Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
Don’t look now, but here come the Saints – “marching in” to Foxborough with their high-powered offense and much-improved defense, taking names and making it look easy. And once again, even though there was early promise this week, we still have absolutely no clue as to the official status of Rob Gronkowski.
One thing we do know for sure is that Danny Amendola is back, but the passing offense right now is exclusively wide receiver-oriented. Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan have played little more than blocking roles up to this point and defenses are aware of this. Without Gronk and Hernandez, the passing attack has been reasonably predictable. Stevan Ridley should return, and with LeGarrette Blount in Bill Belichick’s doghouse for last week’s fumble, Ridley would theoretically see an uptick in carries, but who knows. The running game is certainly one area where Gronk’s presence would have an impact, as he has a knack for blocking and creating running lanes. Just having him in the game at all helps draw defenses off of the backs and open up the running game, not to mention lead defenders away from Brady’s smaller receivers. It’s astounding the difference one player can make.
Without Gronk, it’s hard to bet against the Saints here. Yeah, I know the game is at home, but honestly I’m more concerned about the Patriots being able to offensively match the Saints point-for-point than anything else. I mean, the Saints aren’t the Broncos, but Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham have looked unstoppable and their running game isn’t necessarily anything to sneeze at. Listen, I’m not going to sugarcoat it – if the Pats come into Sunday’s game looking the same way they did against the Bengals, they are toast. Simple as that.
Does that mean I don’t think the Pats can beat the Saints? Of course not. But if that’s going to happen, New England will need to look more like they did against the Falcons (and probably better than that), rather than they did at Paul Brown Stadium. The receivers need to do a better job of hauling in passes; the run defense needs to figure out a way to take away the Saints’ short game (because they sure couldn’t do it against either of Cincinnati’s backs); and Belichick needs to devise a game plan that will slow down the game tempo and curb the production of Brees, Graham, and the rest of the aerial attack.
I’m going to go with the Saints in this one, but if Gronk is back, I think it’ll be close. Part of my reasoning here also stems from the fact that last week I picked the Pats to win and we all saw how that worked out. Sure, it’s dumb logic, but just maybe a little reverse psychology and superstition will do the trick…
Saints 34, Patriots 27