After watching Monday Night Football between the Chiefs and Rams, it’s obvious the Patriots have some work to do coming out of the bye week if they want to contend with those types of teams in the postseason.
New England’s first task will be a road game against the Jets, and while it may seem like an easy task on the surface as 9.5-point favorites, let’s remember the Pats are an extremely unimpressive 2-3 on the away from home this season.
Here are three things to watch for when the Patriots take on the Jets on Sunday:
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Will the Patriots play down to their competition?
The Patriots have struggled with this at times this season, but it’s generally highlighted when they play a divisional game on the road. While New England managed a 25-6 win in Buffalo back in Week 8, that game entered the fourth quarter as a 12-6 grinder. The Bills were also driving in the red zone to narrow the lead to a one possession game when Devin McCourty took an interception 84 yards the other way to break the game open.
This sets up as a similar divisional road game. While the Patriots should blow the doors off the Jets on paper, it’s going to be a tougher spot we perceive it to be.
Important time to gain some momentum on the road
You could make the argument it almost matters where the Patriots are playing more than who they’re actual competition is. The 34-10 beatdown New England took in Tennessee entering the bye was its worst regular season loss in November or later since 2000 when Drew Bledsoe was the starter — leaving it as the worst of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era.
The loss also gave the Pats a losing record on the road this season with the three losses coming by an average of 17 points. While defeating the 3-7 Jets seems probable (NE is -450 on the moneyline), the Jets’ 2-3 home record is identical to the Pats’ 2-3 road record, with solid wins over the Colts and Broncos.
While beating the Jets wouldn’t mean all that much to the Patriots on the surface, they need to get some momentum before some far more challenging road tests. New England returns home to face the Vikings in Week 13 before a pair of tough road games in Miami and Pittsburgh. A loss to New York would destroy confidence ahead of an important stretch away from home. The bottom line is that this team needs to find ways to win on the road if they want to have a chance at the road to the AFC running through Foxborough.
Establishing Rob Gronkowski
Gronk has missed three total games this season, the last two coming before the bye week. When he takes the field on Sunday against the Jets, it’ll have been four full weeks since he last played in a game. Obviously, his 29-448-1 line through seven games is not your typical Gronk stat line, but this team needs its top target if it’s going to compete for a Super Bowl.
Brady’s attempted 76 passes during Gronk’s two-game absence, 43 of them in the direction of Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman. Part of Brady’s uncharacteristic stretch of honing in on certain plays rather than spreading the ball around has been the lack of presence at tight end — just three of those 76 passes were targeting a tight end (Dwayne Allen twice, Jacob Hollister once).
Gronk has been injured for or injured during three of the Patriots’ last four matchups against the Jets, but when healthy, he’s had his way in this matchup during his career. Excluding games sat out or exited due to injury, Gronk has averaged 85.1 yards and a touchdown in his last eight games against New York.