New England Patriots

New England Patriots

L-R: Patriots DT Christian Barmore, Giants RB Saquon Barkley. (USA Today)

The New England Patriots return from their bye week on Sunday. They’ll be returning to the site of one of their two wins this season, heading back to the Meadowlands to take on the New York Giants (let me acknowledge that headline isn’t entirely correct – the Patriots are actually back in New Jersey).

These two teams are known for playing big games – having met twice in the Super Bowl this century (no need to get into those results). This week’s game is still meaningful, but in a very different sense.


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Heading into this Week 12 meeting, both teams are in contention for a top draft pick. At 2-8, the Patriots would have the third overall pick if the draft were held now. The Giants aren’t far behind at 3-8, sitting in fifth place in the hypothetical draft order. Whichever team loses this game will have the inside track on a top three pick with a month and a half to go in the season.

While this may be where fans’ rooting interest lies this Sunday, it’s important to remember that the draft standing is of zero relevance to any of the players or coaches who will be on the field on Sunday. Players are still playing to put out good tape and make sure they’re on a roster next year – on their current team or elsewhere – while both coaching staffs are likely trying to save their jobs. Everybody involved in the game will be trying to win, there should be no questions about that.

Keeping that in mind, where will this game be decided? For those watching for reasons beyond draft standing, here’s what to look for…

  • Who has the quarterback advantage?

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - OCTOBER 22: New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien speaks with Mac Jones #10 and Bailey Zappe #4 during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 22: New England Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien speaks with Mac Jones #10 and Bailey Zappe #4 during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on October 22, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Who the Patriots will start at quarterback on Sunday remains a mystery. Whoever it is though, they should have the advantage at the position.

    Yes, Giants rookie UDFA Tommy DeVito played well last week against the Washington Commanders, completing 69.2 percent of his 26 pass attempts for 246 yards with three touchdowns and no picks. However his other appearances this year haven’t come close to that level. The goal for the Patriots, an attainable one at that, should be to make last week’s performance the kind of ‘flash in the pan’ game we’ve seen from rookies this year, like Will Levis had against the Falcons or Tyson Bagent had against the Raiders.

    DeVito has both taken a lot of sacks (20 in the last three games) and has been loose with the football (three interceptions in three games) so far this season. There will be chances for the Patriots’ defense to create, and they need to take advantage of those chances. If the Patriots are going to win this game, the defense setting up premium field position – if not scoring outright – is a must.

    At the same time whoever is under center for the Patriots – whether it’s Mac JonesBailey ZappeWill Grier, or some kind of rotation of the three – needs to prioritize not taking negative plays and be careful with the football. Like the Patriots, the Giants will need their defense to make plays to win this game, and it will be up to the Patriots’ offense to not open that door.

  • Interior offensive line in the spotlight again

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA - SEPTEMBER 17: Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence II #97 of the New York Giants reacts during the second half of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. The Giants defeated the Cardinals 31-28.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    GLENDALE, ARIZONA – SEPTEMBER 17: Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence II #97 of the New York Giants reacts during the second half of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Glendale, Arizona. The Giants defeated the Cardinals 31-28. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

    Last time we saw the Patriots’ offense, they were facing a tough test in the Colts’ defensive line, led by defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. Bucker won that battle, recording six pressures with a sack and four run stuffs.

    This week the Patriots’ interior offensive line will (likely, more on this in a second) be tested again. The Giants’ defensive front features four top-50 picks, highlighted by defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence. Lawrence’s 53 pressures lead all defensive tackles and rank top five in the NFL. He’s also fourth among all defensive tackles in run stops.

    Lawrence has the ability to wreck this game for the Patriots. For New England to move the ball, the interior group of David AndrewsSidy Sow, and Cole Strange will need to hold their own against him.

    That all being said, it’s assuming Lawrence plays this week. Lawrence has been getting Wednesdays off from practice for most of the season, but those absences were listed on the injury report as ‘not injury related/rest.’ The 26-year-old didn’t practice again this Wednesday, but this time was listed with a hamstring injury. His status will be something to monitor.

  • Slowing down Saquon

    LANDOVER, MARYLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants scores a touchdown after a catch while defended by Kamren Curl #31 of the Washington Commanders during the fourth quarter at FedExField on November 19, 2023 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

    LANDOVER, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 19: Saquon Barkley #26 of the New York Giants scores a touchdown after a catch while defended by Kamren Curl #31 of the Washington Commanders during the fourth quarter at FedExField on November 19, 2023 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

    After the Giants retaining running back Saquon Barkley through the franchise tag this summer and then gave him a raise, it’s no surprise their offense runs through him. Despite missing three games, Barkley leads the team with 180 touches which is more than double the next closest player (Matt Breida, the backup running back, has 61). Meanwhile, wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson is the Giants’ leader in touches among non-backfield players, with 38.

    This plays right into one of Bill Belichick’s core philosophies of defense – taking away what the other team does best and forcing them to play ‘left-handed.’ If Barkley is rendered a non-factor, the Giants’ overall offense will follow.

    How to the Patriots do that? Actually, a lot of their previous game plan should be able to carry over. They limited Jonathan Taylor, another one of the league’s elite running backs, to three yards per carry and just one catch for six yards. That effort started up front, with another excellent game from Christian Barmore.

    At the second level, the Patriots will need to both corral Barkley when he breaks through the line, and match up with him in coverage. Jabrill Peppers and Ja’Whaun Bentley are probably best suited for that role, especially Peppers. He has the athleticism to keep up with Barkley and is familiar with his game – he’s been playing him since college and spent three years as his teammate in New York from 2019 to 2021.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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