NFL Betting: Who Will Be the Patriots' Starting Quarterback in Week 1?
The identity of the New England Patriots' Week 1 quarterback is one of a host of intriguing quarterback conundrums as we head into the period set aside for fine-tuning NFL rosters ahead of the 2021 campaign.
The FanDuel Sportsbook is offering odds on who they think the starter for the opener will be, with Cam Newton the favorite at -270. The team's first-round selection in the recent NFL Draft, Mac Jones, is available at +230, while third-year quarterback Jarrett Stidham is on offer at +1200.
Let's take a look at which of these three players you should bet on.
2020 was Newton's first season with the Patriots. In 15 games, he completed 65.8% of his passes, the second-highest completion rate of his career. However, he attempted just 24.5 pass attempts per game and averaged a career-low 177.1 passing yards per outing. Even more disconcertingly, Newton tossed just eight touchdown passes at a rate of 2.2%.
Newton averaged 0.01 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, which was 27th out of 32 quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs a year ago. It was also way below the league average of 0.13. (If you want to learn more about NEP, please visit our glossary.)
Newton did pull his weight as a runner, it should be said. The Patriots were the second-most run-heavy offense in the league last season, with a pass-to-run ratio of 0.95. Newton's 137 rushing attempts were the second-most among all quarterbacks, with only two players earning more rushing yards than Newton's 592. Newton also ran in 12 scores, the second-most of his career and the most among all quarterbacks in 2020.
Mac Jones enters the NFL after one of the truly great quarterback seasons in college football history, both from a productivity and efficiency standpoint. Jones completed an incredible 77.4% of his passes for Alabama in 2020, finishing with 4,500 passing yards and 41 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions. He posted a college QBR of 96.1, good for the 100th percentile according to PlayerProfiler, while he also managed a yard per attempt mark of 11.2 (97th percentile).
Jones did not exactly establish himself as a running threat in his one season as the starter for the Crimson Tide. He ran for a total of 14 yards in 2020 with one touchdown. Indeed, in his three seasons with Alabama, he gained 42 total yards on the ground.
Stidham was a fourth-round pick by the Patriots out of Auburn in the 2019 NFL Draft. In two seasons, he has appeared in eight games. But in those games, he has completed 24 of 48 pass attempts for 270 yards and just 2 touchdowns. Worse, he has thrown four interceptions with two being returned for touchdowns.
The evidence of the last three seasons would suggest that Newton's best days as a passer are a long way behind him. His punishing style of play, plus consistent shoulder injuries, have left his arm strength a fraction of what it was once.
From a passing point of view, and given the fact Jones is the highest-drafted Patriots quarterback for nearly three decades (their last first-round selection of a quarterback came in 1993 when they selected Drew Bledsoe first overall), he would seem the obvious choice to lead this team as soon as possible.
But what Newton lacks as a passer, he still more than makes up for as a runner. The Patriots, despite the investments they made this offseason to bolster their receiving corps by signing Hunter Henry, Jonnu Smith, and Nelson Agholor, seem happy to lean on their ground game. Here, Newton has a huge advantage over Jones.
Plus, it has been suggested that the Patriots' offensive scheme is one of the hardest to pick up in the entire NFL, and having a player with working knowledge of it and a year in the system might work in Newton's favor. I believe that Jones will be the Patriots' starting quarterback at some point in 2021. But that point will not be Week 1.