After a LOOOOOONG 10 days, the Patriots (0-1) finally return to the field on Sunday as they travel down to the Big Easy to take on the New Orleans Saints (0-1).
New England finds themselves in rare territory having lost in Week 1. While the fan base has been lamenting in the fact that the prospect of an undefeated season ended so quickly, the Patriots themselves have been rather quiet during this extended time off in preparation for this week’s match up.
Though both of these franchises have been in existence since the 1960’s, since the merger they have only played 13 times with the Patriots leading the all-time series 9-4. However, there have been some memorable matchups in recent years. Who can forget the look of disgust on then Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan’s face as Tom Brady threw a game winning 17 yard touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins with 5 seconds left to go in the game? Or maybe, for some of the older fans, the 2001 matchup as a young Tom Brady tossed his first 4 touchdown game and cemented himself as the Patriots’ starting quarterback for years to come. Great memories of course…until we talk about the last trip the Patriots took to New Orleans in 2009 when the Saints dominated New England to the tune of 38-17.
None of those games matter at this point as both teams will be fighting to avoid an 0-2 start to the season so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams are broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to a victory.
Quarterback – [PUSH]: Both teams feature first ballot Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Though the Patriots’ Tom Brady may have extra motivation to put a sub-par Week 1 behind him, Drew Brees has generally played very well in the Super Dome.
Running Backs – [PATRIOTS]: Even though the Saints now have Adrian Peterson in their running back stable, it looks like there may not be very much tread left on those tires. New Orleans’ Mark Ingram did provide a boost in the passing game in Week 1 but New England clearly has the most depth and versatility in this match up.
Wide Receiver – [SAINTS]: Though the Saints will be missing Willie Snead on Sunday, they still seem to have better depth over the shorthanded Patriots for this match up.
Tight Ends – [PATRIOTS]: Though Rob Gronkowski got off to a slow start in Week 1, the Saints don’t have anyone near the caliber of the Chief’s Eric Berry to slow him down this week.
Offensive Line – [PUSH]: Neither offensive line had that great of a showing in Week 1. Getting stopped twice on 4th and short and giving up numerous sacks in the 4th quarter did not win the Patriots’ offensive line any points.
Front Seven – [PUSH]: Both defensive units looked awful in Week 1 in trying to stop the run and getting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. The potential return of Vincent Valentine should help New England but the uncertain status of Dont’a Hightower is very concerning.
Secondary – [PATRIOTS]: The lack of a pass rush certainly exposed the Patriots secondary in Week 1 however the Saints’ secondary may have gotten Sam Bradford another huge pay day in 2018.
Special Teams – [SAINTS]: At this point in the season, the Saints have the better yards per punt average and have scored twice as many points in the kicking game. What doesn’t help New England is that they will be down to their #4 punt returner thanks to the loss of Danny Amendola.
Coaching – [PATRIOTS]: While Sean Payton has been an offensive guru during his tenure with the Saints, he seems to have a lack of knowledge or interest on the defensive side of the ball. Over the years, the inability to find a capable defensive coordinator has left New Orleans in a state of mediocrity. Bill Belichick, on the other hand, has been someone that gets deeply involved in all aspects of the game. He may have one of his bigger challenges this year coaching up a defense that is very thin and lacks established playmakers in the front seven.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
KEYS TO VICTORY:
1) Fixing the Front Seven: The Patriots surrendered 537 yards on opening night. This was the highest yards allowed by a Bill Belichick coached team in his entire career. Certainly more time was spent this week trying to find corrections to put the team in better position to make plays. With the all the new faces along with the potential of not having Dont’a Hightower on Sunday, the defensive front needs to have a solid day to slow down the Saints’ offense.
2) Stick with What Works: Offensively, the Patriots found success at times with certain running backs and using their no huddle offense. For inexplicable reasons, they started going away from what was working to try other schemes and personnel. If New England finds any rhythm on offense against the Saints, they need to continue using what is working instead of trying to outsmart themselves.
3) Looking at You Brandin Cooks: While Brandin Cooks had a decent debut in a Patriots uniform, this has to be the game he marked on his calendar after being traded to New England. Though it’s obvious that he would want to show up his old team, it might be a good idea getting him involved early in game to spark the offense.
Thanks in part to some very untimely injuries, the Patriots are staring down the barrel of being 0-2 for the first time since 2001. Though we know New England went on the Super Bowl that year, the Patriots can’t bank on history repeating itself. While New England may be the better team on paper, playing the Saints in the Super Dome is not an easy task. The Patriots need to start the game quickly but need to be mindful that making the Saints one dimensional may not be the best thing to do either.
Look for a painfully heart stopping close game that will be decided late in the 4th Quarter.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 30 – Saints 27