After a couple of big wins, the Patriots came crashing back down to Earth with a loss to the Texans. Despite the game looking like a good opportunity against a bottom-tier team, New England struggled to stop Deshaun Watson and it cost them.
Now sitting at 4-6, the Pats likely need to run the table. New England currently sits in 11th place in the AFC, and only seven make the playoffs. Unfortunately the strength of the AFC makes it tough on them. There are currently nine teams with a record of at least 6-4, making it unlikely 9-7 gets you a playoff berth. Because of that, this week is a must-win.
Here is what’s happening in week 12:
First Down: As we get deeper in the season, injuries continue to mount for most teams. Kyler Murray has an aching shoulder injury and Larry Fitzgerald has already been ruled out. That should help the Patriots defense a tad, but this is still an explosive offense, even with Murray at less than full strength.
On the New England side, the Patriots continue to have very long injury reports. They list 13 players as questionable, while two players have been ruled out already. Isaiah Wynn and Rex Burkhead have both been declared out. Both looked unlikely to play after they left last week’s game, but it is now confirmed after both missed the whole week of practice.
As for the aforementioned players listed as questionable, they include key names such like: Adam Butler, Shaq Mason, Stephon Gilmore, Ja’Whaun Bentley, Kyle Dugger, Matthew Slater, N’Keal Harry, Nick Folk, and Ryan Izzo.
Simply put New England really is feeling the effects of being in week 12 of the season.
Second Down: So how good is the Cardinals offense? They are better than good. They are elite. They rank second in the NFL in yards per game and eighth in points per game. Moreover they have Kyler Murray, who is a top MVP candidate. Murray currently has 19 touchdowns to eight interceptions to go along with 2644 passing yards and 619 rushing yards. He also has 10 rushing touchdowns, giving him 29 total touchdowns through 10 games, a pace of about three per game.
Murray also has the second ranked receiver in yards per game with DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins has 919 yards through 10 games to go along with four touchdowns. Hopkins’ 72 receptions are also tied for third in the entire NFL.
They also have a dynamic backfield with Kenyan Drake and Chase Edmonds who, along with Murray, have powered the Cardinals to being the second ranked rushing attack at 157.7 yards per game.
Third Down: A lot of people have been complaining about Cam Newton recently, but the last three games Cam has really delivered. Over his last three games Cam has a 71% completion percentage, is averaging a little over 250 yards per game through the air, and has five total touchdowns. Most importantly though, Cam has zero turnovers after struggling with that early on in the season.
One thing that is clear is the the team has been less successful on Cam’s rushing attempts. Over his last three games Cam has just 43 rushing yards. Comparatively, over Cam’s first six games he had over 43 yards in four of those games.
Fourth Down: One thing that has gone unnoticed thus far is how solid Nick Folk has been in the kicking game this year. Folk has delivered a really strong season at a time when the team needs all the points they can get. Folk has missed just two extra points and two field goals all season. He has also been perfect from inside 40 yards this season going nine-for-nine.
In a season where the team has struggled offensively at times, and where Belichick moved on from a long-time franchise kicker, Nick Folk has solidified a really shaky spot.
Prediction: Cardinals 27, Patriots 23
Last week really hurt the Pats’ chances of making the playoffs. That sets up a tough string of games starting with the Cardinals. One thing that is likely to be a big issue is Kyler Murray’s mobility, as Deshaun Watson was able to control the game with his scrambling ability paralyzing Patriot defenders. I am curious to see how Stephon Gilmore and DeAndre Hopkins matchup in what should be an excellent matchup.
Unfortunately, I think the Cardinals offense is just too strong for the Patriots to stop, and their rushing attack will be the difference as they will control the ball and their defense will do enough to let them escape Gillette with the win.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani