After the bye week the Patriots are hopefully ready to get back to their winning ways and as with most teams the bye most definitely helped players feel a tiny bit better after playing the first 10 weeks of the season. The Patriots are hopeful that the bye week has helped heal various bumps and bruises for multiple players, but obviously Rob Gronkowski is at the forefront of that. Reports say he has a good chance to play this week, but until we see him on the field we won’t know for sure.
Additionally, the Patriots now face a stretch of three of their next four games on the road with two in the division (including the rough annual game in Miami) and the last road game in Pittsburgh with a top two seed and bye potentially on the line depending how the chips fall in the weeks preceding that. However before we can consider the Patriots getting a bye or the matchup with the Steelers, the Patriots face a tough divisional test at MetLife Stadium against the Jets.
Here is what to watch for as the Patriots take on the Jets:
1. Sam Darnold: Inactive
The top storyline for the Patriots’ opponent this week is whether or not New England will face the Sam Darnold, who the Jets hope will be the future heir to the AFC East throne. Darnold has been battling a foot injury and Josh McCown looked brutal last week.
On Friday, it was reported that Darnold will not play. However, it is possible that the Jets still win and McCown plays well. One thing that is different is that McCown is less likely to be confused by defenses than Darnold because he has seen them all at this point, but Darnold is likely to throw the ball up for grabs than McCown who is prone to taking risks. With the in uncertainty put to rest, Belichick and Flores are planning for the wily veteran Josh McCown rather than the latest Jet’s savior Sam Darnold.
2. Offense after bye week, healthy Gronk?
After getting beaten down by the Titans, the Patriots offense had a week to lick its wounds and get back to work. One thing for sure is that the Patriots will look more cohesive, the play calling more diverse, and the team more healthy.
This is a week the team can get back on track against a team that has been mediocre on defense after having a strong defense for the past few years. The Jets currently rank 22nd in rush yards allowed per game, 16th in passing yards allowed per game, and 19th in total yards per game. Moreover they allow 25.4 points per game, 21st in the NFL. If those stats weren’t enough to show the Jets defense has been mediocre to bad, then the most striking thing is the fact they just allowed 41 points AT HOME to the BILLS! The same Bills who average 1.3 touchdowns per game.
Fortunately, this provides the Patriots the opportunity to focus on whatever part of their offense they deem to be most important as the Jets are equally weak across the board. With Sony Michel having an extra week to heal, I would think he would get at least 20 touches and James White getting the other leftover snaps in the passing game.
And with that the passing game is the perfect transition to the health of Gronk! Everyone is always curious as he is the big wild card for the Patriots’ season. Gronkowski, who has clearly battled nagging injuries that have hampered his on-field production, could be the difference between an appearance in the Super Bowl and a wild card, divisional or conference championship loss. This game will be a big hint toward how Gronkowski could help the team going forward considering him not playing for the past three weeks will make him as healthy as he could possibly be going forward. If Gronkowski looks good they can manage his snaps and even his games to keep him fresh for the playoffs, but if not they will need to figure out the best way to utilize him at less than one hundred percent and keep him as fresh as possible
3. Tom Brady on the injury report
Oh my god the sky is falling! Tom Brady was limited and was on the injury report! What do we do?! Well the good news is I have the answer for you! You sit back, wait for Sunday afternoon at one o’clock and wait for number 12 to take the field for the Patriots because Tom Brady will not likely miss this upcoming game. One thing you can count on is that if Brady is able to walk around and practice in any fashion, limited or full, he is good to go for the game. Even with the reports of Brady missing Friday’s practice with an illness, reports indicate that he should still be able to go on Sunday. Better to put that worry towards something more important for Sunday afternoon: like what type of wings to get with your pizza.
Provided he is healthy, look for Tom Brady to take another step forward with this offense and the Patriots to take it to the Jets aggressively and on their terms in a solid overall team win.
-David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani