The New England Patriots have already been bitten several times by the feared injury bug. It may just be week two of the 2013 NFL season, yet the team is already going into a divisional rivalry without several key pieces on offense. The perennial contender will have to rely on new, youthful faces when it takes on the New York Jets on Thursday night. Despite trotting out a roster full of players that are far from household names, the New England Patriots will once again show their ability to adapt to adversity and stake their claim at the top of the AFC East.
Running back is a major question mark for the Patriots. Coach Bill Belichick is famously quiet when it comes to revealing his roster secrets, and it appears that this is a perfect opportunity for more depth chart shenanigans. Starting back Stevan Ridley found himself in the doghouse after coughing up the ball twice in their week one victory over the Bills (only one was technically a fumble after he was ruled down the first time the ball slipped through his hands.)
The Patriots usually don’t give a second chance so quickly after a dreadful performance like Ridley had, however a broken wrist has taken backup Shane Vereen out of the equation. If Ridley is not going to blay, Brandon Bolden or LeGarrette Blount figure to take on the leading role. Lots of uncertainty to say the least.
Wide receiver also is far from certain. Danny Amendola had a stellar debut, but re-aggravated a groin injury and is unlikely to suit up against the Jets given the short week of practice. That leaves slot receiver Julian Edelman as the biggest name in the receiving corps. Undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins was supposed to emerge as a starting option opposite Edelman, however he looked dreadful in the opening week despite an impressive 14 targets.
Tight end is as cloudy as ever, adding more salt to the Patriots’ wounds. Rob Gronkowski is still not recovered enough from offseason surgeries to see game action, despite practicing since the week leading up to the opener. Zach Sudfeld figured to be the replacement, however he failed to catch a pass in week 1, and reportedly has a hamstring injury.
So why will the Patriots still trump the rival Jets?
Rookie Geno Smith had a solid debut, leading a game winning drive in the fourth quarter when all looked lost against Tampa Bay. However he looked downright awful in the preseason, and as a result does not yet have my vote of confidence.
The Jets were legitimately in the conversation for the worst roster in the NFL, typically being compared to Oakland, before they pulled a week one upset.
Anything can happen on a nationally televised game, teams not expected to contend treat these games as their Super Bowl. Add in a team that seems to win the division every single year, and you can be the Jets will be fired up and motivated to finally take over first place from their rivals.
Jets linebacker Demario Davis describes the atmosphere that will be at the field for Thursday’s game. “Any time you’re in a rivalry game, it’s a different feeling. For anybody that hasn’t been in that situation, they’ll know it’s going to a different atmosphere. It’s going to be very intense with a lot of electricity on the field.”
The fact of the matter is that the Jets are still on the same level as the Patriots on paper, even with the injuries. Tom Brady doesn’t need big name targets to throw to, would it surprise you if he put up 3o points with randomly selected fans playing wide-out for the night? The man is that good. He has the rings to prove it.
Geno Smith and his offensive cast are largely unproven, however Smith is yet to show the ability to put them on his back and carry them to glory. New England will throw countless looks at the rookie and confuse him throughout. It’s what they do.
So while it may look like New York has a better chance than anticipated to start 2-0, the smart money is on New England. Regardless of the spread. After eeking out a close win against Buffalo, they will be playing to show they are still a powerhouse to be feared. A close win will still raise eyebrows and beg the question of whether this is the year they finally fall from the rank of contender.
Don’t bet on Belichick letting his Patriots fall to Rex Ryan and the Jets.
Prediction: Patriots 38 Jets 10
Senior Sports Editor
The Guardian Express