Three things to watch for as the Patriots take on the Saints in New Orleans this Sunday (1 p.m., CBS):
1. Star power
Brandin Cooks had a fine debut with the Patriots, catching three balls for 88 yards. But the Patriots needed Cooks to be more than “fine” in Week 1 against the Chiefs. The loss of Julian Edelman hurt big-time in Week 1, and the Pats need someone to step-up and be Brady’s new security blanket.
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Cooks found the end zone eight times last season – an average of every other game in an NFL season – so it would be nice if he could haul one in Sunday against New Orleans.
Rob Gronkowski must be better as well. Gronk had just two catches on six targets last week as Eric Berry was draped over him all game (until Berry went down with an injury).
2. Points, points and more points
If net yards are your go-to stat (fine, they probably aren’t but still), the Saints and Patriots have the two worst defenses in the league through one week of football.
The Pats allowed 537 net yards on defense last week in the loss to the Chiefs, and the Saints gave up 470 yards Monday night in a loss to the Vikings.
Expect Tom Brady and Drew Brees to have monster outings, as both the Saints and Pats defenses made mediocre quarterbacks look like world-beaters last week. Minnesota’s Sam Bradford finished the night against the Saints’ D with a 143.0 passer rating (27-of-32 for 346 yards and three TDs) while Alex Smith had a 148.6 passer rating (28-of-35 for 368 yards and four TDs) against the Pats’ putrid defense.
3. Defensive reputation on the line
Heading into the 2017 NFL season, the Patriots defense was seemingly stacked. Their secondary was being touted as “best in the league” with Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler at the corners, and Devin McCourty at safety. Dont’a Hightower was getting best LB in the league buzz and Trey Flowers would take care of things up front.
Then Week 1 happened.
The most startling stat comes from Rich Hill of PatsPulpit.com. Hill wrote this week that the longest touchdown the Patriots gave up all year in 2016 was a 30-yarder to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in garbage time of the AFC title game. In the Chiefs game alone, the Pats gave up two 75-yard-plus scoring plays – a 75-yard TD reception by Tyreek Hill and a 78-yard TD run by Hunt.