Patriots: Three things to watch this Sunday against the 5-0 Saints

Tom Brady Drew Brees
Elite quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees will square off this Sunday in Foxboro. Credit: Getty Images

After back-to-back games on the road in Atlanta and Cincinnati, the 4-1 Patriots return home to host the 5-0 Saints (4:25 p.m., FOX).

But for New England, returning home means playing in front of a stadium packed full of fans that are expecting a big improvement over what they’ve seen – at least offensively, anyways. The Pats expect better too, and with the possible return of Rob Gronkowski to the lineup on Sunday, that expectation could certainly become a reality. Here’s what you should be looking for as the Patriots look to improve to 21-1 in October since 2003.

Gronk sighting?
Assuming Gronkowski plays, just how much he plays will be interesting to watch. He’ll have to earn his playing time back from fellow tight ends Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan. Kidding! But don’t expect Gronk to play every snap, either. Danny Amendola played 38-of-63 total snaps in his return last Sunday, and while the players and injuries are completely different, you can expect the Pats to take it slow on Gronk, especially if “Camp Gronk” has any say in things. Still, just having him back on the field – even as a decoy, or to block – will do wonders in opening up the passing game. But we’re predicting Gronk finds the end zone in his first game back anyways.

Thin on the D-line
The Patriots are already without Vince Wilfork for the rest of the year. Now, fellow D-lineman Tommy Kelly has missed practice all week with a knee injury suffered against the Bengals, putting his status for Sunday in jeopardy. It’s a good thing the Saints offense stinks . . . oh wait, it’s awesome. Missing those two linemen not only opens things up in the running game, but also gives Brees even more time to pick apart the Patriots secondary. The linebacking unit of Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, and Dont’a Hightower will be key in this game.

Meeting of the minds
Ask any knowledgeable NFL fan to rank their top five current NFL head coaches and all of them will have Bill Belichick and Sean Payton in there. It’s been that way for quite some time, too. There’s plenty of respect between the two as well, as they held joint practices in Foxboro two years ago. At the same time, it makes preparing a game plan that much tougher. Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich has played for both coaches, having started his career with the Saints. He noted that both coaches stress being mentally tough and smart.

“I think that both coaches really try to hit home on and get every single player in that mindset of playing three phases, taking care of the football on offense and creating turnovers on defense,” Ninkovich said.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Mayor reveals new tech hub Digital.NYC

Mayor Bill de Blasio revealed Digital.NYC on Wednesday, a new online platform aimed at connecting all things tech in New York City. The public-private partnership…

Local

Falling debris hits two men in Times Square

Two men were taken to the hospital Wednesday morning after being hit by falling debris from 110 feet above Times Square. Nancy Greco from the…

Local

Queens Assemblyman William Scarborough accused of misusing campaign…

Queens Assemblyman William Scarborough has been indicted on state and federal charges for allegedly withdrawing campaign funds as cash for personal use. Scarborough, a Democrat…

News

U.S. Secret Service director Pierson resigns under fire

U.S. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned under fire on Wednesday after a series of security lapses came to light.

Television

TV watch list, Wednesday, Oct. 1: 'Criminal Minds,'…

The "Criminal Minds" team adds some supernatural assistance, as the "Ghost Whisperer" herself, Jennifer Love Hewitt, joins the show. She's playing an FBI agent, but you never know when someone…

Music

See the most popular Pandora station in your…

Who knew Bachata music was so popular?

The Word

The Word: Twilight just won't die

You thought our "Twilight" days were behind us, didn't you? Well think again. Series creator Stephenie Meyer (who would rather you not ask about "Twilight"…

Going Out

Which NYC restaurant lost its three-star Michelin rating?

A record 73 restaurants in New York City collected coveted Michelin stars on Tuesday as a mix of trendy spots and fine-dining stalwarts underscored the…

NFL

Rex Ryan fields more questions about Geno Smith,…

The idea Geno Smith will be replaced by backup Michael Vick appears to be all smoke, as the Jets are intent to ride with their second-round draft pick.

NFL

Will Beatty playing like franchise left tackle again…

Left tackle Will Beatty, who is the elder-statesman of Giants’ line, has turned around his season and become a consistent force on Manning’s blindside.

NFL

John Conner back with Jets for second stint

He'll be back. It's "Terminator 2" for the Jets, who brought back John Conner to the team on Tuesday after placing fullback Tommy Bohanon on…

NFL

Fantasy football: Ben Tate to break out, Larry…

Fantasy football: Ben Tate to break out, Larry Donnell will stay solid

Career

Creating a support system for minority women in…

When Kathryn Finney founded digitalundivided — an organization devoted to engaging minority communities with the tech world — she didn’t know quite what to expect.…

Sex

We can learn a lot from animals about…

There’s a lot we can learn about love from the birds and the bees — and the chickens, monkeys and squirrels that we share the…

Style

Saint Laurent

Our review of the Saint Laurent Spring '15 show at Paris Fashion Week.

Style

Céline: Paris Fashion Week Spring 2015

Our review of the Celine Spring '15 show during Paris Fashion Week.