The Patriots are back on top of the AFC with the #1 playoff seed courtesy of the Chiefs win over the Raiders tonight. On Monday night, they’ll try to stay a game in front of KC and Oakland when they take on the Baltimore Ravens at 8:30 p.m.
Early weather reports are calling for up to 6 inches of snow between Sunday night and Monday morning but that should not affect the playing field on Monday night, the forecast does call for unseasonably cold weather.
The Ravens are at 7-5 and on top of the AFC North. They’re trying to keep the Steelers at bay in the division and need this game perhaps even more so than New England. The Ravens offensively are playing their best football of the season and are just hitting their stride. The defense is the top unit in the NFL and is tied with New England for second in points allowed.
The Patriots are 10-2 and the offense has four games to figure out how they’ll stay productive without Rob Gronkowski. They can’t replace him but they have enough weapons to retool and shift their focus on heading down the stretch and into January without the best overall tight end in football.
Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Monday:
QB Tom Brady: Brady’s name was taken from the injury report as his knee, which had given him some problems since the Seattle game has no longer become an issue. He’s going to have to figure out a way to utilize all his weapons now. And he’ll be short-handed this week. Besides Gronkowski who has been placed on IR, the Pats will be without Danny Amendola who has a high ankle sprain. Martellus Bennett has been slowed in recent weeks with ankle and shoulder issues is far from 100 percent as well.
We’ve all seen the stat that facing the #1 statistical defense at home, Brady is 6-0 with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions. The Ravens #1 overall defense is seventh against the pass and first against the run. Baltimore has always played Brady tough although in the regular season he’s 5-1 against them.
This should be a terrific matchup as Ravens DC Dean Pees once held the same position here in New England and knows Brady and the Pats offense well. Tom Terrific loves the big stage and all eyes will be on the game this week.
Safety Devin McCourty: The Patriots defense has been trying to get untracked in recent weeks and they’ve had different players trying to work into different roles. But the back end of the defense hasn’t changed and the Pats All-Pro safety will be also under the spotlight this week.
Baltimore and Joe Flacco like to go vertical in their passing game, and the Ravens have three players who will test the Patriots secondary. Mike Wallace, Steve Smith, and Breshad Perriman are all threats to go deep. McCourty as the Patriots deep safety on many coverages will be tasked to be the over-the-top help to take that away.
The Patriots may also rotate safety Duron Harmon back and occasionally put McCourty on tight end Dennis Pitta in certain looks as well. Either way, this week’s defense will lean heavily on the Patriots captain.
Right Tackle Marcus Cannon: The Patriots much-maligned right tackle is amid a very solid season and was recently rewarded with a nice contract extension. But the two weeks will be a very stiff test for the veteran and the offensive line as a whole.
While most eyes will be trained on left tackle Nate Solder and his matchup with Ravens leading sack artist Terrell Suggs, Cannon will be on the opposite side matched up with veteran edge rusher Elvis Dumervil. Dumervil missed a large chunk of the season due to injury and has just returned and is quickly rounding into form.
With Brady trying to find the time to throw, the edge rushers for Baltimore will give the tackles plenty of headaches this week. And things won’t get any easier for Cannon as next week, he’ll face the Broncos Von Miller.
Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia credits Cannon with a much improved 2016 season due to his being healthy and improved technique. The next two weeks will be a big test and Dumervil is a very worthy first opponent. Cannon will be under our microscope this Monday night.
Wide Receiver Julian Edelman: The Patriots talented and tough wide receiver is having a very solid 2016 despite suffering from lingering foot issues as a result of his surgery he had last year. Edelman has caught a team-leading 72 receptions for 718 yards and a pair of touchdowns this season.
Now his foot has seemingly healed up and he looks much more like his normal self in recent weeks and his production has increased as well. Last week against the Rams, Edelman snagged eight passes for 101 yards. He’s always been one of, if not the favorite target of Tom Brady and his value now is even higher.
With both Gronkowski and Amendola missing this week, Edelman will have to produce even more in the offense which should now show more of the three-wide receiver variety. The Ravens know Brady will want to get Edelman involved early and often in the passing game and put a premium on trying to take him away. Edelman against the physical, tough secondary of the Ravens will be a key matchup to watch on Monday.
Defensive End Chris Long: Much of this week, the talk has been about the Patriots secondary against the Ravens vertical passing game with Joe Flacco. One area of the defense that Bill Belichick always preaches about is that coverage and the pass rush go hand in hand. Since the Patriots aren’t a big blitzing team it is their edge rushers who’ll have to step up in this game and get some pressure on Flacco.
Long is moved around a bit by the Patriots playing both right and left defensive end this season. He’s been a very solid contributor and the team has dropped him into coverage quite often trying to clog the passing lanes in the flat. He’s been good at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks and has picked up sacks in each of the last two games.
Monday night he’ll be going against both Ronnie Stanley and Ricky Wagner on the edge and they’re both playing well. Long, a veteran in his ninth NFL season is playing a meaningful game this late in the season for the first time. Long has picked up his game recently and Monday night on the national stage will be a great time for him to step into the limelight and give the secondary some needed pressure on Flacco.
Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.
More Patriots News Headlines: