FIRST QUARTER: What to like about last week’s win over the Falcons

Todd: What was not to like? Beating a talented opponent (record notwithstanding) in their loud domed stadium on national TV and doing it fairly handily (the last six minutes notwithstanding) left me impressed.  For the most part, this win was all about the defense and how they have progressed through the first quarter of this season.  The Pats’ front seven not only held the Falcons to 58 yards rushing but they were also able to get some early pressure on Matt Ryan (two sacks).  The secondary made plays when they had to, in particular Aqib Talib who had another interception (fourth in four games) and held the receivers he covered to just one catch in the eight times Ryan threw in his direction.  Tony Gonzalez had a career game (12 catches, 149 yards, 2 TD), but most of those numbers came in the first half before the defense made some great adjustments that included some unconventional double-press coverage in the game’s final minutes.  Most impressive was the D holding Atlanta to just one touchdown and two field goals in six trips they made to the red zone.

Offensively, if anyone told me before the game that Tom Brady would pass for over 300 yards and two receivers would wind up over 100 yards, I would have called them crazy and asked if they wanted to take a Mulligan (Matthew, 1-yard TD catch) on that statement.  But Julian Edelman (7 catches, 118 yards) and Kenbrell Thompkins (6 catches, 127 yds, TD) became the first Pats duo in a full calendar year to turn the trick, and Thompkins’ touchdown snare was as pretty as any Pats’ score I’ve seen in recent years.  What also impressed me was that for all the effective passing numbers, the offense was perfectly balanced between the pass and run (31 plays for each).  The ground game once again average over four yards a carry (132 total), and after watching LaGarrette Blount 47-yard acceleration to the end zone (incredibly the Pats first rushing TD this year) I might be starting to understand what the coaching staff sees in this guy as a kickoff returner.

Mike: I was just relieved that the Patriots rewarded my faith in them with a win this week. I picked them to win the game, but it was the first time all season I really had to think about my pick.

The team looked much sharper in this game, it seems that Tom Brady is FINALLY on the same page as his receivers and the running game was setting up the play action passes quite nicely. All in all, an impressive win.

SECOND QUARTER: What not to like about last week

Todd: While I enjoyed watching the very opening drive of the game to see the defense make their statement, it was on that same drive that Vince Wilfork tore his right Achilles and saw his season come to an end after being placed on injured reserve this week.  Both figuratively and literally, this is a big loss for the Patriots defense.  Although Wilfork’s total tackles were down this season (the foot had been an issue prior to the Achilles tear), one stat that doesn’t get measured is how effective he is at drawing double-teams on the line of scrimmage, freeing up his teammates to make plays.  I’ll be curious to see what impact Vince’s loss has on guys like Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich to come off the end and sometimes rush unabated to the quarterback.

The other obvious aspect of last Sunday night I didn’t like was the Pats helping the Falcons to make it a game over the final six minutes.  When they went up 30-13 and fans at the Georgia Dome were streaming for the exits, it should have been time for all us fans to relax and enjoy the win.  But thanks to a bungled onside kick (so long, Zach Sudfeld) and a fumbled fourth down exchange (looked like Brady’s fault to me), this game turned out to be interesting right down to the final gun.

Mike: Todd stole my thunder a little bit there. Obviously the Wilfork injury was a big blow (and will continue to be a big blow for the entire season), but that wasn't the biggest concern for me. For the most part, the Patriots handled big Vince's absence well (let's see if they can continue to do that all season). But, what was really worrisome was the fact that, like Todd said, the Patriots helped Atlanta make it a game over the final minutes.

This one looked like an easy win, with the Patriots up 17 with just six minutes to go, then all of a sudden, Atlanta was driving for the game-tying touchdown, and came very close to getting it to boot.

They dodged a bullet last week, but they can't keep living that dangerously as the season wears on. Especially since it seems they might have some real competition in their division as Miami (despite a loss last Monday night) seems to be a legit contender.

THIRD QUARTER: Patriots-Bengals preview

Todd: While predicting last week’s Pats-Falcons game in this space I looked ahead to this week’s opponent and called the Bengals enigmatic.  For all their young talent on both sides of the ball, they are 2-2 and rank a mediocre middle-of-the-pack on both offense and defense.  They have struggled on the road (0-2) and have won at home (2-0) but one of those wins came against a winless Steelers team that currently looks like a big hot mess.  Andy Dalton is a better-than-average quarterback and A.J. Green is one of the best wide receivers you’ve probably never heard of unless you play fantasy football.  They have old friend BenJarvus Green-Ellis along with rookie sensation Giovanni Bernard running the ball.  There’s even former Steeler and long-time Pats-hater James Harrison on defense.  But it has yet to consistently come together for the Bengals week in and week out.

As bad as they looked against the Browns last week, it wouldn’t shock me in the least if Cincinnati came out and played much better this week, even against a better opponent.  Compared to the Falcons, the Bengals generally play a more physical style that should make it tougher for the Pats.  It wouldn’t shock me if the Pats lose a close one, as I expect this game to be close.  But I believe the defense will make enough plays at the end to hang on for the win.   Patriots 24, Bengals 20.

Mike: Call me crazy, but I don't see this one being close. I'm not convinced that the Bengals are a legitimate contender and I think the Patriots are on enough of an upswing to take this one in a surprising way. Look for them to continue to use the run to set up the pass and have an easier time then they did last week. Pats 27, Bengals 10.

FOURTH QUARTER: Other games we like this week

Todd (1-2 last week, 5-4 season): Guess I underestimated Brady’s former backups, who both won last week and now combined with Brady’s numbers are 7-0 through the season’s first four weeks.  But unfortunately for Brian Hoyer, we might not see him back on the field this year after he injured his knee last night during Cleveland’s win over Buffalo.

After going 2-4 the last two weeks, I think I will abandon any potential themes to my picks this week.  But I will start with an upset special, taking the Cowboys to stun the Broncos in a good old fashioned Texas shootout.  I’ll also go with the Chargers over the Raiders playing on Sunday Late Night Football (11:35pm ET, thanks to the Oakland A’s making the MLB playoffs) and the Falcons over the Jets.

Mike (3-0 last week, 6-3 season): Todd, Todd, Todd, why are you placing any faith in the Cowboys? I'll have to lead off with the easy pick this week as Denver will absolutely stay undefeated with a win over Dallas. Also, I'll take Indy to end Seattle's bid for a 5-0 record and Philly over the Giants.

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