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Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
December 14, 2018 at 7:00 am ET

Patriots-Steelers Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

The Patriots go back on the road for their final regular season road game of 2018 with a trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. This is, in essence, a playoff game for both teams. Each needs to win to try to lock down the #2 seed.

For Pittsburgh, it is even more important as they’ve dropped three in a row and their lead in the division has dwindled to just a half-game over the suddenly surging Ravens. By the time that the game starts, they should know the results of the Ravens-Bucs game. However, Baltimore ends the season with games at the Chargers and home against the Browns who are playing much better. Pittsburgh has New England this week, New Orleans next week and then the Bengals.

This week’s game will be broadcast by CBS on Sunday, December 16 at 4:25 p.m. ET and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Tony Romo as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (9-4) are coming off an awful loss in Miami, just like a year ago on the last play of the game.  The run defense was terrible as was the run blocking for the offense. But Tom Brady had a big day throwing the ball, tossing for 358 yards and three TDs.

The Steelers (7-5-1) had another late 4th quarter comeback and pulled off a dramatic 39-38 win over the Baltimore Ravens where Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and Antonio Brown had 213 yards receiving.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:

The Patriots and Steelers are meeting for the 32nd time and the Patriots with a slight 16-15 edge. However, during the Bill Belichick era the Patriots are 11-3 against the Steelers and have won the last five meetings including last years meeting in Pittsburgh.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Steelers Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Slightly to New England

The Patriots running game has been very good this season until they hit a snag against one of the worst run defenses in the league in Miami last week. Sony Michel has been the workhorse for the Patriots in the running game with James White and Rex Burkhead in support roles.

The Steelers have the #6 run defense (96.9 yards a game) in the league and still use the same 3-4 defense that they’ve been running seemingly forever. It starts up front with the big men, Jason Hargrave at the nose tackle and Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward at the ends. The linebackers are quick and aggressive and will shoot the gaps.

Look for Josh McDaniels to throw in order to run this week. Look for the Patriots to try to take advantage of the Steelers aggressiveness at getting after the passer and try to get Michel going in that way. Some quick hitters with White and Burkhead could be on the agenda this week. The same with some Jet sweeps with Julian Edelman and Cordarrelle Patterson.

Patriots WRs vs Steelers Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game is ranked 15th in the league but much of that has to do with the slow start that they got off to in the first month of the season. Since Josh Gordon has arrived, Brady’s numbers are about the same as they were in 2017 when he was the league’s MVP. The good news is they are getting healthy, Rob Gronkowski had his best game of the season last week. Gordon is heating up and has traditionally played well against Pittsburgh. Rob Gronkowski and Brady have always played well against the Steelers. Brady also Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Patterson and White and Burkhead out of the backfield.

Pittsburgh is ranked 12th in pass defense allowing just 233.9 yards per game. They get after the QB very well with T.J. Watt leading the way with 10 sacks, Jason Hargrave has 6.5 from the nose which will be very telling in this game. The key to stopping Brady is pressure up the middle, if he can step up in the pocket, he will be very successful. Heyward has 6 sacks and Bud Dupree has 5.5.

It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh decides to defend Gronkowski. Last year they played him almost exclusively with Sean Davis and he torched them in the second half. They’ll have to decide on whether to go with Joe Haden on Gordon or Coty Sensabaugh. Edelman will also be a tough matchup for them. In the past, the Steelers have played the same defense they always have against Brady. Will they mix things up this week? Or will they continue to just run their defense and try to out-execute the Patriots? Under Mike Tomlin, that is their M.O. they preach execution but they aren’t a big adjustment defense.

Next up the Pittsburgh offense:

Steelers RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

The Steelers running game is mired in 29th place in the NFL averaging just 89 yards per game. They haven’t shown the patience with it, even with James Conner in the lineup to stick with it. With Conner banged up and questionable to play, it will be interesting to watch if they do this week.

The Patriots rush defense is in the middle of the pack 15th in the league. But last week, against another team that struggles to run in Miami they were gashed for 189 yards on 21 carries. The defensive line was pushed around at the point of attack and the linebackers in run support were awful.

The Pittsburgh OL is one of the better lines in the league, and if they stay patient with the running game, even without Connor, they could dictate the pace and keep New England’s offense on the bench. From an NE perspective, the DL and LBs will have to play much better than a week ago.

Steelers WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger has a dynamic duo in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown on the outside for as good a 1-2 punch as there is in the NFL. Smith-Schuster has 91 catches for 1237 yards and 6 TDs. Brown has 86 for 1063 yards and 12 TDs. Ryan Switzer is the third option outside. Vance McDonald is having a career year with 44 catches at tight end while Jesse James is still out there as well. Jaylen Samuels will be a player to watch this week. We really liked him coming out of the draft this spring and he’s an intriguing player to watch.

The Patriots pass defense has been going thru ebbs and flows. Two weeks ago they had arguably their best game shutting down Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs from the Vikings. But last week Kenny Stills gave them fits in Miami. They will no doubt try to roll their double teams from Smith-Schuster to Brown and disguise them. They have been good at getting pressure on opposing QBs but bad at getting home with sacks.

Look for Roethlisberger to work the middle of the field this week with McDonald and James to set up his top 2 WRs. They’ll try to isolate their TEs on the NE LBs which will be a mismatch.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The kickers in this one, the Patriots’ Stephen Gostkowski and the Steelers Chris Boswell both had a rough week. But Boswell has been struggling most of the season. The team brought in former kicker Shaun Suisham to work with him. Boswell is just 3-8 from 40-49 yards this year. Despite missing an extra point and a field goal last week, the Patriots have a big edge here in the kicking game with Gostkowski.

Ryan Switzer has done a good job with the return game for the Steelers but with Patterson and Edelman, I’m going to give the edge to the Patriots here as well.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This one should be another Patriots-Steelers classic. Both teams really need this game, last year at this time it was about the #1 seed, this season it is about #2. The Texans are right on their heels in the conference and the Steelers can’t afford to lose their fourth in a row. Even for a team that never puts coaches on a hot seat, if Tomlin were to lose four in a row after a 7-2-1 start, he will start to feel the heat.

Keys to the game from a Patriots perspective:

Put the Ball in Brady’s Hands: He’s had remarkable success against the Steelers thru the years. I know they want to push the running game, but this week, let #12 take the reins and trust in him to get it done.

Target the Big Men: I just have a feeling that the bigger WRs (Gordon and Patterson) are a more difficult matchup for the Steeler secondary this week. This is a situation the Patriots haven’t had much of thru the years. Their WRs tend to be the smaller quicker ones. But both Gordon and Patterson are big and very athletic. Add Gronk to the mix and they’ll be difficult to stop.

Play a Clean Game: The team can’t afford any turnovers this week. The Steelers offense is explosive and can score quickly and they don’t need to be giving them any short fields, especially on the road. No turnovers and win third downs and the red zone.

I think this one will go down to the wire, but the Patriots go home with a very close win. Brady works his magic in Pittsburgh once again. Patriots 31-27

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Patriots Week 14 Report Card, A Very Mixed Bag in the Loss to Miami

Steve Balestrieri
December 11, 2018 at 7:20 am ET


The Patriots went down to Miami and played just well enough to keep a very inferior team in the game long enough for them to steal away a victory on a fluke play on the last snap of the game. Like John Houseman used to say in those old Smith Barney commercials, “They earn it.” And the Pats earned that loss in a game that they should have won.

Some parts of the Pats game was outstanding, others were absolutely terrible. On both sides of the ball. That’s what a wacky game this was. They will get over this one…or perhaps they won’t. They don’t have a lot of time to dwell on it. A trip to Pittsburgh looms next week and don’t expect to see the same Steeler team that lost to the woeful Raiders next Sunday.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady, save for one colossal mistake at the end of the first half was outstanding. Brady completed 27-43 passes for 358 yards (8.3 yards per pass) with 3 TDs and 0 INTs. His accuracy was very good throughout the game and those bogus hot take artists who regularly spew insipid bile about his arm strength need to watch back-to-back plays in the first half.

Facing a 3rd and 10, Brady lasered a rocket to Julian Edelman for 16 yards and a first down. On the next snap, Brady rocketed a 37-yard fastball down the field on a line where Cordarrelle Patterson made a nice grab for a 37-yard touchdown.  

Brady’s one gaffe was a very costly one. With time running down in the first half, Brady held on to the ball too long with no one open and took a sack. At that point, the clock ran out and the Patriots lost a golden opportunity to add points on the board. It was a rookie mistake, he lost track of how many timeouts they had used and it is something, he’s never done. And it couldn’t come at a worse time. That’s what knocks his grade down somewhat.

Running Backs: D

The Patriots running backs were rendered a total non-factor in this game. Despite the Dolphins having a sieve for a run defense for all of this season, they were a stone wall on Sunday and held the Patriots running backs to an awful 2.6 yards per rush average.

Sony Michel had 20 carries for just 57 yards. He had one nice run at the end of the game that looked like the Patriots were finally going to take over but it was wiped out by a holding penalty. It has been a familiar refrain for him all season. He could probably have close to 50 percent of his yardage added to his total that has been lost on flags.

James White whether by the Dolphins defense or the Patriots game plan was invisible on Sunday. Granted Brady was shredding the Dolphin secondary but when the team goes just 3-6 in the red zone, perhaps, White could have been used a bit more. Rex Burkhead also was invisible, carrying four times for two yards with just a single catch for three yards.

James Develin was solid in his blocking and added another short touchdown run. But his penalty hurt at the end of the game.

Wide Receivers: B

Both Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon had outstanding games on Sunday. Edelman had 9 catches for 86 yards and a touchdown and as always he goes into those dangerous spots over the middle. His score was reminiscent of his TD catch in the Super Bowl against the Seahawks. He had a costly drop however where he began to run before securing the ball, a very uncommon mistake for him.

Gordon was outstanding and is looking every week like he’s getting better and better. He’s a monster on those quick, short slants where he uses his size and speed to get position and then is tough to bring down. He had five catches for 96 yards and added a pass interference call as well as a holding call.

Cordarrell Patterson had two catches for 51 yards including a beauty of a 37-yard touchdown. It was a perfect throw and a very nice catch as he stretched out and snagged the ball for the score.

Chris Hogan had only one target and Brady, under pressure overthrew it badly. It was a play we wrote about this weekend, the back of the end zone pass used to be a staple in the Patriots offense and that was one of the first times we’ve seen it in a long time. And it was open too.

Tight Ends: A-

Rob Gronkowski had a very good game, arguably his best of the year on Sunday. He was targeted eight times and made eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. He was taking some big hit and gave the Dolphins a lot of trouble in the passing game. They were convinced that they could cover him with single coverage. They were wrong.

Gronk deserves no criticism for the ridiculousness at the end of the game. He should have never been out there in the first place.

Offensive Line: D+

The offensive line did a tremendous job in the passing game, Brady was sacked just twice and they did a very good job of keeping the interior of the pocket clean where he could step up and throw the ball.

But in the running game? They were singularly awful. Remember this is a Dolphins team that has been gashed all year long but this was their third lowest total allowed. Only two games against the anemic Jets offense did they allow less. The running backs had nowhere to run on Sunday. This was a matchup the offensive line was supposed to win and should have. They did not.

Defensive Line: D

The defensive line like the offensive line and much of the team was really good in one aspect and absolutely terrible in the other. Trey Flowers was once again terrific, he led the way with two sacks, two tackles for loss and four QB hits. And in the pass rush department, the defensive line had another strong game with 3 sacks and six QB hits.

But the Mr. Hyde part of the game was the run defense which was gashed. While that isn’t on just the DL (read below), they share in the grade as they were consistently pushed around in the running game.

Linebackers: D

The Patriots linebackers after their best game of the season against Minnesota had arguably their worst. They did do a good job of getting after Tannehill in blitzes with 1.5 sacks and a pair of QB hits.  Dont’a Hightower had his first sack of the season and John Simon was particularly effective in his best game in a Patriots uniform.

But in run support they were absolutely terrible, Miami rushed for 189 yards on just 21 carries which averages out to 9.0 yards per rush attempt. Brandon Bolden looked like Barry Sanders in his prime flying through open space for a 54-yard touchdown. No one could get off of their blocks. Elandon Roberts had a rough game, getting bulldozed on the Bolden first TD and then whiffing (how many times do we see this?) on an open field tackle attempt on Frank Gore. Hightower was fooled by Tannehill on the first series with a play fake where he ran for 13 yards.

Secondary: C

The secondary took a step back from their stellar game of a week ago. Kenny Stills was giving Jason McCourty fits all game long until he was eventually replaced by J.C. Jackson. Gilmore was beaten by Brice Butler for a touchdown on a post route that was an excellently thrown ball by Tannehill. But the rest of Miami’s receivers had no more than one catch apiece.

But on the topic of the elephant in the room or in this case a Mastodon, there were breakdowns all over the field which all help create a play which will forever be a New England Butt Fumble moment. Another look at the play, (and it is like watching a car wreck) shows some horrible situational football.

Jonathan Jones is in perfect position to make the tackle and end the game since Miami has no timeouts remaining. But instead, he foolishly tries to make a play on the ball and is then, way out of position.  Jackson and Gilmore appear to be more worried about defending another lateral and run like their feet are underwater. Devin McCourty wasn’t on the field (the only snap he missed all game) and Gronk, who isn’t a defender (more to this below) stumbled trying to get the angle on Drake. Epic fail.

Special Teams: C+

The Special Teams blocked two punts, Albert McClellan blocked both by rushing right up the middle. Ryan Allen’s punting was fantastic and the coverage units easily had their best game of the year. But Stephen Gostkowski’s two misses on easy kicks (an extra point and a chip shot 42-yard field goal) cost the team four points, which would have rendered the fiasco at the end moot. Nuff said.

Coaches: C-

The Patriots coaching staff which prides itself on not beating itself and good situational football failed on multiple accounts here. Why was Gronk in the game at all on that last play. With Miami back on its own 31, Tannehill isn’t throwing the ball 75+ yards in the air and even if he does, the team just signed 6’4 Obi Melifonwu who has a 40-inch vertical leap and can run like a scalded dog. It was unfathomable.

While the decision to go for the field goal was considered the “safe, smart” move, I’d have opted for another shot at a touchdown to put the game away and even if you don’t your forcing the Dolphins to start from inside their 5-yard line. Three points there doesn’t ice the game and you’re just giving them better field position to work from.

Just goes to show, Bill isn’t infallible, he can make mistakes. There were plenty of them to go around. We’re on to Pittsburgh…

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

New England Patriots News 12-09, AFC East Notes

Steve Balestrieri
December 9, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

Good morning, here is your Sunday Patriots news 12-09, & AFC East Notes.

Some Quick Hitters this morning:

Just a reminder that you revisit our keys to the game here:
And our players to watch from a Patriots perspective by clicking on the links:

Stephon Gilmore missed practice on Friday due to an ankle injury which just popped up on the injury report and is questionable. Obviously, if he can’t go it will be a big loss for the Patriots defense today.

Did you Know? With four receptions today, James White will set a new Patriots team record for catches by a running back in a season. Tony Collins caught 77 passes in the 1986 season. White currently has 74 catches on the season.

Did you Know Pt.2? With a win today, The Patriots will improve to 108-29 (.788) since 2001 on or after Thanksgiving (regular and postseason). That is the best record in the NFL during that time by more than 20 wins.

Did you Know Pt. 3: With a win today, the Patriots would clinch the AFC East for the 10th year in a row, breaking a tie with the Cowboys and Colts for the most consecutive years making the playoffs. It will also be the 16th divisional title since 2001.

Running the Ball? Since 2000, New England is 50-1 in the regular season when a Patriot produces 100 or more yards rushing. The only loss during the Bill Belichick
era came at Miami, coincidentally happened on Dec. 20, 2004, when Corey Dillon rushed for 121 yards on 26 carries and the Patriots fell 29-28 to the Dolphins in a MNF meltdown. Since then, New England is 37-0 with a 100-yard rusher. In 2018, RB
Sony Michel has three 100-yard games, including Week 4 against Miami.

Feed JE11 the Ball? Since 2014 (including the playoffs), the Patriots are 18-0 when Julian Edelman scores at least one touchdown.

National Media Are Turning Rodgers into Manning:

Every year, the national media all take turns proclaiming that “this is the year” the Patriots fall, Tom Brady falls off a cliff statistically, etc. The old rule about no cheering from the press box obviously doesn’t apply to journalists rooting against someone. And that someone is TB12. Never has a player that has accomplished so much for the league been the target of some much jealousy off the field. Everyone can’t wait to be the first to mark the demise of the greatest QB to ever lace them up in the NFL. Every pass is dissected looking for flaws, a diminishing arm strength, anything to point toward the door.

While he was still playing, Peyton Manning was the poster boy for the NFL and made out of absolute Teflon. Nothing stuck to Manning, even when he threw three picks to Ty Law in the playoffs, the excuse machine was working in full-blown overtime. The league’s competition committee changed the rules to benefit his wide receivers. But eventually, Brady’s accomplishments left Manning in the dust and even the most jaded Brady haters couldn’t use that argument anymore.

Step to the podium Aaron Rodgers. He’s the next “Chosen One”, the darling of the media and a guy who can never ever do no wrong. Every pass he throws is oohed and aahed over during the highlight shows. And how many times ad nauseam have we heard the past few years, “nobody but Aaron Rodgers can make that throw.” And every week we are subjected to the same Brady-Rodgers drivel that we were during Manning’s career. Except that Rodgers has accomplished even less.

His team has missed the playoffs for the past two years, already eliminated in 2018. Can you imagine the hue and cry against Brady if the Patriots were eliminated just once under his watch the past few years?

So much was made of the Brady-Belichick “feud” with the Alex Guerrero issue and impending divorce the past year or so and the Pats went 13-3 and came to within a strip sack of winning their sixth Super Bowl of the Brady-Belichick era. This year, the Patriots are 9-3 and are still in play for the top seed in the conference.  

But the real divorce was going on in the Frozen Tundra where the play of Rodgers, in part because of his feuding with Mike McCarthy has really dropped off. But not a word of that has been spoken. It has all been “McCarthy must go” and now he’s been fired. Rodgers has been remarkably immune to all of this. One can’t help but think that if that happened in Foxboro, and Brady’s record the past two years was 7-9 and 4-7-1, the headlines would be much different. Just like Manning.

Brady: “None of the Past Matters” About Playing in Miami:

The Patriots are 1-4 in their last four trips to Miami and Tom Brady hit the nail right on the head when he said at his Friday press conference, “The reality is that none of that stuff matters — it’s really this team against that team,” he said.

“We have a big challenge.”

Miami is 5-1 at home and 1-5 on the road, so they are a very different team when playing in the confines of their own stadium as opposed to traveling on the road. The Patriots played very poorly there last season, when Jay Cutler, in the midst of a nightmarish season, looked like an All-Pro…for one night.

“The opponent is the Dolphins, not the climate. Playing a good football game is definitely what this week is about for us,” Brady added. “We can’t expect to go out there and play less than our best and win. We should be playing our best — it’s that time of year.”

This season, unlike others, like 2013, and 2015, it is the Dolphins who are beat up and have a lot of players injured or on IR.  There is no mystique, no parquet floor magic about playing in South Florida. The Patriots just need to show up and be ready to play.

Brady at the end of the 2016 season lit up Miami with the following stat line:
Attempts – 33, Completions – 25, Yards – 276, Completion Pct. 75.8, TDs – 3, INT – 0 Passer Rating – 130.4, the result was a Patriots 35-14 blowout victory.  Expect Bill Belichick to have the players ready to go today.

No More ‘Read and React’? Pats Defense Dictating More in 2018:

The Patriots back in training camp hinted that new Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores would be more aggressive, ditching the old “read and react” defense of Matt Patricia that most fans hated, although it is hard to argue with the success that they’ve had with it. However, early in the year, much of what we saw looked similar to the past. But as players have been getting more comfortable in their roles and inside the system, we’re seeing more and more of what was perceived to be a more aggressive unit in 2018.

They showed brief glimpses of it during games against Kansas City and Green Bay but two weeks ago against the Jets and then last week against the Vikings, Flores ‘let slip the dogs of war’ and the defense was dictating how things were going to be. That was the most aggressive that the Patriots have been in a very long time.

With a veteran and very solid secondary, Flores can afford to be more aggressive but the confidence the coaches have shown, especially with rookie corner J.C. Jackson is very telling. They aren’t afraid to put their corners out there against some of the more explosive offenses in the league.

However, being aggressive can result in getting burned and giving up long plays and/or touchdowns. But against Cousins and the Vikings, especially on 3rd down, the Patriots were dictating and they were extremely impressive.

Will they do the same this week against Tannehill or was that to give the Steelers something else to consider for next week?

Who You Have This Week? NFL Week 14 Predictions:

Last week: 11-5 Season 125-65-2

Thursday night’s picks Titans over the Jaguars 1-0

NY Jets at Buffalo: Bills
NY Giants at Washington: Redskins
New Orleans at Tampa Bay: Saints
New England at Miami: Patriots
Baltimore at Kansas City: Chiefs
Indianapolis at Houston: Texans
Atlanta at Green Bay: Packers
Carolina at Cleveland: Panthers
Denver at SF: Broncos
Cincinnati at LA Chargers: Chargers
Detroit at Arizona: Lions
Pittsburgh at Oakland: Steelers
Philadelphia at Dallas: Cowboys
LA Rams at Chicago SNF: Rams
Minnesota at Seattle MNF: Vikings

Thursday Early Pick: Chargers over Chiefs

Eastbound and Down AFC East Notes:

Bills Cut Benjamin After Just 18 Games:

The Buffalo Bills cut their ties to WRs Kelvin Benjamin and Andre Holmes on Tuesday. Buffalo acquired Benjamin, 27, in a trade from the Carolina Panthers in October 2017 for 3rd and 7th round picks in the 2018 draft. In 18 regular-season games for Buffalo, Benjamin caught 39 passes for 571 yards and two touchdowns. In his career, Benjamin has played in 58 games with 52 starts, amassing 207 catches for nearly 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns.

He ran afoul of the coaches and QBs in both Carolina and Buffalo but perhaps someone like Andy Reid can reach him where others have failed. He has stated he wasn’t a fit for Cam Newton in Carolina and reportedly told Bills quarterback Josh Allen he wouldn’t work on routes with him before a game earlier this season.

“Sometimes change of scenery can be good for a guy and he’s got an opportunity to come in here,” Reid said.

Struggling this season, Benjamin admitted he’d hit “rock bottom” and was disappointed. “It’s just a bad season,” Benjamin said. “It is what it is. Just football, man. You have good seasons, you have bad seasons. I’ve had successful seasons in this league. I’ll have plenty more. For some reason, it’s just not the year.”

Maybe the Chiefs hope that they can catch lightning in a bottle and he can repeat the performance he had against the Patriots in Week 4 of the 2017 season where he caught four passes for 104 yards, in case the two teams meet in the postseason.

Tannehill Key For Dolphins Postseason Hopes:

The Miami Dolphins are still in the mix in the playoff race but if they’re going to get there, they are going to need production from QB Ryan Tannehill. A lot of production. He’s been with the team for seven years and he has yet to show the consistency that is needed to be the type of QB that the Dolphins envisioned when they drafted him.

Despite the over-the-top headline this week that loudly proclaimed “Tannehill Owns the Patriots At Home”, he has a lot of work to do the next month. But it all starts today. And if Tannehill wants to be a Dolphin in 2019, he better turn some heads in the next few games…in a good way.   

“If you’re on the field, you’re getting evaluated,” Tannehill said. “That is what it is. Whatever you put on tape, that’s what this team and every other team has to go on.”

With a career 40-43 record, and middle of the road stats across the board, he may have his coach’s confidence, but eventually, even Adam Gase will be forced to make a decision. Tannehill isn’t just playing for a playoff spot but a roster spot in 2019.

Darron Lee Suspended for the Remainder of the Jets Season:

The New York Jets continuing dysfunction once again raised its ugly head when the league announced linebacker Darron Lee has been suspended four games for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

The suspension is effective immediately, meaning his season is over unless he decides to appeal it. The suspension will cost him $325,000 in game checks. Lee is eligible to return to the roster on Dec. 31, the day after their final game.


Lee, leads the team with three interceptions, including one for a touchdown. But he’s had maturity issues. He was benched for a game in 2017 for showing up late to practice. He had a dustup with his girlfriend at a music festival that was caught on cellphone video. His teammate Leonard Williams perhaps saved him from further league issues, by pulling him away.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

No “Yeah Buts” Patriots Defense Is Coming Together Right On Time

Steve Balestrieri
December 5, 2018 at 8:40 am ET

With the Patriots win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Patriots are 9-3 and are currently the #2 seed of the AFC. They can clinch their division with a win over the Dolphins on Sunday, the first “hat and T-shirt” game of the season.

Nothing is guaranteed yet, there are still four games left to play and they could finish anywhere from the #1 seed to out of the playoffs if they drop all four. But is there anyone really out there that can see that scenario?

Things you can set your watch/calendar by:

  • The Pats laying a stinker or two in Sept.
  • National media rushing to be “first” to predict the end of NE’s run
  • Patriots fans screaming on social media every time an opponent completes a pass of more than 10 yards, “They’re trash!”
  • The team slogging thru the midway point of the season stringing together wins
  • Post-Thanksgiving, the team is suddenly among the AFC’s top seeds…again
  • After every win, especially against big opponents, the “yeah buts” come out
  • That “trash” defense begins to come together

Did we miss any? One fan who follows us on social media proclaimed during the Lions game that the team was “going 5-11 as Bill has gutted this team with terrible drafting”, and yet here we are again.

The best thing to watch on Sunday was the work of the Patriots defense. The one constant about the Patriots defense is that it is always changing. They don’t have the one signature aspect that everyone can point to and say, “Team “A” is going to have to deal with this” or that “Team “B” can’t match up with that”. It is, under Bill Belichick a unit that changes from week to week depending on the team and can morph into totally different entities.

Against the Jets, they went to a heavier package trying to stop the running game that was base-heavy. Against Minnesota, they went to nearly all sub-packages, at times having Trey Flowers as the only down lineman, daring them to run, while trying to stop the pass. They did a masterful job of disguising their blitzes and the safety group was moving all around which confused Kirk Cousins to where he was forced to check down time and again to outlet receivers where the defense cleaned them up.

This requires a massive amount of work and study and having players that are smart and versatile, especially the secondary which gets far too little credit. The Patriots have quietly amassed a very talented group in the secondary and they are getting better each week.

Last week, facing the Vikings talented duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, the Pats defense, didn’t do their normal M.O. which is to try to take away their top threat and make you beat them elsewhere, they DID take away both.

Thielen, who had amassed nine 100-yard games was held to just five catches for 28 yards and a 5-yard TD. Diggs had five catches for 49 yards. And right smack in the middle of it all was Stephon Gilmore.

Gilmore is a corner who doesn’t get nearly the credit that he deserves for being the player that he is. Other than the Titans game where he and everyone else played terribly, he’s been lights out since the earliest days of OTAs. Joining him is Jason McCourty, who not only is playing meaningful games for the first time in his career, is also playing some of the best football of his career. Jonathan Jones and the surprising rookie emergence of J.C. Jackson has to be a source of confidence moving forward.

The safety group now has four players that the team can use in just about any situation. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty are both ramping their games up to an extremely high level with Duron (The Closer) Harmon and newcomer Obi Melifonwu providing depth and versatility for the coaches to throw different looks at the opposition.

While everyone south of the North Pole laments the amount of yardage that they allow. But yards passing doesn’t win football games…points do. Otherwise, the Pats would have cruised in the SB against the Eagles. And don’t look now, but that “trash” defense of the Patriots? They’re currently tied with Seattle for 9th best in points allowed with 21.6. Right on time. And the opposing passer rating, they’re currently 6th, with opponents QBs having a passer rating of just 85.9.

They aren’t the most talented group in the front seven, with the exception of Trey Flowers on the defensive line, there are a bunch of workmen who bring their lunch pails to the stadium every day. Lawrence Guy, in particular, has been a great pickup for them.

The Linebacker group is the same. Are Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy All-Pros? Nope but in this defense, they are as valuable as them. Elandon Roberts is someone we frequently criticize but he has the confidence of his coaches and on Sunday was flying around the field which is a good thing. They miss their rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley but who should be even better next season.

Are they now a Top-10 defense? Nope. But they’re competitive and with a confidence level that they feel they can match up and slow down anyone they meet. We all heard the noise (all year) but especially before last week’s game. “They can’t stop Thielen”, or “Diggs will eat them up”, “Who is going to cover Cook underneath.” It was the same when they faced Aaron Rodgers but of course, after that game, there were the endless…yeah buts.

One of the things that Bill Belichick talks about, and one of the hardest thing to do as a coach, is getting a team to “buy-in” to what they’re trying to get across with a team philosophy. We saw that fail in 2009 when he lamented on the sideline in New Orleans that the team wouldn’t do so. Judging from what we saw on Sunday, this team is all-in. What happens from here? Nobody knows, they could run the table or get booted in the first round. “Yeah but what about the Steelers’ offense?” But just this time, for once, sit back and enjoy the ride.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Best Of Social Media Week 13: Vikings vs Patriots

Robert Alvarez
December 4, 2018 at 9:11 pm ET

The New England Patriots entered their Week 13 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings looking to keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs for the top seed in the AFC Playoffs and continue their December dominance into another season.

The Patriots came in at 8-3, while the Vikings, who continue to battle for an NFC Wild Card spot, were 6-4-1.

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In the first quarter, the Patriots struck first from an unlikely source, fullback James Develin carrying the ball in from the one for a 7-0 lead.

Another week, another new Tom Brady milestone, and this one was a long time coming.

A Brady five yard gain to put the quarterback over 1,000 rushing yards for his career.

The score remained 7-0 Patriots after a quarter as kicker Stephen Gostkowski added to the lead with a 20 yard field goal to extend it to 10-0 midway through the second.

Despite the Patriots having full control of the game and time of possession, the offense struggled to pull away and the Vikings got back in the game with an Adam Thielen touchdown reception. 10-7 Patriots at halftime.

The score was made possible by a gutsy third down challenge call by Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.

In the third quarter, former Viking Cordarrelle Patterson tormented his former team with a big gain.

Unfortunately the Patriots offense continued to scuffle as the Vikings would tie the game at 10 with a Dan Bailey 39 yard Field Goal.

Needing to grab back momentum, Josh “Flash” Gordon came up big.

17-10 Patriots after three quarters.

Leading by seven into the fourth, the Patriots defense continued to dominate the Kirk Cousins offense.

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With 11 minutes to go in the game, the Patriots offense padded their lead when James Develin again scored to push the separation to 24-10.

Under five to play, the Patriots defense forced two big turnovers to end the Vikings night and a 24-10 victory.

By beating the Vikings, the Patriots extended their own NFL record for most consecutive winning seasons to 18 straight (2001-2018), the team also moved to 9-3 through 12 games, for the 13th time under Bill Belichick and the eighth-straight year that the team has started the season with a 9-3 or better record.

Seven of those 13 times, the team has advanced to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots will travel south to take on the 6-6 Miami Dolphins at 1:00 next Sunday.

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Patriots Week 13 Report Card, Defense Dominates Vikes in 24-10 Win

Steve Balestrieri
at 7:00 am ET

The Patriots returned home to face the Minnesota Vikings in a game that was very important to both teams. And this one was dominated by the Pats defense, they held Minnesota to just 10 points and just three in the second half. The Vikings duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs was held in check extremely effectively by the NE secondary.

The Patriots offense rolled up 471 yards to just 278 for Minnesota. The win puts the Patriots at 9-3 for their 18th straight winning season which is second in NFL history to the Cowboys who had 21 straight winning seasons.

So, check out our grades and see how the team fared in this week’s close win.

Quarterback: B

Tom Brady, mostly threw underneath to the backs and WRs on screen passes and quick throws which really gouged the Minnesota defense. When the Vikings began to adapt their looks and adjust, Brady then moved the ball down the field. He finished 24-32 for 311 yards (9.7-yard average which is great) with 1 TD and 1 INT for a 102.5 passer rating.

Brady’s movement in the pocket was superb, he felt the pressure and would slide or step up in the pocket. On his one pick, he was hit by Harrison Smith as he was letting go of the ball. Against one of the better defenses in the league, this was a very good performance.

Brady didn’t make any what we’d characterize as “great” throws, but he got everyone involved and kept the chains moving. But he was very good and kept the Vikings off balance.

Running Backs: B-

The Patriots running backs played a huge role in this game, they combined for 40 carries and catches on the day. James White had a big day with 6 carries for 26 yards and 7 catches for 92 more. Sony Michel didn’t have the biggest day with only a 3.7-yard average but he ran hard and was going against one of the better run defenses (3rd)  in the league. Rex Burkhead returned from IR and had a good solid complementary effort.

Overall, the Patriots ran for 160 yards on 39 carries which is a 4.1-yard average. While good anytime, against the Vikings defense, that is a very big game. It shows the coaches have faith in the running game and the players. Contrast that to what Minnesota did with just 13 rushes on the day.

James Develin had a pair of touchdowns from the one and the two-yard lines. The team may have found what ails them in the red zone and short-yardage.

Wide Receivers: B

The wide receivers, for the most part, had a pretty quiet game. Josh Gordon wasn’t even targeted until the closing moments of the 3rd Quarter. And then in the blink of an eye, Gordon has three catches for 58 yards and a touchdown as well as drawing a pass interference penalty.

Julian Edelman was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 25 yards) but added 35 more in the running game. Chris Hogan had a pair of catches on two targets and Patterson had a big day, rushing, receiving and returning kickoffs for 114 yards total.  Phillip Dorsett wasn’t targeted.

Tight Ends: C

Rob Gronkowski was quiet in the passing game (3 catches, 26 yards) but was his usual beast-like self in the running game opening holes for the running backs. He also got flagged for a couple of penalties for a false start and holding.

Offensive Line: A-

The offensive line did a tremendous job considering the defense they were going up against. Minnesota entered the game with the third overall defense, 4th against the run, 5th against the pass and the Pats rolled up 471 yards.

The offensive line opened enough holes in the running game for the Pats to run for 160 yards. The pass protection, while solid wasn’t really tested much as Brady was throwing quick passes and the misdirection plays and screens kept the Vikings on their heels.

But when they did throw downfield later in the game, they did a tremendous job against one of the better defensive units in the league.

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line had a very solid night. They were mixing and matching and shifting players around to bring pressure on Kirk Cousins and they sacrificed their run defense in order to take away what the Vikings do best.

Trey Flowers and Lawrence Guy both turned in excellent games. Adam Butler and Adrian Clayborn both contributed and the front seven were a constant disruption of the Vikings offense all night long. The Patriots dusted off their muddled front with at times only Flowers as the only down lineman, and with others Flowers and Butler.

And BTW, Guy stopped Murray short on that 4th and 1, I still don’t think Murray has made the sticks yet. Awful call.

Linebackers: A-

The Patriots linebackers easily had their best game of the season. With the coverage downfield solid, Cousins was forced to check down to his running backs which is a weakness of the LB unit right? Well on Sunday night. Dalvin Cook had eight catches, for just 22 yards. Latavius Murray had two catches for three yards.

All three of the linebackers (Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts) were all over the field. They were tackling receivers with no yards after the catch and rushing up in the rush against the QB.

Roberts set the tone early with a thunderous hit on Cook on the first snap. But he was victimized twice on runs over running the hole and those two plays went for 50 yards on the ground. While that knocks down the grade a bit, Roberts was all over the field and was hitting everything in sight.

Secondary: A-

The secondary was terrific. Adam Thielen came in with nine 100-yard games and the Patriots held him to just five catches for 28 yards and a score. The Patriots doubled him most of the game which took him effectively out of the game plan.

Stephon Gilmore was very effective on Stefon Diggs and the team felt confident enough in rookie J.C. Jackson that they slid him over on Diggs as well. That allowed them to get creative on third downs. Jason McCourty largely covered Thielen in the slot which then allowed the Pats to move the bigger Jackson outside.

The safeties,   Devin McCourty, Jason McCourty, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon and Obi Melifonwu were very active and they confused Cousins with their crowding things up with their looks down low in the box. It all played a hand in how they limited the Vikings to just 201 yards thru the air. Jonathan Jones and Duron Harmon had interceptions.

Special Teams: B-

The Special Teams was lauded by Belichick after the game for their results in the kicking game. Ryan Allen had another strong game pinning the Vikings inside the 10 and angling his punts along the sideline. Cordarrelle Patterson and Julian Edelman both had nice returns of 34 and 23 respectively. Jonathan Jones may have influenced a missed FG with his breaking thru the line. But they also gave up big returns in the kicking game and Brandon King got whistled for a hold that wiped out a nice punt return.

Coaches: A-

The Patriots coaching staff came up with a terrific game plan to take on the Vikings and the players executed it extremely well. There was no doubt that the Patriots were ready for this one, right from the opening snap. Brian Flores had a very aggressive game plan on tap right from the start and they didn’t deviate from it, even when the Vikings made them pay for it on their only touchdown drive of the game just before halftime.

Josh McDaniels was trying to take away the Vikings pass rush early in this one with screens, quick passes, and misdirection, and the defense was never able to assert itself in this game. They had their moments when they sputtered but going 7-14 on third down and 2-3 in the red zone against the Vikings defense, numbers which would have been even better if the referees called an interference on Edelman on third and goal (but we digress).

Bill Belichick had a firm hold on this one throughout. The team was prepared and they all executed the game plan in fine fashion.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

Patriots Strong Finish Buries Vikings 24-10, Observations

Steve Balestrieri
December 3, 2018 at 7:30 am ET

The Patriots took a workman-like approach to the game on Sunday and ground out a hard-fought 24-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The victory moved the Pats to 9-3 and they have kept the #2 seed behind Kansas City who beat the Raiders on Sunday.

All week there has been some loud noise from the doubters stating that maybe this team wasn’t as good as some of the other Patriots teams in the past and that the defense, bereft of playmakers would be the Achilles Heel of them. That remains to be seen but the indications are that this team is rounding into form defensively.

It was the defense that stepped up, limiting the Vikings to just 10 points. Kirk Cousins was frustrated all night long as the Minnesota deep passing game was taken away and he was forced to check down for passes underneath.

He completed eight passes to Dalvin Cook out of the backfield but for just 22 yards. The tackling and coverage were terrific on those.

The Patriots secondary was outstanding, the dynamic duo of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs was held in check. Combined, they managed 10 catches for 77 yards and one touchdown. Thielen who had nine 100 yard games entering the contest was held to just five catches for 28 yards and a score. Diggs had five for 49. Mission accomplished

It was truly a collaborative effort when combatting Thielen who has been tearing it up in the league this season. Jason McCourty drew the assignment when Thielen lined in the slot. Stephon Gilmore covered Thielen occasionally when he was on the outside. Rookie J.C. Jackson even lined up on him once or twice.

Some observations from the game include:

Patriots Offense Still A Work in Progress:

On some levels, it still seems like the team doesn’t really know what it has offensively. It really seems like Josh McDaniels and the offense is playing their cards close to their vest. They mixed things up nicely on their opening drive, a variety of runs, screen passes, and misdirection had the Vikings on their heels. They scored a touchdown but then would only add three points for the rest of the first half.

They stayed conservative until late in the third quarter and then Tom Brady began pushing the ball down the field and they quickly found their rhythm. While we believe that the Patriots should be scoring more than 24 points (they certainly believe that) the fact that they rolled up 471 yards of offense on the third-ranked defense in the NFL.

And on third down and the red zone what we believed was to be a key area of the game, they were 7-14 and 2 of 3 respectively against the #1 team. Tom Brady finished 24-32 for 311 yards (9.7-yard average) with a TD and an INT. His passer rating was 102.5

Brian Flores Is More Aggressive Than Patriots Teams in the Past:

The Patriots defense came into this one looking to try to limit the Minnesota deep passing game. They did it extremely well, with very good coverage and an aggressive blitz scheme that keep the Vikings on their heels and made them earn every yard down the field.

The Vikings were just 3-12 on third down for the game as Flores did a tremendous job of disguising their coverages and looks and dialing up the pressure that made Cousins have to get rid of the ball to his check down receivers.

Cousins burned them on it, as can happen when they beat the blitz during the Vikings only touchdown drive at the end of the first half. That’s the risk you take but overall the unit played very well. And they never went away from it. They were willing to concede the running game (95 yards on 13 carries) by getting after the passer. Trey Flowers was terrific once again.

We wrote before the game, lost in all of the talk about the yardage allowed by the Patriots defense thru the air was the fact that they were the 6th best team in the Opposing QB rating with a mark of 87.3. Cousins’ QB rating for Sunday was 70.3.

I like that the Patriots are working in Obi Melifonwu into the game plan covering tight ends in the dime package. He was competitive going against Kyle Rudolph and certainly looked like he knocked the ball out on the sidelines. But the officials ruled it a catch. On that subject, Lativius Murray still hasn’t reached the sticks on the 4th and 1 run…no evidence?

Gordon Invisible For a Half Then Bursts Out:

Something that goes along with McDaniels playing things close to his vest was the game of Josh Gordon. He wasn’t even targeted in the first half. Then after Minnesota tied the score, the offense looked his way when he and Brady began the next drive hooking up for a 24-yard catch and run. They’d finish the drive in a similar fashion.

On a 1st-and-10 from the Vikings 24-yard line, Brady stepped up in the pocket and found Gordon all alone inside the 10. He found the open spot in the Vikings zone coverage, and Brady zipped him the ball. Gordon caught the pass at the 7-yard line, and easily cruised into the end zone. He finished with three catches for 58 yards and the score.

After the game, he was asked the significance of catching Brady’s 500th TD pass and then his 579th career pass (including postseason) to tie Peyton Manning and he had this to say.

“It must be fate. I won’t say coincidence, but it’s great to be on the receiving end of it,” Gordon said. “Extremely humbled to come out here every Sunday and get a chance to play, let alone with Tom Brady, the greatest to ever do it. So to be part of history with him? I can’t really even put the words to describe what that means to me. It’s just great to have the opportunity.”

Patriots Offensive Line Deserves High Marks Again:

Coming into this game, the thought was that the Patriots couldn’t run the way they did against the Jets when they ran for over 200 yards. They didn’t, but they came pretty close, running for 160 yards against a much, much tougher Viking front seven. The offensive line led the way with a very strong performance and didn’t allow a sack of Brady on the night.

Sony Michel led the way with 63 yards on 17 carries but seven different Patriots ran the ball in a team-oriented win. Rex Burkhead returned and had seven carries and two pass receptions. James Develin showed some respite for the short-yardage game with two short touchdown runs.

Cordarrelle Patterson played against his former team and accounted for 114 yards with 1 carry for six yards, 2 catches for 53 yards and 2 kickoff returns for 55 more. James White had six carries for 26 and seven more catches for 92 for 118 yards.

So with the Pittsburgh Steelers blowing a big second-half lead to the Chargers, that drops them a game and a half behind New England for the #2 seed. But Houston won again and has the same record so they can’t falter now.

The Patriots move on to Miami for a “Hat and T-shirt” game for the division win next week. That’s always the first goal, win the division, get a first round bye….etc.

We’re on to Miami.

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news.

PHOTOS: Patriots To Wear Special Cleats For NFL “My Cause My Cleats” Campaign

Robert Alvarez
November 30, 2018 at 10:39 am ET

During Week 13 of the 2018 NFL season, players and coaches around the league will be participating in the “My Cause My Cleats” campaign.

According to the NFL, “My Cause My Cleats gives NFL players the opportunity to personalize their cleats and raise awareness for the charities and foundations they passionately support. The initiative also gives players a platform to share their stories and why the causes are important to them.”

On Sunday afternoon against the Minnesota Vikings, more than a dozen players and coaches on the Patiots will wear their customized cleats and sneakers.

In total 19 Patriots players and head coach Bill Belichick will participate in the campaign.

Here is the full list of players and their foundation/cause of choice.

[Courtesy CBS Boston and PatsPulpit]

David Andrews (Warrior Dog Foundation)
Tom Brady (Best Buddies & The Ellie Fund)
Rex Burkhead (Team Jack Foundation)
Adrian Clayborn Brachial plexus injury awareness
Phillip Dorsett Depression and anti-bullying
Nate Ebner (Fuel Up To Play 60)
Stephon Gilmore Depression and anti-bullying
Lawrence Guy (My Life My Choice & Show Your Soft Side)
Duron Harmon (Autism Speaks)
Brian Hoyer (MSPCA-Angell)
Dont’a Hightower (One Family Inc.)
Chris Hogan (Headstrong)
Jacob Hollister (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
Devin McCourty (Players Coalition)
Jason McCourty (Embrace Kids Foundation)
Sony Michel (Earthquake In Haiti Relief)
Derek Rivers (Jar Of Hope)
Matthew Slater (International Justice Mission)
Kyle Van Noy (Van Noy Valor Foundation)

A few Patriots shared photos and video on their social media accounts but you can also check out the Patriots website for a full photo slideshow of all the cleats.

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For more information, check out nfl.com/mycausemycleats

Patriots-Vikings Week 13, Key Matchups, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots came off their bye week with a 27-13 win over the Jets in the Meadowlands, a much-needed road win. Now, they’re taking on the Minnesota Vikings who appear to be a much better team than their record indicates at 6-4-1. This is a huge game for both teams.

Minnesota is second in their division, a game and a half behind the Bears who they play one more time on 12/30. But a loss to Chicago a few weeks ago and to the Bills early in the year have really hurt them.

This week’s game will be broadcast by FOX and can be seen locally on WFXT Channel 25. Joe Buck will handle play-by-play duties with Troy Aikman as the color analyst. Erin Andrews will work from the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Capello.

The Patriots (8-3) are coming off of a win over the Jets 27-13 on the road. The offense rolled up nearly 500 yards and Sony Michel gained 133 yards on 21 carries.

The Vikings (6-4-1) beat the Packers 24-17 to keep their divisional hopes alive. Kirk Cousins threw for over 300 yards against the Packers despite being under pressure for most of the game.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2018 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game.

Series History:

The New England Patriots and Minnesota Vikings are meeting for just the 13th time, they last met in 2014 when Cordarrelle Patterson was a member of the Vikings. The Patriots are 8-4 in their brief history and have won the last four meetings. The last time the two teams met in Foxboro was in 2010 when Brett Favre was QB for Minnesota.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge. First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots RBs vs Vikings Front Seven – Razor’s Edge Minnesota

The Patriots running game was clicking on Sunday against the Jets as they rolled up 215 yards on the ground. Sony Michel led the way with 133 yards with James White picking up 72. Now they have Rex Burkhead back from IR with concussion/neck injuries. The Pats OL did a tremendous job of clearing out lanes for the backs to run, but this week they have a much tougher task.

The Minnesota front seven is excellent against the run, 4th best in the league allowing an average of just 93.6 yards per game. They’re big, physical and maintain outstanding gap integrity. Linval Joseph and a resurgent Sheldon Richardson are a very, very tough pair of DTs to move in the running game. They held the Packers to just 82 yards a week ago.

Look for the Patriots to mix things up, with the aggressiveness of the edge players, they may try to sneak Michel and Burkhead more toward the edge this week. But with the Vikings, they’ll have to stay patient because yards on the ground will be difficult to come by this week.

Patriots WRs vs Vikings Secondary – Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots passing game is currently 11th in the league but they just got back Rob Gronkowski last week and gets back Burkhead this week. When he’s been healthy, he’s been an outstanding option in the passing game. Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, and Chris Hogan all pose big matchup problems if Tom Brady has time to throw. The Pats OL will have their hands full with a very good pass rush.

Minnesota is currently fifth best against the pass in 2018, allowing just 221.1 yards per game. Something to keep in mind, the Vikes held both Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers to under 200 yards passing. They have excellent bookend pass rushers in Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter, but the key is again inside. If Joseph and Richardson can push the pocket, Brady will not be able to step up and make his throws.

The secondary is aggressive and athletic. But Xavier Rhodes is questionable in this one. It will be him matched up with Gordon outside, but if he can’t go, then the Vikings may opt to give help over the top. Edelman and MacKensie Alexander will be another great matchup to watch. Alexander has been terrific over the last month-plus, allowing a QB rating of just 45 when targeting him.  

And then there is Gronkowski, I would think they’d put Anthony Barr with safety help on him but the Rhodes situation may have some bearing on that. Home cooking is always a big deal when talking offenses. Look for Brady and the offense to use play-action a lot in this one.

Of course, the Patriots will have to be aware of Harrison Smith and where he is on the field. Bill Belichick compared him to Ed Reed this week. Anyone who knows how BB feels about Reed knows that it isn’t a comparison he throws around lightly. It promises to be a fascinating matchup.

Next up the Vikings offense:

Vikings RBs vs NE Front Seven – Razor’s Edge New England

Minnesota’s running game is currently 30th in the league right now averaging just 85.3 yards per game. Dalvin Cook is the lead back, but he’s been hurt for much of the season and has appeared in just six games. Latavius Murray, Mike Boone, and Ameer Abdullah also can contribute. Don’t be put off by Cook’s 3.5-yard average, he looks to be getting his explosion back. The key will be the offensive line play.

The Patriots run defense has been up and down this year but they’ve been trending better in that department. Lawrence Guy has been very solid as has Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy in run support. The key here is setting the edge.

Cook is the kind of back who has traditionally given the Pats trouble. Although I don’t expect he’ll have big numbers running the ball, as we mentioned above, setting the edge on the side opposite of Flowers will be key and that is where the Vikings will attack.

Vikings WRs vs NE Secondary- Razor’s Edge Minnesota

The Vikings passing game is 7th in the league averaging 283.2 yards per game. They have one of the league’s most dynamic players in Adam Thielen who has caught 93 passes this season. Stefon Diggs and Laquon Treadwell give them an excellent trio. Kirk Cousins has come in and completed 71.1 percent of his passes for 3289 yards (7.1-yard average) with 22 TDs and 7 INTs. TE Kyle Rudolph and Cook out of the backfield give them a plethora of targets in the passing game.

The Patriots have the league’s 25th pass defense giving up a lot of yards (269.7) but the opposing passer rating of 87.3 is the 6th best in the NFL (Minnesota is 8th). They’re competitive outside but have big issues covering tight ends and backs.

How the Patriots cover Thielen will be an intriguing matchup. The Vikings like to put him in the slot, I see the Patriots using Jason McCourty with over the help safety help on most downs with him. They’ll try to matchup Diggs with Stephon Gilmore. They’re not going to shut them down regardless. They’re going to get their yards, but I expect the Patriots to be competitive there.

It will be interesting to see if Belichick and Flores go back to Jonathan Jones who was benched last week for poor play or roll with the rookie J.C. Jackson who replaced him. The key here is with Rudolph and Cook. Pat Chung and Devin McCourty will have to be on top of their game’s this week. Could we see more of Obi Melifonwu helping on the tight end with his size and athleticism? Possibly. He could be the long-term answer there, but for now, I think the ball is in Chung and McCourty’s hands to do the job.

Special Teams- Razor’s Edge New England

The Patriots special teams normally play better at home and I think that Cordarrelle Patterson (playing against his former team) and Julian Edelman may have a big return or two in the cards for this one. The Patriots get the edge in the kicking game with Stephen Gostkowski over Dan Bailey while both punters are solid with Ryan Allen and Matt Wile for the Vikes.

Next up, who wins and why…

Prediction:

This should be a hold-on-to-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of game this week. I fully expect it to go right down to the wire. Both teams need the win, the Vikings to keep their division hopes alive and for the time being, to maintain the #5 seed. The Patriots are currently the #2 seed, a game behind KC and with a Chiefs’ slip up, they could slide into the #1 spot due to a tie-breaker. Keys to the game from a New England perspective.

Third Down/Red Zone: Minnesota is one of the best defensive teams in each of these categories for a reason. Minnesota is 2nd in the RZ and 1st on 3rd Down. With a full complement of offensive weapons, the Patriots have to play better in each this week. Burkhead could be their “X-Factor” here. The playcalling from Josh McDaniels in the red zone will be something to watch this week. The calls have been a bit predictable and we’ll see if they mix it up.

Defensively, the Patriots must get off the field on 3rd down. Look for Brian Flores and Belichick to be more aggressive this week. They should take a few more risks in order to bring pressure on Cousins. If they’re getting the job done against the run, we could see more of the lighter fronts with moving Trey Flowers inside as an interior pass rusher or Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler in the same role.

No Turnovers: The Vikings are an aggressive bunch and can create turnovers on defense, they will at times roll the dice and be susceptible to a big play. Brady has to be spot on and recognize his opportunities and produce. Defensively, the Pats likewise will have to roll the dice and blitz Cousins. The pass rush has been nowhere near good enough. Could it cost them six? With this team, easily but that is what they’re going to have to do to slow them down.

Stay Balanced: The Pats are an excellent offense when they can run and pass. With everyone getting healthy offensively both in skill positions and on the OL, they have to remain balanced and not give the Vikings the advantage of dialing it up when they’re in 3rd and long.

The weather forecast is calling for rain early (like every weekend this fall) but may taper off later in the game. The wet ball could be a factor, we’ll have to see.

New England will have to attack the right side of the Minnesota offensive line and win there to keep Cousins from being flat-footed in the pocket. They’ve had troubles in pass protection, especially there. However, if Cousins has all day to throw it will be a long afternoon for the home team. Look for Gronkowski to play a big role in this one. Opening things up for the rest of the offensive weapons. I look for both Brady and Cousins to play well on Sunday. Hold on to your hats, folks,  the Pats will hold serve at home…barely.  But by one or 20, it counts the same in the standings.  Patriots 28-27

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.

Best Of Social Media Week 12: Patriots vs Jets

Robert Alvarez
November 27, 2018 at 11:33 pm ET

The New England Patriots entered their Week 12 matchup with the New York Jets seeking to bounce back from a disappointing loss to the Tennessee Titans two weeks prior.

Following a bye week to recuperate, the team welcomed back offensive weapons Sony Michel and Rob Gronkowski, both of which wound up playing big roles on Sunday.

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Press On

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Onward. #GameDay

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In the first quarter, it was the Jets that struck first, as the Patriots early game struggles continued into another week coupled with costly penalties.

By the end of the quarter, Brady went to his best targets to tie the game at seven all when he found tight end Rob Gronkowski from 34 yards out.

The touchdown was setup thanks to curious decision making from Jets head coach Todd Bowles.

In the second quarter, Tom Brady re-wrote the record books some more.

The Patriots and Jets traded field goals in the second for a 10-10 tie going into halftime.

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I missed you so much ❤️

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In the third, rookie running back Sony Michel continued his career day and helped setup a go-ahead 32-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. The  Jets quickly responded with a 38 yarder by Jason Myers. 13-13 with five to go in the third.

With the Patriots struggling to find the end zone for the majority of the game, Brady found Edelman to put the Patriots back in front for good at a 20-13 lead.

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Hey @gronk how’d I do? #OutLikeALight

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Entering the fourth with a seven point lead, Michel continued to grind out yards.

With nine to play in the game, Michel found the end zone for the first time on the day to cap off his impressive performance.

The defense handeled the Jets and Josh McCown for the remainder of the fourth, and the Patriots walked out of North Jersey with an 8-3 record following a 27-13 victory.

The win, coupled with a Steelers loss later Sunday afternoon, put the Patriots back in the two seed as they head home to face the Minnesota Vikings at 4:25 next Sunday.

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W

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One down, 5 to go!

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TEAM WIN!!! #patsnation #darkside #trenches

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WARNING, NSFW Language

video courtesy FitzyGFY