Last week, the game looked bleak for the New England Patriots (5-1) against the New Orleans Saints. Even without Aqib Talib, Vince Wilfork, and Jerod Mayo, the Patriots were still able to make two crucial stops on defense in the 4th quarter. Then, Tom Brady did his usual clutch touchdown drive in the final 1:10 of the game to squeak out a 30-27 win. The injury news isn't much better for the Patriots this week. Mayo is out for the season after having surgery for a torn pectoral muscle. Talib is going to miss this week as well with a hip injury.
As for the offense, wide receiver Danny Amendola and center Dan Connolly will most likely miss this week with a concussion. But, there is good news. Rob Gronkowski is finally cleared to play on Sunday. This is great news for the Patriots as Tom Brady will get back a reliable pass catching option. Plus, Gronk will use the middle of the field to allow the other Patriots' receivers to have room to catch passes on the outside.
This week, the Patriots travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the 3-3 New York Jets (1:00 ET, CBS). Rex Ryan's team has performed well than most people expected with a defense that is fourth in the league in yards allowed and second in rush defense. All eyes in New York have been around rookie quarterback Geno Smith. While he has shown some good flashes, he still has ten interceptions to just seven touchdowns. The first meeting between the Jets and the Patriots was a 13-10 rainy slopfest back in Week 2 that went New England's way. Can the Jets pull the upset this weekend at home?
Here are my three keys to this weekend's game at MetLife Stadium:
Fight The Powell: If the Jets are going to pull the upset on Sunday, they will need to run the football and control the clock to keep Brady and the offense off the field. With the Patriots' injuries to their front seven, keep an eye on running backs like Bilal Powell and Chris Ivory. Powell and Ivory combined for 100 yards in the Week 2 loss to the Patriots. With Mike Goodson now out for the season, Rex and offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg will look to rely on the duo to move the ball and put Geno Smith in as few 3rd and longs as possible. It didn't help that the Jets' running backs ran for just 75 yards last week against the Steelers. With the poissibility of no Santonio Holmes at wide receiver and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. still suspended, the Jets need a great run game to have a chance.
Can the Jets Stop The Riddle: Last week, the Patriots were able to get Stevan Ridley back as the starting running back for the first time since Week 4 in Atlanta. The running back from LSU paid huge dividends last week as he ran for 96 yars on 20 carries with two touchdowns against the Saints. It is going to be a tall task for Ridley against a Jets' run defense that held him to 40 yards in Week 2.
However, the Patriots need to stay focused on running the ball to set up the play action pass for Brady. Without a balanced attack, Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurmond to dial up the pass rush and make it a long day. Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson (7.5 sacks combined) will get pressure on Brady throughout this game.
Gronk A Go In The Red Zone: I don't expect much from Rob Gronkowski this week in terms of having a monster game. However, he does improve the team's chances of scoring in the red zone just by being on the field. Without #87, the Patriots are second to last in the NFL in red zone touchdowns and were 0 for 3 in the red zone back in Week 2. Last year, New England was the best team in that category. Even if it is as a decoy for this week, Gronkowski's presence will help Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson. It helps those two wide receivers that cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson don't seem to be 100% heading into this game.
The Jets' fans will be out in full force with their “greenout” this week. Plus, Joshua Cribbs could play a difference on special teams for New York as he was signed this week. However, Geno Smith has had the most combined interceptions/sacks of any quarterback in the NFL. This is a Patriots' team that even without some of their key defensive players is still able to force turnovers. Look for Kyle Arrington to make a big interception in this game. The Patriots' offense will play well in this contest, but I do expect a close game. The last four meetings between these two teams in their second meetings of a season (according to WEEI's Christopher Price) had an average score of 41-13 Patriots. I don't expect that score, but New England still improves to 6-1.
PATRIOTS 23 JETS 17