What NFL experts are saying about Sunday’s Patriots-Dolphins game

What NFL experts are saying about Sunday's Patriots-Dolphins game


The last time the New England Patriots started a season without Tom Brady as their quarterback, they only managed to win a little event called the Super Bowl.

So, what’s the big deal now that he’s gone?

OK, so technically, Brady only didn’t start the 2016 season because he was serving a four-game suspension for his part in the worst cheating scandal the NFL has ever seen. You’ve got to go all the way back to 2001 to find the last year that the team went into a season not assuming that Brady would be their starting quarterback. Oh, they won the Super Bowl that year too.

Brady had a bit to do with that one as well. So, really, the last time the Patriots started a season without the current Tampa Bay braggart being anything more than an afterthought was in 2000, when the only backup worth mentioning was Michael Bishop and how he was primed to dethrone Drew Bledsoe as the starter.

That team went 5-11. It was Bill Belichick’s first year as head coach. Michael Bishop never happened.

Cam Newton was 11 years old.

On Sunday, Newton will be the first quarterback not drafted by the Patriots to start a game since Scott Secules in 1993. That’s a stretch of 423 games, a remarkable statistic  of consistency from Bledsoe to Brady.

Secules led the Patriots to an 0-4 record in 1993 before the rookie Bledsoe stepped in and helped deliver a 5-11 season. For a team that had a combined nine wins over the previous three seasons, it was a sign of encouragement.

Three years later, the Patriots were in the Super Bowl.

They’ve never had a guy they didn’t draft lead them there. Enter Cam Newton.

Alas, the last time the Patriots saw a win from a quarterback they hadn’t drafted it was way back in 1991, when Hugh Millen (drafted by the Rams) was 5-8 as a starter.

That’s a 29-year drought looking to come to an end Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. Without Brady. Without fans. Without tailgating. Without $59 trips to the concession stand for peanuts and beer.

Because what are sports in 2020 if there isn’t a whole lot of weird to go with them anyway?

This week’s predictions

Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 24, Dolphins 20. “History: This is first time since 1999 New England has fielded a team without Tom Brady. In general regard Bill Belichick’s Patriots have sunk from dynasty to just another mid-pack team with the departure of Brady and all those coronavirus-related opt outs decimating the defense. That’s while the Dolphins, via a stockpile of high draft picks and big spending in free agency, have hugely upgraded their roster. So it’s New England in decline vs. Miami on the rise in an evolving AFC East. That’s why I like Fins with the points here and why an outright upset would only mildly surprise. Still an edge to Patriots, though. Pats still are tough on D, and a healthy Cam Newton is a lot to defend. There’s still that Belichick guy, too. Dolphins are much improved, but, out the gate, and with no preseason, the Fins’ young offensive line may especially struggle early in the season to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick while rookie Tua Tagovailoa grows unhurried into the starting role.”

South Florida Sun-Sentinel staff: Five out of six pick the Dolphins. Writes columnist Dave Hyde (Dolphins 24, Patriots 17): “Bizarre to say, but with no fans, no Tom Brady and some of the Patriots’ top-rated defensive players from last year now with the Dolphins, a lot of the things that made a trip to New England a problem are gone. New England lost eight starters to free agency and the pandemic opt-out. The Dolphins — even with all their changes — seem a more known commodity, especially on defense.”

Benjamin Hoffmann, New York Times: Patriots (-6.5). “A new era begins in New England, with Cam Newton, already named a team captain, expected to start at quarterback. Newton hasn’t played since Week 2 of last season, is learning a new offense and hasn’t been 100 percent physically in years. But he has a chip on his shoulder, a supporting cast that would love to stop talking about Tom Brady, and an offensive coordinator in Josh McDaniels that once took a team to the playoffs with Tim Tebow at quarterback. The Dolphins are consistently a thorn in Coach Bill Belichick’s side, and would love nothing more than to pull off a road upset, but the hot takes will likely have to wait.”

MMQB staff: All New England.

Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Dolphins (+6.5). “It’s easy to be down on the Patriots. No Tom Brady. The most opt-outs in the league. Questions about Cam Newton at quarterback. Something tells me Bill Belichick will have this team way more competitive than anyone thinks, but doesn’t this line feel a little big for a team with so much uncertainty and a well-coached Dolphins team on the other side?”

ESPN staff: Nine out of 10 go with the Pats.

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 21, Dolphins 20. “This will be Cam Newton at quarterback for the Pats with Tom Brady gone. Newton has impressed in camp, and I think he will be fine. The problem is the talent in other spots. Even so, the Pats will find a way to win this game against a young Miami team. But it won’t be easy.”

CBS Sports staff: Six out of eight take the Dolphins (+6.5). Seven out of eight take the Patriots straight-up.

Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots. “After the Patri*ts got caught cheating… yet again(!)… they received the laughably light sentence of the loss of a third-round pick (meh), a million bucks (who cares?), and their TV crew not being allowed to shoot games during the 2020 season (lol!). Their punishment is essentially, ‘No cheating in the way you’ve been caught cheating twice already, guys, but for only one year.’ Surely emboldened by the NFL’s continuous failure to punish the Patri*ts in an appropriate, cheating-discouraging way, the Patri*ts will no doubt figure out ways to use the pandemic to their cheating advantage. Because why not?”

Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Dolphins (+6.5). “I think the Patriots win the game, because Bill Belichick has probably been banging his head off his desk in anger since losing to the Dolphins in Week 17 for no reason at all last season. But the Patriots lost almost half of their starting defense, and their QB hasn’t run a live rep with tackling with the offense, so I’m going to go ahead and hold off on picking them to win by a touchdown at this point in time, if that’s OK with you all.”

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 24, Dolphins 17. “The Dolphins are sticking with Ryan Fitzpatrick with Tua Tagovailoa on track to start for them soon. The Patriots are going with Cam Newton to replace Brady. With some QB questions, the running games, defenses and coaching will need to be the deciding factors. Bill Belichick has lost a lot, both in free agency to Miami and to opt outs. His protege, Brian Flores, has more optimism for Year 2. New England is in better position to grind this out while the visitors are breaking in a lot of new players and also have a new offensive scheme. Slow and steady does it for the Patriots in their first game in a long time without Brady.”

Tadd Haislop, Sporting News: Patriots 24, Dolphins 13. “This would be a lot more fun if Tua Tagovailoa were starting over Ryan Fitzpatrick for the Dolphins, but we’ll take what we can get with Cam Newton starting for the Patriots in their first post-Tom Brady era game. New England hasn’t had much time to integrate the QB who was signed just before training camp, which would be an issue for anybody but Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels.”

Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 24, Dolphins 16.Cam Newton is everything the Patriots expected him to be and more. This year, the Patriots could end up being everything they’ve been. And more.”

Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 27, Dolphins 21. “The AFC East is wider open than at any point in recent memory, but I still think Year One of the post-Tom Brady era should get off to a good start in New England.”

FiveThirtyEight: Patriots (-6): 71 percent chance of winning.

Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Patriots 23, Dolphins 17. “The Tom Brady era didn’t end against the Titans in the playoffs. It ended when the Fighting Floreses stole the Patriots’ bye with a win in Foxborough the week prior. Bill Belichick won’t take this Dolphins team lightly, and it’s safe to expect a lot of surprises from both coaches after spending August in hiding. That could include some extreme option football by Cam Newton and some use of Tua Tagovailoa as a change-up by the Dolphins against a Patriots defense which is awfully thin up front. In a potential battle of ground games, the Patriots have a better backfield, offensive line and, remarkably, a better running quarterback than the Dolphins’ 2019 leading rusher, Ryan Fitzpatrick.”

It says here: Patriots 17, Dolphins 13. Newton leads a fourth-quarter comeback drive, reminding everybody of Hugh Millen back in the day.

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