New England’s season got off to a typically slow start and the usual questions about their imminent demise resurfaced when they dropped to 1-2 on the season. However, in typical fashion, they averaged over 35 points per game over the next six weeks to improve to 7-2. More cracks appeared in their final game before the bye week though, as they lost 34-10 to the Titans. So are they vulnerable? More importantly, with the way the Jets have been playing, will it even matter?
Tom Brady has had a poor year by his standards, posting his lowest quarterback rating since 2013. He’s posted just three 300-yard games; half as many as he had in the first 10 games of last season.
Nevertheless, it’s widely expected he’ll pad his stats against a struggling Jets secondary. Look for the Jets to try and create some interior pressure to move him off his spot, as he’s been dealing with a knee injury after face-planting in unathletic fashion on a gadget play last week.
Brady is actually listed as questionable as he missed practice on Friday due to illness, but the backup - Brian Hoyer - probably won’t see action unless it’s for garbage time mop-up duties.
Other than replacing Nate Solder with Trent Brown, the rest of last year’s offensive line is intact for the Patriots. With Solder struggling with the Giants, Brown has held up quite well, although he does lead all starters with four penalties.
Tackle Marcus Cannon and guard Shaq Mason are strong run blockers on the right side, while center David Andrews and left guard Joe Thuney have been good in pass protection. Thuney gave up five sacks each of the last two seasons, but hasn’t given up any yet this year.
Tackle LaAdrian Waddle and interior lineman Ted Karras are the main reserves off the bench. Waddle struggled when filling in for Cannon for a few games earlier in the year. Karras may be needed to fill in for Mason, who is listed as questionable.
The Patriots are led in rushing by rookie Sony Michel, who rushed for over 100 yards against the Chiefs a few weeks ago. However, their star running back is James White who has caught 66 passes and accounted for 10 total touchdowns.
Fullback James Develin is a solid lead blocker who gets the occasional touch in short yardage situations.
Julian Edelman missed the start of the season due to suspension but has been getting his money’s worth since his return as he’s been targeted over nine times per week, catching 40 passes in six games.
Josh Gordon - acquired via trade from Cleveland earlier this season - is the team’s big play threat, as he averages over 18 yards per catch. Off the bench, Phillip Dorsett and Chris Hogan are productive reserves who can contribute from the slot.
Cordarrelle Patterson is also on the bench but 32 of his 44 touches this year have actually been carries, not catches. He will presumably be the emergency running back if Michel - who is listed as questionable - is limited.
At tight end, Rob Gronkowski is set to make his return, which should provide a boost. His backups - Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister - have just seven catches between them. Allen has already been ruled out anyway with a knee injury.
New England are down near the bottom of the league with just 16 sacks this year. Deatrich Wise leads them with 3.5 while Adrian Clayborn and Trey Flowers have 2.5 each having combined for 16 between them last year. Both have been solid against the run and generated plenty of pressure though.
John Simon usually sees some action off the bench while Derek Rivers also sees rotational reps - mostly in passing situations.
On the inside, veteran Lawrence Guy has been their most reliable run defender, with support from former first round picks Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton. Wise has also lined up inside at times.
New England’s most impressive linebacker this year was probably Ja’Whaun Bentley, but the rookie is on injured reserve. In his absence, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts are the starters, although Roberts will often come out of the game in passing situations. Hightower has been solid against the run, while Van Noy is a productive blitzer, although he also leads the team in missed tackles.
New England recently added some veteran depth by signing Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber, although neither has played for them yet.
Starters Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty are both having solid seasons for the Patriots at cornerback, although they only have one interception between them.
With Eric Rowe on injured reserve, youngsters Jonathan Jones and JC Jackson have been solid off the bench and share the team lead with two interceptions each.
At safety, pro bowler Devin McCourty continues to produce well, ably assisted by Patrick Chung. They also run a lot of three-safety sets with Duron Harmon.
The Patriots kicking game is solid with Ryan Allen on punts and Stephen Gostkowski as the placekicker. Allen has posted unspectacular numbers this year but Gostkowski has only missed just three field goals all year, all of them from beyond 50 yards.
Edelman is currently New England’s punt returner, while Patterson is on kickoffs. Earlier this week, Brant Boyer praised Patterson, calling him perhaps the league’s best kickoff returner.
Pro bowl gunner Matthew Slater is a fixture on special teams, but reserve safeties Brandon King and Nate Ebner have also been productive this year, although Ebner is questionable with an injury.