward the 2018 compensatory draft pick formula for New England. Blount was the only player in the league to get this tender. So the door might still be open for him in Foxboro. At worst, the Pats now get a pick for him.
If you follow these schedule stories, I will circle through all 32 NFL teams and their road slates and then do the home slates for each club with early sportsbooks week-by-week odds (none for Week 17). I believe that picking wins and losses this time of year is rather silly, but it's very popular so I'll project each team's home and away record, knowing things can change daily with injuries and such. I'll deal with overall win totals on the home schedules. I struggled with New England's slate in 2016 because I didn't know what was up with Tom Brady's Deflategate suspension at this time last year. Thankfully, that's all over.
New England was the only team to go 8-0 on the road last season. The Pats were 7-1 against the spread away from home and 2-6 "over/under." They travel to three teams that made the playoffs last year: Pittsburgh, Oakland and division rival Miami. For the first time since I've started doing this, a team is favored in every road game. I project the Pats to go 5-3 on the road. Odds listed for the home team.
Sept. 17 at Saints (+4.5): Off its Thursday home opener vs. Kansas City, New England will have extra time to prepare for Drew Brees in what could be the last time he and Brady face one another since the Saints and Patriots won't play in the regular season again for another four years. The Pats also get to see in person if they should have signed Peterson. Key trend: Pats are 2-3 ATS all-time at NFC South teams.
Oct. 5 at Bucs (+3): Thursday night game and follows a home matchup against Carolina for New England. I think it's a nice break for the Pats this game is at night because there won't be any worries about heat or humidity, which is still prevalent in Florida this time of year. Outside of Thanksgiving, the Patriots haven't played a road Thursday night game since 1990. Key trend: Pats are 5-5 ATS in their past 10 October road games as a favorite of 3 points or fewer.
Oct. 15 at Jets (+9.5): New York might be coming off a rare win in 2017 as the Jets are in Cleveland the previous week. I won't even pretend to guess who New York's QB will be by this point in the season. Pats won 22-17 at MetLife Stadium in Week 12 last year on a Brady to Malcolm Mitchell TD pass with 1:56 left. That was Brady's 200th NFL win, tying the league record set by Peyton Manning. This could be a trap game for New England with Super Bowl rematch vs. Falcons up next. Key trend: Pats are 4-0 SU & 2-2 ATS as at least a 7-point road favorite in series.
Nov. 12 at Broncos (+3): Sunday night. New England comes off its bye week. I am very curious to know what the Pats do practice-wise for this one and the following week since both Denver and Mexico City are at altitude. I highly doubt the team flies back to Boston following this game. The Broncos will be coming off three straight road games and lost at home to the Pats 16-3 last year. Key trend: Pats are 3-7 SU & ATS in past 10 in Denver including playoffs.
Nov. 19 at Raiders (+1.5): This game is in Mexico City, a pretty nice break in a way for the Patriots as this is a rare game they could lose and won't have to deal with a true home-field advantage for the Raiders. Can't wait for all the Brady stolen Super Bowl jersey stories this week since that former journalist was from Mexico. The Raiders come off their bye. Key trend: Pats 5-5 ATS in past 10 vs. AFC West (any location).
Dec. 3 at Bills (+7): Pats off a home game vs. Miami. This rivalry likely won't be as fun with Rex Ryan gone but probably more competitive now. The Bills clearly don't understand how to use the tender process after losing valuable receiver Chris Hogan via that route to New England in 2016 and then Gillislee this year. The Pats haven't played a December road game in Buffalo since 2010. Key trend: Pats 3-2-1 ATS (5-1 SU) as at least a 7-point road favorite in series.
Dec. 11 at Dolphins (+4): Monday night and the second meeting in three weeks between these two. That has happened just once before for the Patriots in the Bill Belichick era: in 2000 when the Patriots hosted the Colts on Oct. 8 (win), then visited them Oct. 22 (loss). The Pats won in South Florida 35-14 to close the 2016 regular season in a game that meant nothing. That made New England the ninth team since 1972 to go undefeated on the road during the regular season. Key trend: Pats have failed to cover three of past four as road favorite in series.
Dec. 17 at Steelers (+1.5): AFC Championship Game rematch, and I believe the Patriots have a good shot at being underdogs here. Obviously this could be vital for the top seed in the AFC playoffs. You might think this could be flexed to Sunday night, but the Steelers will come in off four straight prime-time games, two of them on Sunday night. The Pats won in Pittsburgh 27-16 in Week 7 last year with Ben Roethlisberger out due to injury. Key trend: Just so I can call the Pats dogs once, they are 6-4 ATS in their past 10 on road as one.
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