Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels must get creative with key players sidelined in week thirteen. (USA TODAY Images)
After their first loss of the season, the New England Patriots return home to host the Philadelphia Eagles. —
– The Patriots enter this contest 10-1, coming off a 30-24 loss to the Denver Broncos in overtime last week. While the team lost, they still hold the top spot in the AFC through twelve weeks.
– The Eagles are 4-7, having lost three in a row and looking for their first win since Nov. 8th. Rumors of Chip Kelly’s future and the direction of the franchise has been a distraction of late.
– The Patriots will clinch the AFC East for a seventh straight season with a win and Jets loss to the Giants on Sunday. Bill Belichick would also clinch his 13th season with at least 11 victories. That would tie Don Shula for the most 11-win seasons by a coach in NFL history. Quite an accomplishment.
– The Patriots have not lost back-to-back weeks since the 2012 season.
– The Eagles have given up 45 points and five touchdown passes (Jameis Winston and Matthew Stafford) in each of their last two losses.
Three Keys to Victory:
Respond like Champions Do: The Patriots have proven time-and-time again that they’re one of the more mentally tough teams in modern sports history. Fact of the matter is, championship teams respond in times of adversity and New England must prove they can get back on track after a disappointing outcome the week before.
Can they regroup and find a way to get a more consistent offense while key players are sidelined? We’ll see. The defense has been capable, but constant shuffling pieces along the offense has forced Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels to search for other answers.
Stop the Run: The Eagles have the 12th ranked rush offense in the NFL. They dedicated a lot of money in free agent tailbacks DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews over the offseason to carry the ball in Kelly’s offense. Philadelphia is averaging 114.5 yards-per-game on the ground, while the Patriots defense is allowing 97 ypg throughout the season.
Whether it’s Sam Bradford or Mark Sanchez under center on Sunday, New England must take away the run and put pressure on Philadelphia’s signal-caller to make the plays against the secondary. From that point on, it’s up to the defense to get off the field.
Stay Aggressive: Last week we saw the Patriots play tentatively at times. Is that a result of the injuries? Perhaps the coaching staff doesn’t have the same confidence in the current personnel. Nevertheless, it’s time for the team to get back to what they do best. No holds barred mentality.
Don’t expect New England to hold back fourth downs or play the time of possession game too long. While they could try and pound the rock with LeGarrette Blount at times, it’s the Eagles secondary that can be exploited. Brady will be in attack mode when they need a play.
Patriots 27, Eagles 20
New England should roll this weekend, but their health status is a major concern. At full strength, the Patriots probably win by 14-20 points. But the fact remains the team is still short-handed and despite a mediocre team coming to town, it could still be close towards the end.
While I don’t believe this game will be in doubt, the score might be closer than the game indicates. I see New England up by two possessions into the fourth quarter, with the Eagles getting some garbage points late to keep the score close. If Philadelphia turn the ball over in this contest like they’ve been prone to do this season, it will be a comfortable victory.