Well we knew the NFL season would have speed bumps, but we didn’t think it would happen so soon.
If the last week has shown anything though, it is that NFL has no plan or idea of what they’re doing with this virus. Moreover, it should be clear the NFL has only one thing on its mind: finishing this season. Unfortunately, that has left the Patriots vulnerable as they play an unenviable schedule with unnecessary risks. Consider that the league didn’t consider the incubation period as it risked all the Chiefs and Patriots players’ health.
Simply put: there was no concern or thought for anything. Well, other than fitting in a primetime matchup that would drive ratings. This just the latest example of the NFL not doing what it should to protect its players. There is no accountability from anyone other than considering bottom line figures and tv ratings. The players are just numbers.
Unfortunately things don’t appear like they will change. It will be up to the coaches and players to protect themselves. Stephon Gilmore, Cam Newton, and Bill Murray are paying the price for the league’s short-sightedness. The NFL shield is more of a hypothetical at this point. Transparent with its obvious greed and callous decision-making.
Now as the Patriots receive word of the Monday kickoff, here is what’s happening for week five:
First Down: With the Patriots unlikely to have Cam Newton this week, Jarrett Stidham seems likely to start according to multiple reports. After last week’s disastrous showing by Brian Hoyer, Stidham appears to have a hold on the job in the short-term. Stidham showed a little bit but has a ways to go. Not unexpected for a young quarterback. Unfortunately he will not see a ton of reps this week with just one practice before the Monday game.
On the other side, Drew Lock has a chance to return as the Broncos starter. Lock would be a huge boost for coach Vic Fangio as their backup options Brett Rypien or Jeff Driskel, both have underwhelmed. Even with Lock the Broncos offense will likely struggle. Without him, they are in real trouble.
Second Down: Unlike other weeks, the Patriots figure to have a lot of options and ways to attack the Broncos defense. Early on Denver has struggled in all facets of the game ranking 14th in points allowed, 13th in rushing yards allowed, and 21st in passing yards allowed. Because of the the whole playbook figures to be open. It will be interesting to see how much the playbook changes with Stidham being less mobile than Newton, but also being inexperienced.
Going off of previous games Josh McDaniels figures to lean on his run game. After all, it has been money thus far. The Patriots currently rank second in the NFL averaging 179.8 yards per game on the ground. They also just got back arguably their most talented overall back in Damien Harris, who showed great vision and agility in his work in Kansas City.
Look for Harris to have a big chunk of work, likely pushing 20 carries in a game the Pats should dominate physically.
Third Down: On defense this is a chance for New England to have a statement game. The Broncos have really struggled and have battled injuries all year. Because of that, the Broncos are 28th in points at 20.5 per game, and 29th in total yards per game with just 306.8. Throw in they are either playing a banged up Drew Lock, Brett Rypien or Jeff Driskel and this is a perfect time for the defense to create some big plays.
One other note too is that Gilmore will likely be out, but the Pats will be fine. The Broncos struggle passing the ball and New England has the best depth at corner in the NFL. Even without Gilmore, Belichick can trot out J.C. Jackson, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones. Three surefire starters and pro bowl caliber corners. It hurts not having the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but they will be okay.
*Here is to hoping a quick return to health for Stephon Gilmore, Bill Murray and Cam Newton.
Fourth Down: It is obvious Sony Michel will not play this week or next after being placed on injured reserve, but it is fair to wonder where he fits now. If Damien Harris shows what the team thinks he can, he will have a firm grip on the starting spot. Throw in the productive burst Rex Burkhead has shown, the electric carries J.J. Taylor has given, and the trustworth James White and it makes you think. What do they do with Sony?
Most of the time these questions are answered with time. Injuries or bad performance often sort out these issues before the arise, but it will be interesting to see how Belichick and Caserio handle it. Michel is a first-round pick so it is unlikely he would be released, but he is also is potentially their fifth-most productive back. He doesn’t break tackles and struggles hitting the hole. It will be a potentially fascinating thing to watch develop.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Broncos 13
The Patriots showed they can play great defense on anyone. They still have the personnel to stop any offense on any day. This week if they show up with the same effort they should be able to hold the Broncos down and allow their offense to get it going. Look for the defense to create some short fields, with the field position battle and ease Stidham into it. Also if you’re looking for a fantasy option Damiere Byrd has been showing up early on, look for him to make a big play if Josh McDaniels calls a deep shot at some point.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani