Patriots Post-Bye Check In and Quick Look at the Rest of the Season

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So mayyyyybe I was a bit too quick to say the Pats locking up a top-two seed in the AFC was a “foregone conclusion” during my last game preview. While the division is still all but ours, that abomination against the Titans last week proved that the Pats maybe aren’t quite as formidable as we thought. Also, the AFC is a lot better this year than in years past; besides Kansas City (9-2), teams like the Chargers (7-3), Steelers (7-2-1), and Texans (7-3) could all challenge for a top seed as well.

Hopefully, Bill was able to rally the troops during the bye and use the extra time off to prepare for what lies ahead in 2018. There may also be no better time than now to assess what we’ve seen from the boys so far and try to highlight what to watch for over the team’s final six contests.

So, rather than do the typical 300s Patriots weekly preview, I’ll instead give you a super short Pats/Jets primer followed by a more in-depth look at some of the top storylines to follow for the last quarter-and-some-change of the 2018 season.

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As always, here’s a look at where, when, and how to watch this week’s game along with the latest lines:

  • Location: MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, NJ)
  • Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m. ET
  • TV: CBS
  • Odds (via Odds Shark): Patriots: -9.5 (spread) / Patriots: -415 (moneyline) / 46 (total)

I’d like to say this is as close to guaranteed win for the Pats as possible, but this team has severely underperformed at times this year, particularly on the road. Still, coming off a bye which was preceded by one of the team’s most pathetic losses in recent memory, I feel like Brady & Co. will come out guns blazing against a pretty lackluster Jets squad.

After starting out the year 3-3 – which included wins over the Lions, Broncos, and Colts – the Jets have now lost four straight. Their 18th-ranked defense only slightly makes up for their 29th-ranked offense, which, to be fair, has been decimated by injuries this season. For instance, rookie quarterback Sam Darnold is still questionable with a foot injury, which forced him to miss the team’s game against Buffalo before their Week 11 bye. Even if he plays, though, will we get the young hotshot who completed 60 percent of his passes and had a 9-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio through the first six games, or will he be more like the 47-percent blind newborn with the 2-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio over the past three? And if he doesn’t play at all? Then we get to face a 39-year-old Josh McCown, who posted an abysmal 35.8 passer rating against the Bills two weeks ago in his only action of the year.

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It’s been an up-and-down year for the rookie, but Darnold definitely has some talent and could finally make the Jets respectable again in due time.

The point is, the Jets have been a bit of an enigma this year – at times pretty good but mostly mediocre to downright awful – and while each side of the ball is sprinkled with bits of talent, there’s no particular player or strength they possess that scares me. Sony Michel should have a nice bounce-back effort against their 21st-ranked run D, and Brady can have fun going against their middle-of-the-pack passing defense. Road divisional games are always a bit of a grind, so it’ll be a lot closer than people think, but I think the Pats pull this one out 24-17.

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I’m expecting a nice “remember me?” effort from Sony this week in Jersey.

But what about the bigger picture? What have we learned so far from this 7-3 Patriots squad, and what can we expect for the rest of 2018?

Well, after this week’s trip the Meadowlands, the Pats have what should be a pretty favorable schedule the rest of the way. There will be just two road games left, one in Miami and the other being quite possibly the biggest game of the year in Pittsburgh in mid-December. Otherwise, there’s a tough home game against the Vikings to get through, but then the season ends with home bouts with the Bills and Jets. At least the Pats won’t have to go through the ringer to end the season.

But as we all know, anything can happen and there are many different factors that will determine how the Pats will look come January. For now, here’s a rundown of what to keep your eye on the rest of the way:

Tom vs. Time

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No, I’m not talking about Brady’s little Facebook series; I’m talking about the real-life, long-term grind that we may finally be starting to see have an effect on our 41-year-old hero. Let me just start by saying that until I see the man fall off a cliff entirely, I will never doubt him. I AM NOT BOLDLY PREDICTING BRADY’S DEMISE HERE. I’m simply saying that he looked OLD against the Titans last Sunday – like Larry King old – even outside of that debacle of a Philly Special they tried to have him run. (On that play, he literally looked like the all-too-ambitious great uncle who tries to go out for a pass against the youngsters in the family Thanksgiving game, only to trip all over himself, fall, and break a hip off the side of the deck. Yeah, it truly looked that bad.) He’s also completed less than 60 percent of his passes over the past three games with just one touchdown. Brady could also come out and go gangbusters for the rest of the year and prove, once again, why he’s the G.O.A.T… but Father Time has to come out on top eventually, right?

Gronk vs. His Body

Gronk, love ya, bud. Mean it. But I think it’s time to hang up the cleats before you’re forced to spend the rest of your life in a freakin’ Hoveround. This man is just four months older than I am and has already had more back surgeries and lingering body ailments than a retired steel worker. This year, he’s already missed three games, which are the 11th, 12th, and 13th regular-season games he’s missed due to injury over the past three years alone. Since playing in all 16 games as a rookie and second-year player, Gronk has been healthy for an average of only 11.6 games per season otherwise. And even when he’s been on the field this year, he hasn’t been anything special; besides a seven-catch, 123-yard performance in Week 1, Gronk is averaging about four catches and 50 yards a game. He could be back this week against the Jets, but who knows how long that will last? Truthfully, we could see the end of Gronk before we see the end of Brady.

Burkhead is Back!

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Sexy Rexy is back on the field, folks! On November 8, Burkhead returned to practice and is eligible to play once again as early as next week (December 2) at home against Minnesota. While I do not expect him to provide me with full vindication after naming him as my prediction for the team’s offensive MVP this season, he will still be a much-welcomed addition to an extremely thin stable of backs. This is still Sony Michel’s and James White’s backfield for the most part, but don’t be surprised if Burkhead has a few big games himself toward the end of the year. Welcome back, No. 34!

Will Gordon Finish Strong?

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Since Week 4, when Josh Gordon made his Pats debut against Miami, he has hauled in a total of 26 receptions for 477 yards and two scores. Over the past five games alone, he’s averaged over four catches and 79 yards on about 10 targets per game. That’s a pretty solid return on a fifth-round pick; I don’t care who it’s in regard to. But with Josh Gordon comes “those other risks,” the off-field shenanigans that have bogged him down his entire career. So far, he’s handled himself very well in New England, but when the heat is on and he starts facing the pressure that comes with being a part of a winning team for once, will he stay the course? I’ve seen nothing that gives me any indication he won’t, but keep those fingers crossed, Pats Nation; we still have a long way to go with Flash Gordon.

A Young and Improving Secondary

I know these storylines have been pretty offense-heavy so far, but there’s really not a whole lot to sift through on the defensive side of the ball. I will say that I’ll be keeping my eye on the secondary, though; while Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty have the top-two corner spots on lock, there’s an interesting mix of young talent behind them battling for position, especially with second-rounder Duke Dawson coming off I.R. a few weeks ago and looking ready to make his debut. Other rookies like Keion Crossen and J.C. Jackson, the latter of whom has already made some big plays this year, bear watching as well. Recently signed former Raiders safety Obi Melifonwu is a raw, talented and still very young piece the team is taking a flyer on, too.

Again, a lot can still happen before January, so be sure to keep checking in with The 300s for all your Patriots news and notes on the march to Ring No. 6.

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