After a tough fight in San Diego last week, the Patriots return home to the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium to take on the 2-4 Minnesota Vikings. New England was able to force San Diego into four turnovers on Sunday, and those takeaways ended up being the difference. The Pats hung on to beat the Chargers 23-20 after nearly blowing a 23-6 lead with 11:30 left in the game. However, the New England defense held firm and forced one of the most inconsistent kickers in the league to make a 50 yard field goal. There was a bit of controvery, though, namely the 4th and 1 decision by Belichick. I agreed with the decision, but felt the play call should to either sneak it with Brady or give it to our best running back at the moment, Danny Woodhead.
With the tough game last week, the Patriots could not catch the Minnesota Vikings at a more ideal time. Minnesota struggled in a 28-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers last week in which penalties and interceptions cost them the game. However, the main struggle for head coach Brad Childress is frankly the relationship he has with his players, including quarterback Brett Favre. Favre threw key interceptions in the second half, including one that was returned for a touchdown. This led Childress to call out his quarterback in front of the media. Keep in mind, this is after Childress sent Minnesota's three team leaders down to Mississippi to almost beg Favre to come back.
With the news that Number Four has two fractures in his ankle, there's a big question surrounding the game. Will Favre continue his historic consecutive games played streak, or will the Vikings go to Tarvaris Jackson? Randy Moss and Percy Harvin have been great weapons for the offense, but Minnesota needs to use one of the top running backs in the league in Adrian Peterson a lot more. Peterson will be used to keep New England off the field if Jackson plays, but Moss and company will want to exploit one of the worst pass defenses, in terms of yards, in the league.
Here are my keys to the game:
1.Will he or won’t he?: This key revolves around Brett Favre. The star quarterback will want to play even with the fractures in his ankle, but is it the best thing for a team that needs to win right now? You know Randy Moss, who wants to stick it to the Patriots, will want Favre to play to utilize the big plays downfield. But even if Favre plays, will Childress be quick to bench him? Old number four is always known for the interceptions late in the game, especially in the second half of ball games. Will the old flare for the dramatic continue? Quite frankly, I won’t believe Favre is playing until I see him holding a clipboard and wearing a headset on the sidelines.
2.Percy Harvin: From the close relationship that Belichick has with Florida coach, Urban Meyer, the Patriots’ head coach knows all too well of Harvin. Other than Peterson, Harvin is the most explosive weapon in the Minnesota offense because of the multiple ways he can be used. He can be used as a dynamic slot receiver, kick/punt returner, or even out of the backfield. But, against this Patriots’ defense, Harvin can hinder their success because he is good with getting yards after the catch. This means it will be vital for New England to succeed on their first attempt at tackling him in the open field.
3. Minnesota’ Pass Rush: Last year, the Vikings were defined as a defense that can make life difficult for the quarterback. This year, that has not been the case. They only have six sacks in six games, and Jared Allen has been non-existent in most of the games this season. This could be a relief for Brady and the offense this week as New England has seen Baltimore and San Diego get a consistent pass rush on the quarterback the last two contests. To keep Minnesota off of Brady for most of the game, New England needs to stay balanced with a little dose of Danny Woodhead both on the ground and in the short passing game. The Vikings are a middle tier team in terms of pass defense, so getting yards after the catch with an elusive back like Woodhead could be crucial in this game.
Prediction: If Brett Favre plays in this game, and I expect that he will, the Patriots will have to make it very uncomfortable for him in the pocket. They have the ability to do it because I don’t expect a lot of mobility out of the ankle and he will be like a sitting statue in the pocket. Also, Favre’s 4th quarter numbers have not been great this year, throwing just 2 touchdowns in the 4th quarter. Randy Moss will get his big stats because as Patriot fans remember, when he has something to prove, he usually has a big game. However, I expect Brady to come out and make a big statement early to show Moss what he is missing out on. The play of Aaron Hernandez will be crucial and Branch could get involved early against a defense that gave up 300 yards to Aaron Rodgers last week. If Moss gets his in meaningless situations, then Patriots’ fans should breathe sigh of relief. I expect a win for New England and a 6-1 start to their season.
Patriots 31 Vikings 21