BOSTON (CBS) — This will be the first time in almost 20 years that the New England Patriots will enter the season without Tom Brady as their starting quarterback. It had to happen eventually. Brady, of course, is now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer (as is Rob Gronkowski). And Bill Belichick will most likely hand the ball to Jarrett Stidham.

The Patriots have plenty of confidence in him, certainly more than those on the outside looking in do. And both free agency and the NFL Draft presented plenty of chances to go in another direction, either with a proven veteran or a rookie. But the team held firm.

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So far there’s a lot to like about Stidham. He was the team’s fourth-round pick last season and has had a season to learn from the greatest quarterback to ever crouch under center. He performed well last preseason and behind the scenes in the regular season. He’s young and healthy. He throws with accuracy and makes the right decisions. And maybe most importantly, Stidham fits the Patriots system.

By this point, you’d think Bill Belichick would have earned the benefit of the doubt in personnel matters. Still, many disagree, and that includes the experts in Vegas. After a 12-win season, led by a dominant defense that remains largely intact, the Patriots are projected to win just nine games. And some think even that might be too many.

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“They didn’t draft a wideout,” notes SportsLine senior analyst Larry Hartstein. “I don’t know why, this draft was loaded with wideouts. And Jarrett Stidham, I think he’s going to be good eventually. Strong arm, he’s going to develop. But asking him to do it in his first year [as starter]… 8-8, 9-7 best, but 8-8, 7-9 more likely.”

In terms of projected win totals, Hartstein sees the Patriots as the best under play in the AFC East. Two other factors beyond the team’s control– scheduling and improvement throughout the division — contribute to their slipping fortunes.

“They’re sitting there with a win total of nine, just like the Bills,” Hartstein points out. “They’ve got the toughest schedule in the league, if you go by record from last year, a winning percentage of .537. Listen to this schedule… at the Chiefs, at the Texans, at the Seahawks, at the Rams, at the Chargers, host the Niners, host the Ravens. Those are seven tough games right there, and the division has gotten better.”

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Of course, it’s also only May. And plenty of uncertainties will have to work themselves out, both in the NFL and in the world at large. But one thing still seems to be certain, and that’s people questioning Belichick’s wisdom. You’d think six Super Bowl titles might change that. Apparently not.