By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff
The young and boisterous 10-2 Patriots have been a pleasure to follow all season long and it’s not just because they got rid of Randy Moss, who suffocated their creative juices, as some radio personalities have been lambasting these past few months. I’m looking at you Felger.
One of the main reasons has to do with the attitude of the fans. Long gone are the days where a Super Bowl trip is preordained. Regular season opponents are not just simple road blocks on the Shermanian March towards the eagerly awaited playoffs. We no longer feel complacent about a victory.
The fan base is energized for every single regular season game and is focused on each upcoming opponent. Every game is either against a very formidable team like the Jets, Stealers and Ravens, or a ‘trap game’ that is easily losable if it is overlooked like Cleveland. In either case the fans know that the Patriots need to bring their A game and play as a unit in all three phases of the game in order to succeed. Fans are nervous about New England’s ability to play on the road and it doesn’t help that the defense most closely resembles a sieve.
This positive nervousness creates tension before the game, the release of which makes a victory all the sweeter. It feels great that 13 games into the season fans are still not thinking about the playoffs. This could obviously change come next year, when the team is more experienced, with more top of the draft picks on board, and come in with elevated expectations. However until then, it’s nice to imagine that the fan base has finally matured to not take anything for granted and to relish the era of unprecedented dominance and to bask in all of its glory. This particular week’s opponent falls into the category of ‘very formidable opponent’ and these 5 matchups are key to another Patriots road win:
Cutler Vs. Patriots Defensive Schemes
Full Disclosure: I had Cutler on my fantasy team last year and he ruined my season, so there is no love lost between us. For all of you who watch The League on FX, I may or may not have thrown my own nativity scene rant from this season’s finale targeted at Mr. Jay Cutler. So it would be great if Belichick’s schemes will confuse Cutler and let him do what he does best, throw interceptions.
Peppers vs. Pats O-line
As you might recall, the Patriots wanted to get their hands on Julius Peppers, but he was too expensive and didn’t want to play in a 3-4 defense. His nickname is the freak and he must be accounted for at all times. Matt Light will have his hands full with this matchup.
Special Teams Play
Last week I threatened to lace up my soccer cleats and displace Shayne Graham myself. He had a decent week against the Jets, and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the windy city. I still think that Woodhead or Welker can have kickoffs land past the 7 yard line, something Graham simply cannot do. This week, there is the added headache of Devin Hester, who is always a threat.
Forte and Taylor vs. Spike-less Linebackers
I don’t know if you have heard, but Brandon Spikes is suspended for 4 games for medication that he took without having it Okayed by the training staff. This puts additional pressure on an already porous defense. Hopefully Guyton can step and catch the fleet-footed running back tandem.
Chicago O-line vs. Pats Pass Rush
The Chicago O-line is so bad that that even the Pats anemic rush could do some damage. Lets hope!