The New England Patriots go into their Thanksgiving showdown with the New York Jets off a big win where both offense, defense and special teams had moments of excellence. However, after they were forced to overtime in week 7, this one might be closer than expected. Here are 5 key factors that will decide this game:
1. Can the offense play at 100% without Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski has been, as expected, the key man in the Patriots offense this season. With 700 yards and 10 TDs on the season, there's going to be a big hole in the offense. As well as his influence with his receiving, he is also a complete TE with his excellence in the blocking department. His absence will definitely be missed, it's whether the offense can overcome it to still be as effective as they've been all season.
2. Is Hernandez fit enough?
Of course the key to replacing Gronk is Aaron Hernandez. There's no better second string tight end in football. However, after being out since week 7, and having been injury plagued for the whole season, it is time for him to step up. Obviously, if he isn't 100%, then he's going to harm the team. It's going to be another key to the Patriots offense functioning.
3. Can Sanchez step up?
Mark Sanchez nearly had the Patriots beat. He made costly decisions at key stages of the game that decided the result of the game. If the Jets want to win this game and get themselves back into the AFC East picture, he needs to make the plays the Jets need him to make.
4. Can the pass defense continue from last week?
Aqib Talib certainly made a good first impression. He wasn't completely perfect, but he made a great play on his pick six, and he'll be looking to continue the good work after his strong debut. His partnership with Alfonzo Dennard at CB, and Devin McCourty's continuing improvement at safety could be the start of the resurgence of the pass defense. Though, the less Kyle Arrington, the better...
5. Can the Jets pass defense stop Brady?
Tom Brady has been pretty good this year. By Tom Brady's standards. By league standards, he's been amazing. However, for all the Jets problems this season, they're actually 4th in the league in pass defense. Led by Antonio Cromartie, this unit will be gunning to stop Brady from putting up points and yards. They did hold Brady to 259 yards last time, and it will be stopping Brady that's key for the Jets.
Did I miss anything? Let me know either in the comments or on Twitter, @BrendanAnnely