Three things to watch Thursday night as the Patriots take on the Jets for the first time on Thanksgiving (8 p.m., NBC):
Life without Gronk
By now you’ve heard the news: Rob Gronkowski is out anywhere from four to eight weeks after breaking his forearm in Sunday’s blowout win over the Colts. So what’s this mean for the Patriots? Well, Tom Brady is without his favorite red zone target – that’s for sure. But luckily for the Pats, they aren’t a one man band. New England will have plenty of other options up and down the field on Sunday, and that means the running game too. In fact, the Patriots would be wise to keep the ball on the ground Thursday night. New York ranks 30th in the NFL in rush defense, giving up an average of 142 yards per game. Stevan Ridley could have a very memorable Thanksgiving.
For all the hype that surrounds Andrew Luck, the rookie’s quarterback rating is 77.2, ranked 28th in the NFL. To put that into perspective, Mark Sanchez comes in at 29th with a 73.4 rating. Make no mistake about it though - Luck has a real future in the NFL, while Sanchez’s starts seem to become less and less likely by the week. If you’re looking for a real goat – or turkey – on Thursday night, it could be Sanchez. The Patriots’ secondary is nothing to brag about, but the defense as a whole does one thing better than any other in the NFL – create turnovers. The Patriots are a plus-20 in turnover differential this season, a huge reason they are 7-3, and Sanchez isn’t exactly Mr. Football IQ out there on the field.
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Since we last met …
The last time the Patriots met the Jets, it was safe to say there was widespread panic across New England. They had just come off a bad loss in Seattle that dropped them to 3-3 on the season, and the questions started - “Are they just an average team?”
To make matters worse, it took overtime for the Pats to squeak out a win over the Jets in Foxboro. Since that win, though, the Pats have won three more games giving them a four-game win streak heading into Thursday night. While the Jets certainly won’t lie down, this Patriots team is a lot better than the one in Week 7’s OT win – with Gronkowski or not.