At Dallas in Week 4
After the first two weeks of the season, this would have been a mammoth challenge. But after the Cowboys' Week 3 display in Arizona, it has become a different prospect. Losing Trayvon Diggs for the season was a brutal blow for the ‘boys but nobody saw them conceding 28 points to a team with a backup quarterback and 12 players on IR. Even fewer people expected the loss of Diggs to impact the Cowboys' ability to stop the run. Arizona ended the game with 222 yards on the ground. Five different Cardinals ran the ball, and they averaged 7.4 yards per carry as a team.
With the caveat that a wounded animal, or in this case Cowboy, is a dangerous thing there are definitely some visible cracks in the Dallas armor. Some harsh critics would say the Cards dragged the Cowboys down to their level, but even if that’s true there’s nothing wrong with that. If the Patriots can take the fight to the Cowboys in the trenches like Arizona did and drag them down, they’ve got a very good chance of winning on the road.
They will have to be more effective than they have been in recent weeks though. Especially the offense, at MetLife Bill O’Brien looked so close to realizing Zeke Elliott is the man he can build his offense around. But then he started running Rhamondre Stevenson between the tackles again. Stevenson could have a big impact in Dallas himself, if the Patriots concentrate on running him to the outside and involving him in the pass game. The Cowboys struggled to contain James Conner as he ran outside the tackles, and he caught two passes out of the backfield too.
At Pittsburgh in Week 14
No coach likes Thursday Night Football, the short week makes it virtually impossible to watch your opponents’ game tape and prepare on the field. A road game on a Thursday night adds a travel day too. That compresses the week even more, leaving a team one to day to recover from the previous game and just two days to practice.
Adding to the stress of a shortened week the Patriots are facing a game in Pittsburgh. At night. In December! The whole thing just sounds like hell. That Steelers defense is looking sharp in the early going too. That Matt Canada offense is looking like the sort of thing Matt Judon dreams about though. And Kenny Pickett’s deep passes look custom-made for Christian Gonzalez.
After last year’s win the Patriots are 5-2 at Acrisure Stadium in the regular season. Another win to that record would be a bonus, but even if things don’t go the Patriots’ way this game is still important. The 11-day mini-bye afterwards is ample time to prepare for the visit of the Chiefs.
A few extra days between games in December is always welcome and the schedule has been kinder to the Patriots than usual. The Jets and Dolphins meet on “Black Friday” two weeks before the Patriots' Thursday night outing, giving them a shorter mini-bye. They also both have their bye weeks before the Patriots in Week 11. And while the Bills have an even later bye, in Week 13 they travel for three of their last five games. Those road games are in Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Miami! All that travel will cut into their recuperation time at the end of a long season. After Week 14 the Patriots only face two road games, in Buffalo and Denver.
At Denver in Week 16
Which leads nicely on to another road game that doesn’t look particularly appetizing, especially on Christmas Eve. You can guarantee it’ll be cold, and the altitude will play a part, both on the players and the ball flight. It would be a great time for Chad Ryland to demonstrate why he was taken in the fourth round though.
The Broncos really look to be missing Ejiro Evero’s influence on the defense so far this season. They were also missing 10 players in week 3, so by Christmas they could be involved in another injury crisis. It would be a great time for Bill O’Brien to refine his offense. And with the AFC cream already starting to rise to the top it could even be a chance to nail down a playoff spot with two weeks to spare.