Well it certainly was a strong debut for BNP's weekly predictions, as the Jets not only covered the 3.5 points, but won the game 16-9. In this first installment of "Upon Further Review," a weekly feature in which I evaluate my previous prediction with the benefit of hindsight, I take a look inside the game and attempt to pinpoint exactly why the Jets were able to cover.
1. Tom Brady was not comfortable in the pocket. Rex Ryan's combination of blitz packages subjected him to constant duress, hurrying him 15 times and hitting him 7 more. It's true that they failed to generate a sack, but Brady was entirely out of sync. In fact, the constant pressure caused Brady to all but abandon his deep routes, looking immediately--too early--for his underneath and outlet passes. As a result, he only threw for 4.5 yards/attempt.
There were 4 factors contributing to Brady's inability to beat the Jets blitz packages, 3 of which I accurately predicted, and one that was unexpected. First, the offensive line is a mess right now, with a lack of lateral quickness and coordination that defensive coordinators are more frequently exposing, ever since the Giants provided the blueprint 2 years ago in the Super Bowl. They were not able to adjust to the constantly morphing blitzes, which included several zero-coverage looks and overloaded weak side blitzes; Brady looked so uncharacteristically rattled that at one point Mark Sanchez actually felt sorry for him. Second, the Pats have no running game, netting only 83 yards on the ground. The lack of a credible running game allowed Ryan to dial up blitzes with impunity, as defenders pinned their ears back and raced for the backfield with little worry about getting gashed on the ground. Third, Brady's knee is undoubtedly contributing to his hesitancy to stare down the blitz. Although this is impossible to quantify, the similarities to post-surgery Carson Palmer are striking. It took Palmer over a year to regain his form and look fully comfortable striding into his throws. For right now, when there is pressure up the middle, Brady is hesitant and does not throw the ball with authority. Lastly (and unexpectedly), Wes Welker missed the game. Without a doubt Welker's absence deprived Brady of his favorite hot read. Even though Julian Edelman, dubbed "Wes Welker Jr." by Peter King, played moderately well, Welker's absence certainly affected the outcome.
2. The Pats defense is just not the same. It's true that the Jets offense did not put up a ton of points, in part due to a surprisingly mediocre rushing attack (117 yards). But the Jets played mostly conservatively on the offensive side of the ball, relying on several max-protect looks designed to shield their rookie QB from mistakes. But Sanchez really began to move the ball in the second half, and he looked rather unfazed by Bill Belichick's defensive schemes. Has Belichick lost his touch? I didn't think so before the game and still don't; however, he just does not have a high talent defense right now, as most of the players that defined the Pats dynasty have moved on. While the defense played decently in terms of point prevention, they only generated 2 sacks and one turnover. That was not nearly enough to make up for their offensive impotency.
I think the value provided in this line of +3.5 was due to two primary factors: rose colored glasses used to evaluate the Pats somewhat lucky win over a mediocre-to-bad Bills team at home in week 1, and a failure to understand the importance of Jerod Mayo to the defense. As I pointed out in my original prediction, some prognosticators heralded the week 1 win as a sign of the Pats' continuing greatness. It was not. It was a fluky win over a team they should have dominated. The betting lesson here is to watch for teams--particularly teams with high expectations like the Pats--that receive too favorable a line stemming from a week 1 win that is either lucky or against a low quality team.
Second, the loss of Jerod Mayo not only loses the Pats their most talented young defender, but it takes away their on-field defensive coordinator. Several commentators have called this the defensive equivalent of Brady's injury in 2008. I think the Pats now have a bottom-tier defense. A team with a bottom-tier defense and a tentative QB working off rust is simply not deserving of a -3.5 line on the road against an talented well-coached team like the Jets. As the result showed, this was a great value bet in week 2.