Houston Texans

What John McClain saw in Jarrett Stidham during his time at Baylor

What John McClain saw in Jarrett Stidham during his time at Baylor

Editor’s note: In the coming weeks our Patriots insiders will be speaking with beat writers from around the NFL to get an outside view on what the future holds for the Patriots. Today’s team: The Houston Texans with John McLain of the Houston Chronicle.

As the post-Tom Brady era begins in New England, it appears as though it'll be Jarrett Stidham's offense when the Patriots kick off their 2020 campaign.

Taking over for the six-time Super Bowl champion won't be an easy task, but those who watched Stidham during his college years believe the 2019 fourth-round pick is up for the challenge. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and Stidham's former wide receiver Darius Slayton both recently have expressed their confidence in the new Patriots starting QB.

Stidham was highly touted even before his time at Auburn. He began his college career at Baylor, where he caught the eye of John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. On the latest edition of Patriots Opposing Views, McClain told Tom E. Curran what he saw from Stidham.

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"I went to Baylor and I see almost every Baylor game, and I became a fan when I was in the Cub Scouts in 1960, so I knew all about Jarrett Stidham," McClain said. "He's from Stephenville, Texas over by Fort Worth ...

"Art Briles, who had been the head coach at Stephenville, convinced him to come to Baylor. And when he recruited him, right before Stidham's freshman year, Briles told me that he thought Stidham could be the best quarterback he's ever had.

"And he coached Case Keenum in college, he coached RG3 (Robert Griffin III) and some other quarterbacks that put up some incredible numbers. And so I thought, 'wow, I gotta watch this kid.'"

Considering Keenum and RG3's college success, that's some pretty high praise from the ex-Baylor head coach.

McClain went on to explain how we may not have seen Stidham's full potential during his time at Auburn, and why the Patriots could be the perfect spot for him to maximize that potential as an NFL starter.

"People always said that the offense he ran under Gus Malzahn at Auburn was not tailored for him, that the offense at Baylor would have been," McClain said.

"And I can't wait to see how he is as the starter with Josh McDaniels. You guys know Brian Hoyer well and I do too, I think Hoyer will be like an extra coach for him."

There's no doubt Stidham has his work cut out for him. After all, the Patriots have arguably the most daunting schedule of any team for the 2020 season. But it's clear the 23-year-old has made quite the impression on those who have watched him closely, and the Patriots seem to be all-in on having him as their starter for the foreseeable future.

Stidham played in 10 games with Baylor in 2015, completing 68.8 percent of his passes for 1,265 yards, 12 touchdowns and two interceptions.

In his 2018 season with Auburn, Stidham completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,794 yards, 18 touchdowns and five picks in 13 games

NFL win totals: Best over and under bets after schedule release

NFL win totals: Best over and under bets after schedule release

Some may assume that the 2020 NFL schedule release won't have much of an impact on projected win totals for the upcoming season. After all, everyone already knew who each team was set to play against in 2020. So, the order in which the games are played shouldn't matter too much, right?

Wrong.

The schedule actually has a huge impact on picking win totals. The placement of bye weeks is one of the major factors. So too are stretches at the start of the season where it can be assumed that teams will be mostly healthy. So, if a team has a favorable stretch of opponents to open the year, the over may look better. But a few tough contests to start things off, or a brutal three to four-week span at any point in the season, could spell trouble.

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At the end of the day, it's impossible to predict everything right in the NFL. But for now, here are a few teams that are the best bets for the over and few that are solid bets for the under on their win totals.

All over/under totals are courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.

Over Bets

1. Pittsburgh Steelers: Over 8.5 (-125). The Ravens and the Steelers have the two easiest schedules in the AFC. So, why aren't the Ravens listed here? Simple. Their win total is 11 while the Steelers' is 8.5. Both could exceed their numbers but for obvious reasons, but it will be easier for the Steelers to do that.

There aren't a lot of intimidating games on the Steelers' schedule besides the Ravens. Sure, the Browns and Bengals will always play hard against the rest of the AFC North. But the Steelers went 3-1 against them last year with Mason Rudolph and Devlin "Duck" Hodges at quarterback. They should be in better shape with Ben Roethlisberger returning.

Elsewhere on the Steelers' schedule, games against the Titans, Eagles, Colts, and Bills could be challenging to some degree. But the Steelers should be favored at home more often than not and so long as Roethlisberger can stay healthy, they should have a chance to reach double-digit wins again.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Over 10 (-110). The Bucs have improved their offense greatly this offseason by adding Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to the fold. Will their additions translate to success on the field? Only time will tell.

But the Bucs have a favorable schedule in 2020. They have to take on some talented teams including the Saints (twice), Packers, Chiefs, and Vikings, but their games against the latter three are all at home, as is one of the Saints games. If they can at least go 3-2 in those games, they should have a good chance to eclipse the 10-win mark.

And if they beat the Saints in Week 1 at the Superdome, it's possible that they could go on a bit of an undefeated run to start the season. Their four games after playing the Saints are vs. Panthers, at Broncos, vs. Chargers, and at Bears. Those all are winnable but first things first, Brady will look to dispatch the Saints in the first week of the season.

3. Indianapolis Colts: Over 8.5 (-155). Yeah, the juice on this one isn't that great, but that's because it feels like a shoo-in that the Colts will win at least nine games. They were off to a good start last year before Jacoby Brissett got hurt and regressed. Philip Rivers should help them to find success as a bridge quarterback, especially considering how much better his blocking will be with the Colts compared to the Chargers.

The Colts have a very easy start to the season. They realistically could have a chance to beat their first seven opponents. Their toughest games will be against the Vikings (at home) and the Bears (on the road), but if the Colts offense can click early, the Jaguars, Jets, Browns, Bengals, and Lions are all beatable.

The second half of the year is less kind, including a brutal five-game stretch where they play the Ravens, Titans (twice), Packers, and Texans, but they should be able to squeeze a win or two out of that patch if all goes well.

This bet may be a bit sketchier if the win total goes up to 9, but we'd like it even at that number. The Colts just seem like a team that should earn a Wild Card bid in 2020.

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Under Bets

1. Houston Texans: Under 7.5 (-110). It's hard to find a team with a more brutal start to the season than the Texans. And while Deshaun Watson's presence should help them stay competitive, without DeAndre Hopkins, the team may have more trouble generating plays on offense.

The Texans get to take on the Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers, and Vikings in the first four weeks. After that, they get a brief respite against the Jacksonville Jaguars before having to face the Titans and Packers, who played in the AFC and NFC Championship Game last season, before their bye week. So, it's possible that the Texans could go 1-6 to start the season.

Things get better for the Texans after their bye, but will the damage already be done? And they still do have to take on the Colts twice, the Patriots, the Titans, and the Bears. So, not all of their games are gimmes. Bill O'Brien has led the Texans back from a deficit before, but the task may be too tall for him this time around. 

2. Detroit Lions: Under 7 (-115). The number of seven for the Lions always felt high even if they were getting back a healthy Matthew Stafford. Their schedule isn't terrible, but it's hard to find close to seven sure-fire wins on there.

In the first half of the season, the Lions have to face the Bears, Packers, Cardinals, Saints, Jaguars, Falcons, Colts, and Vikings. The home game against the Bears should be winnable and so is the road game against the Jaguars. But the rest of the games? They're tossups at best.

And in the second half of the season, the Lions are set to take on the Buccaneers as well as the Bears, Packers, and Vikings again.

There are simply too many quality opponents on the Lions schedule to trust them. And if the team struggles out of the gate, Matt Patricia could find himself on the hot seat which will only create more problems for the team. So, it's best to bet against the Lions in 2020.

3. New England Patriots: Under 9 (-110). It's certainly conceivable that the Patriots could win 9 or 10 games this season. But two factors make it more of a possibility than a likelihood. First, the team has a brutal schedule highlighted by an early-season gauntlet that sees them face the Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, and San Francisco 49ers in the first six weeks before playing six of their next eight games on the road. That's not easy for any team to deal with.

Secondly, Jarrett Stidham is in his first year as a starter, and he may have growing pains. And as our own Tom E. Curran pointed out recently, Stidham's growth could be stunted a bit by a lost offseason amid the COVID-19 pandemic. So, even if the team believes that he could be the future of the franchise, trusting him to get this team double-digit wins doesn't seem like a great bet.

So, we'll favor the under for the time being even though betting against Bill Belichick hasn't proven to be a wise decision over the years.

Patriots 2020 schedule: Ranking all 16 matchups by difficulty, intrigue

Patriots 2020 schedule: Ranking all 16 matchups by difficulty, intrigue

Welcome to a new era of New England Patriots football, where the regular season actually matters.

Two decades with Tom Brady under center meant Patriots fans only had to worry about two things: whether the Patriots would get a first-round playoff bye, and who they'd face in the AFC Championship Game.

But that will likely change in 2020, as second-year (former?) backup Jarrett Stidham leads a rebuilding team that may be challenged to even reach the playoffs.

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The silver lining? Each regular season game should be a lot more interesting in 2020 as the Patriots battle to remain relevant.

Since we already know who New England will play and where -- we should get the full schedule by May 9 -- let's break down each of the team's 16 games in 2020, beginning with what should be the easiest matchup and ending with its toughest test.

16. vs. New York Jets

Intrigue Rating (scale of 1 to 10): 2
Sure, it's an divisional matchup, but the Jets are still in rebuild mode after taking massive offensive tackle Mehki Becton among its nine picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Their offense is still a major work in progress, so this should be a low-scoring affair. 

Storyline to watch: Can the Patriots' defense spook Sam Darnold?
The last time Darnold faced the Patriots, he saw ghosts. Several "Boogeymen" are no longer in New England, though, so you can bet the 22-year-old QB will be out for revenge.

Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 21, Jets 10
This isn't going to be a pretty game to watch. New England edges the Jets at home on the strength of its defense.

15. at New York Jets

Intrigue Rating: 1
See above. The Jets occasionally have given New England problems in the Meadowlands, but don’t expect this game to be on prime-time television. 

Storyline to watch: Will Jarrett Stidham benefit from extra "experience" vs. the Jets?
Stidham appeared in three games last season. Two were against the Jets, and he got yanked in one of them after throwing an interception. Stidham has a score to settle here, too.

Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 17, Jets 13
This should be another ugly contest, but Bill Belichick relies on the run game and defense (expect to see plenty of that) to grind out a win. He hates losing to the Jets.

14. at Los Angeles Chargers

Intrigue Rating: 4
Depending on when in the season this game is, the Chargers could have Justin Herbert under center, giving the Patriots a chance to see what they passed up in the No. 6 overall pick.

Storyline to watch: Can the Patriots’ offensive line protect Stidham?
The Chargers are mediocre, but they have two premier pass-rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Assuming Patriots tackles Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon are healthy, they’ll have their hands full in this one.

Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 24, Chargers 17
West Coast road games are no picnic, but we can't see a Chargers offense without Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon scoring enough points to win this one.

13. vs. Las Vegas Raiders

Intrigue Rating: 3
This game would have a lot more juice if it was in Vegas. Still, the Patriots haven't played the Raiders since 2017 and will get a look at young offensive weapons Josh Jacobs and Henry Ruggs.

Storyline to watch: How fast is this Patriots defense?
The Raiders prioritized speed with Ruggs, who ran a blazing 4.27-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and the Patriots' secondary have wheels, but they're not getting any younger.

Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 27, Raiders 21
The Raiders haven't beaten New England since 2002. The Patriots aren't going 12-4 this season, but there still are plenty of worse teams in the AFC, and Las Vegas is one of them.

12. vs. Miami Dolphins

Intrigue Rating: 6
Foxboro South comes to Foxboro, as Patriots cast-offs Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and Ted Karras get a crack at their former club under ex-Patriots assistant Brian Flores. Oh, and Tua Tagovailoa could start in this game, which would be awesome.

Storyline to watch: Is Tua the heir apparent in Miami?
You heard the rumblings about the Patriots' pre-draft interest in Tagovailoa. There's a chance he's not starting at this point, but if he is, it will be fascinating to see if he's the real deal.

Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 21, Dolphins 14
Miami beat New England in New England last year for the first time since 2008. Bill Belichick won't let that happen two seasons in a row, as teacher defeats pupil.

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11. at Los Angeles Rams

Intrigue Rating: 5
The Rams' stock is plunging, but it'll be the first meeting since Super Bowl LIII, and they'll be playing in the brand-new SoFi Stadium, assuming it opens on time.

Storyline to watch: How hard are the Rams tanking?
Todd Gurley was just part of a Rams fire sale that included Brandin Cooks, Clay Matthews and Dante Fowler Jr. Can they tread water in 2020 after going 9-7 last season -- or will they sink to the bottom?

Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 30, Rams 21
This Rams defense ain’t what it used to be. Stidham and the offense find their groove in L.A. to hit the 30-point threshold for the first time in the post-Brady era.

10. vs. Denver Broncos

Intrigue Rating: 5
The Broncos are another team the Patriots don't see much these days (last meeting: 2017), and they have a pretty exciting wide receiver group after drafting Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler.

Storyline to watch: Did John Elway find his franchise quarterback ... or Brock Osweiler 2.0?
Drew Lock is one of just four AFC starting quarterbacks (Stidham included) who isn't a first-round pick. The Broncos apparently think he's the real deal, but a trip to New England to face Belichick will be a steep challenge.

Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 20, Broncos 17
We'll take the experienced head coach over the young QB. The Patriots ride their defense to another home win despite Denver limiting Stidham and Co. to just two touchdowns.

9. at Miami Dolphins

Intrigue Rating: 6
The Patriots' annual visit to Miami is usually late in the season, and this time around, there actually could be a playoff berth on the line for New England.

Storyline to watch: Will the Patriots' Miami woes continue in the post-Brady era?
The Patriots have won in just two of their previous seven trips to Miami. Will that trend continue in the Stidham era, or can the young QB somehow find success where the GOAT failed?

Way-too-early prediction: Dolphins 27, Patriots 21
The Dolphins are too young and hungry (and have too many former Patriots) to get swept by their now-vulnerable AFC East rival. Make that six losses in New England's last eight trips to Miami.

8. at Houston Texans

Intrigue Rating: 5
Time to find out just how dumb the Texans are for replacing Carlos Hyde and DeAndre Hopkins with David Johnson and Brandin Cooks. At least Cooks is a familiar face for Patriots fans.

Storyline to watch: Deshaun Watson's mood
Yes, the Texans picked up Watson's fifth-year option, but he can't be happy with Houston trading away his top receiver, and there's been some scuttlebutt that he could be a future Patriot. Might Bill Belichick give him a wink during their postgame handshake?

Way-too-early prediction: Texans 28, Patriots 24
The Texans snapped an eight-game losing streak against New England last December, and their defense is solid enough to keep Stidham and the Patriots offense in check.

7. vs. Arizona Cardinals

Intrigue Rating: 8
Kyler Murray, Kenyan Drake and DeAndre Hopkins in a Kliff Kingsbury-run offense? Yeah, we'll watch this one. Oh, and Chandler Jones gets his first crack at his old teammates since the teams' last meeting in 2016.

Storyline to watch: Will the Cardinals actually be good in 2020?
The Cardinals made moves this offseason by lucking into Hopkins and drafting talented linebacker Isaiah Simmons at No. 8 overall. Their offense looks stacked on paper, but New England's stout defense will be a great litmus test.

Way-too-early prediction: Cardinals 31, Patriots 23
The Patriots' secondary keeps Hopkins in check, but Drake gashes New England in the run game as the Cardinals squeeze out a road win.

6. vs. Buffalo Bills

Intrigue Rating: 7
Josh Allen finally has a legitimate No. 1 receiver in Stefon Diggs, and you know the Bills are eager for revenge after Brady held them back for so many years.

Storyline to watch: Is there a new bully in the AFC East?
Everyone is predicting Buffalo to dethrone New England in the division (including some Buffalo players). Will the Patriots allow the Bills to come into Foxboro and push them around, or will they rally behind the challenge?

Way-too-early prediction: Patriots 21, Bills 17
The Bills are the better team, but we just can't see them sweeping the season series (more on that in a second) against Belichick's club. The Patriots pull off one of their "How did they do that?" wins.

5. at Buffalo Bills

Intrigue Rating: 7
See above, but with the added juice of 70,000 raucous Bills fans (assuming fans are allowed at games, that is) jumping down the Patriots' throats at every miscue.

Storyline to watch: How will Stidham handle a hostile environment?
Buffalo will be the toughest place Stidham will play in 2020. We know Brady was ice-cool when it was so loud his offense couldn't hear him; what about a 23-year-old kid?

Way-too-early prediction: Bills 21, Patriots 10
New England's defense holds its own, but Stidham and the offense just can't get anything going against Buffalo's stout D.

4. at Seattle Seahawks

Intrigue Rating: 7
Allegiances aside, Russell Wilson is one of the most exciting QBs in football to watch. Oh, and you know Pete Carroll still thinks about Belichick staring him down in the final seconds of Super Bowl XLIX...

Storyline to watch: Can the Patriots' defense contain an elite QB?
The last time Wilson faced the Patriots (2016), he racked up 348 passing yards and three TDs. New England lost important box defenders Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts this offseason, so containing Wilson could be a challenge.

Way-too-early prediction: Seahawks 28, Patriots 17
Seattle doesn't lose many home games, and we can't see Stid the Kid leading the Patriots to an upset of one of the NFC's stronger teams.

3. vs. Baltimore Ravens

Intrigue Rating: 8
The Ravens haven't won a regular-season game in Foxboro in the Belichick era. You'd best believe they have their first game against the Brady-less Patriots circled on their calendar. Oh, and there are few QBs more exciting than Wilson. Lamar Jackson is one of them.

Storyline to watch: Can the Patriots even stay on the field with an elite team?
These are uncharted waters for the Patriots, who no longer feel like a team to beat. But can they even remain competitive against the class of the AFC? Matchups like this one could determine how far New England has fallen without Brady.

Way-too-early prediction: Ravens 31, Patriots 14
Our answer to the above question: No. Even if Belichick devises a plan to limit Jackson, Baltimore's other weapons like running back Mark Ingram and speedy wideout Marquise Brown should find success. And there's no way the Patriots score more than two touchdowns.

2. vs. San Francisco 49ers

Intrigue Rating: 10
Welcome back, Jimmy G! Jimmy Garoppolo's first game against his old team is in the House That Tom Brady Built. Time to see what could have been, Patriots fans.

Storyline to watch: A tale of two succession plans
Garoppolo was supposed to be Brady's heir apparent. Four years later, that successor looks like Stidham. So, how wide is the gap between the two ex-Brady backups?

Way-too-early prediction: 49ers 28, Patriots 13
Don't let the QB storyline distract you from the fact that San Francisco is a very good football team. Garoppolo tosses a couple TD passes and the 49ers put the clamps on Stidham to cruise to victory.

1. at Kansas City Chiefs

Intrigue Rating: 9
Patrick Mahomes vs. Jarrett Stidham doesn't quite have the same juice as Mahomes vs. Brady, but this is still your chance to see the defending Super Bowl champions in these teams' second matchup since the 2018 AFC Championship Game.

Storyline to watch: How wide is the gap between the Patriots and the top of the AFC?
Kansas City is the prohibitive favorite to win the AFC and return to the Super Bowl, so New England should stand no chance at Arrowhead Stadium. But if the Patriots hang around, there's a moral victory to be had here.

Way-too-early prediction: Chiefs 35, Patriots 17
Yeah, the Patriots stand no chance in this one. Mahomes does his thing as the Chiefs remind the Patriots there's a new king of the AFC.