NFL

NFL Betting: Who Will Open the Season as the New England Patriots' Starting Quarterback?

For the first time in nearly two decades, there is uncertainty about who will be the New England Patriots' starting quarterback.

The battle to replace Tom Brady in New England has basically boiled down to two leading contenders -- Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer -- with several outside options lurking in free agency. Over at FanDuel Sportsbook, you can place your bets on who will be the Patriots' starting quarterback in Week 1. Stidham is the favorite at -330 odds while Hoyer logs in at +300.

Both quarterbacks enter the competition having familiarity with New England's system and coaches and have been Brady's backup at one point. Stidham beat out Hoyer last offseason to be Brady's primary backup, but Hoyer has started 38 games and appeared in 69 over the course of his 11-year NFL career. It's a race between a largely known and a largely unknown quarterback to replace a legend.

So let's examine the front-runners to be Brady's replacement and find out the best place to put your money on this bet.

Jarrett Stidham (-330)

There's really no reason to examine Stidham's NFL stats considering this is going to be his second year in the league and he threw just four passes last season as Brady's backup. Unfortunately, one of those tosses was intercepted by Jamal Adams and returned for a touchdown in a blowout victory for the Patriots, but it doesn't pay to dwell on the outcomes of his three appearances last year.

What is of greater concern is the fact Stidham took a step back statistically between his two years at Auburn in 2017 and 2018. In his first season at Auburn, Stidham completed two-thirds of his passes, threw for more than 3,100 yards and led the Tigers to the SEC West title and an appearance in a New Year's Six bowl game. The following year, he completed just 60.7 percent of his passes and threw for fewer than 2,800 yards, though he did toss the same number of touchdowns (18) as he did the previous year.

There are a lot of things to like about Stidham physically with his 6-foot-3 frame, and coming out of college, scouts were a fan of his mechanics and ability to make the throws required in the NFL. Clearly Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels saw something in Stidham to keep him over Hoyer last offseason as Brady's backup, and a year around Brady is certainly one of the best learning experiences for a rookie quarterback.

The challenge is how will the young signal caller translate those skills onto the field with a group of weapons that underperformed in 2019. In addition to the pressure of having to be Brady's successor, Stidham is playing for a fan base who has known only winning for the last 20 years, so the expectations are sky high.

Brian Hoyer (+300)

Hoyer is the experienced option, but he hasn't had a whole lot of tape playing for the Patriots. In his four and a half seasons with the Pats, he has never started a game and has attempted just 51 passes in 23 appearances. Much of what we know about Hoyer's skillset comes from him playing for other teams and having mixed results.

He's lost his last 16 games as a starting quarterback, and he's completed more than 60 percent of his passes just twice in the six seasons in which he's made multiple starts. Even when he went 10-6 as a starter in Cleveland in 2013 and 2014, he completed just 56 percent of his attempts and threw 17 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. His best statistical season came in 2016, when he started five times for the Chicago Bears and completed 67 percent of his passes while tossing six touchdowns and zero interceptions, but Chicago lost four of the five games for which he was at the helm.

Over the past two seasons, the average Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back among all quarterbacks has been 0.10, a mark Hoyer has hit only twice in a season in which he had at least 50 drop backs. He's actually had a negative Passing NEP in each of the last three seasons -- granted he had limited reps in 2018 and 2019 -- and the 0.22 Passing NEP per drop back he registered in 2016 with the Bears was his best clip in a season with at least 50 drop backs.

As long as Patriots fans are content with a quarterback who might not put up statistics that look great, Hoyer is a solid enough choice to be the starter this season. He won't complete a high percentage of passes, and he might throw more interceptions than Brady has in the last decade, but he's found ways to win in the past and can surely do so again in New England.

The Field

The Patriots might be the only team in the league where the starting quarterback is potentially not currently on the roster. New England has been a rumored landing spot for two high-profile free-agent quarterbacks for much of the reasons I laid out above. The fact that the Patriots don't have a quarterback many people outside the organization are confident in has led to enough speculation that the franchise might be in the market for another quarterback to add to the competition.

FanDuel has set the odds on Cam Newton being New England's starter at +850, significantly better than those for current New England third-stringer Brian Lewerke (+6000). There are no odds currently available on Colin Kaepernick being the Patriots' starter, but he, too, probably would be listed at better odds than Lewerke's.

It seems unlikely that Newton ends up in New England, but if healthy, he's likely far better than any of the options New England currently has on the roster. He's a proven starter in this league, and when healthy over the past few seasons, he's been as dynamic as any quarterback in the league. But there might be a sense around the Patriots' organization that it wasn't Brady that made them successful over the past two decades, but the system Bill Belichick implemented.

As a result, it seems a bit foolish to suggest that New England doesn't already have its starting quarterback on the roster. There doesn't seem to be much of a push for the Patriots to sign Newton or Kaepernick, so it appears they are going to stick with the people Belichick knows and trusts to replace a true legend.

The Pick

Honestly, your guess is as good as mine about which quarterback will take the field for New England in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins. There is part of me that feels like Belichick wants to prove he can develop Stidham into a suitable long-term replacement for Brady. There's another part of me that feels like Belichick has enough faith in Hoyer to make him the starter and allow Stidham more time to develop in the system.

But if I need to make a choice, I would put my money on Stidham at -330 odds to be the Pats' starting quarterback to begin this season. He's young, has spent the last year learning from Brady and has the physical tools to be a good quarterback in the league. He clearly showed enough potential and skill last year to beat out Hoyer and win the backup role, so he shouldn't have gotten worse in a year. Stidham likely won't be asked to do much because of New England's sterling defense, which should also help take some pressure off him and allow him time to slowly fill Brady's shoes.