We’re nearly 75% of the way through the season and the 2018 Patriots still have no identity.
Following the bye week there was a lot of things I didn’t like against the Jets last Sunday but there were a few glimmers of light that give me hope this team can return to the big game in February.
First off, the Pats were as sloppy as a drunk at a New Year’s Eve party. The team committed 11 penalties for a total of 105 yards, the most they’ve had all season.
Maybe it was a bad ref crew and maybe it wasn’t. Either way this team needs to be much more disciplined down the stretch, especially against teams that can capitalize on those penalties.
Brady looked better in Week 12 than he did a couple of weeks ago against the Titans but he still had some horrendous throw. With that being said he also had a few dimes, including a 36 yards touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. It was equally as good a pass as it was a throw as Gronk came down with it between two defenders.
Speaking of Gronk, it was great to see the big guy back on the field. He wasn’t quite his usually Gronk self but he still made a heavy impact on the game and that’s all the Pats needed. I expect him to be even more of an impact against a tough Vikings defense on Sunday.
Another offensive weapon will be returning from injury as Rex Burkhead (yes, he’s still on the team) comes of injured reserve (neck) to solidify the New England backfield. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if Burkhead comes in and doesn’t miss a beat from what he was before the injury. I also wouldn’t be surprised at all if he gets one carry and gets hurt again, the guy is made from porcelain.
Burkhead’s return has the potential to be a big one. He can carry the ball between the tackles very well and he’s yet another threat in the passing game. Him being back will also put less wear and tear on Sony Michel and James White which is huge for this time of year.
There’s some talk out there about how the only big/tough game left on the Patriots’ schedule is the trip to Pittsburgh in a few weeks. Wrong.
This game against the Vikings may be even tougher than that game and the Pats can’t afford another loss if they want to catch Kansas City for the top spot.
Pittsburgh may have loads of offensive talent but I think Minnesota’s arsenal is even better. Adam Thielen is arguably the best receiver in the league this year and his fellow wideout Stefon Diggs is up there as well.
They will both be hell to cover for the Patriots and if that’s not bad enough they’ll have to worry about Dalvin Cook out of the backfield and Kyle Rudolph at tight end. The Pats have been one of the worst teams in the league at covering tight ends so that matchup alone concerns me.
You add all this up with the fact that the Vikings have a very competent quarterback in Kirk Cousin and it could be a long day.
Weeks ago I said this game could be like the Pats-Chiefs game from earlier this season and the difference maker would be the Vikings defense.
The Minnesota defense held 2018 MVP candidate Drew Brees to just 120 passing yards in Week 8 (however, New Orleans still scored 30) so Brady and McDaniels will need to be on their A++ game.
I assume the Pats will continue with their balanced offensive attack. That Minnesota front seven will be tougher to run on than the Jets but I think the combination of Michel/White/Burkhead will do well. The passing game for New England scares me in this game. Xavier Rhodes (the Vikings top corner) is injured but even if he is limited or doesn’t play I still don’t have too much faith in any of the Pats receivers that aren’t named Edelman. Tom will need to have one of his best games this season if he wants to win.
I see this game coming down to the 4th quarter or possibly even overtime. The Pats have the advantage of being home, where they don’t lose often, but I think the Vikings may want this one more with their season nearly on the line.
Go Pats (prove us wrong!)