The New England Patriots improved to 6-4 with an ugly 10-3 win over the New York Jets on Sunday, but only have a few days to get that ugly winning taste out of their mouth as they face the 8-2 Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night. It's time for some Patriots Week 12 predictions.
The Vikings are coming off an ugly game themselves. However, theirs resulted in a 40-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
So, both teams enter the Thanksgiving matchup with something to prove as the season enters the home stretch.
Here are four bold Patriots predictions for Thursday's game.
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4. The Patriots hold strong in pass defense, but fail to slow down Dalvin Cook
New England received a bit of an unfortunate blessing ahead of its Thanksgiving matchup when Minnesota's starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw suffered a concussion in the team's Week 11 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Darrisaw's injury leads to more pressure and sack opportunities for a Patriots squad that has had a lot of them recently. Of course, Matthew Judon leads the league in sacks with 13. However, he typically lines up against the opposing right tackle. So, Darrisaw's injury will likely bring more of a boost to defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr., who is in the midst of a career year. The sixth-year pro has already recorded 6.5 sacks this season and has made work of backups this season, such as in Week 3 when he recorded three sacks against a Baltimore Ravens squad that was dealing with multiple injuries at left tackle.
With Darrisaw's injury bringing a boost to a Patriots pass rush that might not have needed it, New England sits in a good spot in its matchup against Kirk Cousins, even if it hasn't been too tested in the quarterbacks it's faced this season. The Cowboys provided a blueprint to slow down the Vikings' offense last week, sacking Cousins seven times and recording 14 total QB hits.
— NFL (@NFL) November 21, 2022
The Patriots' secondary should be equipped enough to prevent Cousins from going off though in the times he's able to release the ball, too. Jonathan Jones has been a revelation at outside corner this season, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 44.4 percent of their passes when they target him for 231 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, good for just a 52 passer rating.
New England has not only feasted on poor passing attacks this season, but it's also feasted on poor rushing attacks, too. The best ground attack the Patriots have faced so far this season was the Green Bay Packers' duo of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. The two backs rushed for a combined 183 yards on 33 carries (5.5 yards per carry) in the Week 4 matchup.
This explained the Tavai for Wilson swap.
On their 4th offensive snap, Green Bay got Wilson to hesitate with motion – like Baltimore did repeatedly last week – and ran for 20 yards. (Barmore getting reach-blocked didn't help, either.)
— Andrew Callahan (@_AndrewCallahan) October 3, 2022
Cook is having another strong season for Minnesota, rushing for 799 yards on 5.1 yards per carry with six touchdowns through the first 10 games of the season. It wouldn't be a shock if he has a big performance against the Patriots on Thanksgiving night.
3. Damien Harris rushes for more yards than Rhamondre Stevenson
Turning over to the Patriots' offense, Harris had a strong game against the Jets in Week 11 after struggling with injury and illness since the beginning of October. He had 65 rushing yards on just eight carries in that game and played only 15 snaps, potentially a sign that the Patriots were resting Harris up for the game against the Vikings with the short rest in mind.
More importantly, the Patriots have found more success recently in gap-scheme runs than the zone-scheme runs. Harris' game is better suited for the former than the latter while Stevenson struggled last week against the Jets rushing more zone-scheme (26 yards on 15 carries).
Stevenson has also been utilized more in the passing game this season, becoming one of Mac Jones' (and Bailey Zappe's) favorite targets. Maybe we see more of a balance between Harris and Stevenson on Thanksgiving night than we have in recent weeks, with each playing in situations that best suit their respective strengths.
2. Jakobi Meyers has one of his best games of the season
While Patrick Peterson has had a strong season for the Vikings at corner, that doesn't mean that the Vikings' pass defense has been all too strong this season, at least against opposing No. 1 receivers.
Minnesota ranks 26th in DVOA against opposing No. 1 receivers this season, with such players averaging 79.4 receiving yards per game this season. DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, and Tyreek Hill have all had monstrous performances against the Vikings this season while Chris Olave, Terry McLaurin, Amon Ra St. Brown, and AJ Brown have all had solid outings, too.
Meyers has proven himself to be one of the league's most underrated receivers this season, shining despite the Patriots' inconsistent play at quarterback. He has 44 receptions for 509 yards and three touchdowns in eight games this season and has recorded 18 receptions over the last three weeks with Jones struggling under pressure. As New England faces an easier passing defense, Meyers could put up numbers similar to what he had against Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2 and the Detroit Lions in Week 5.
Bailey Zappe ➡️ Jakobi Meyers for the TD to make it 26-0 over the Lions 🔥pic.twitter.com/pjOoQceUUD
— Patriots Nation (@PatsNationCP) October 9, 2022
1. Mac Jones makes a play to win the game for the Patriots
The Patriots' second-year quarterback arguably had his best game of the season in Week 11, completing 23 of 27 passes for 246 yards with zero touchdowns and interceptions. While Jones maybe didn't make a spectacular play in against the Jets, it's hard to be just a little impressed by how he played considering the circumstances.
His offensive line was in shambles, leading to six sacks. The offensive play-calling appeared to put Jones and the rest of the Patriots offense a step behind. They also went up against one of the league's best defenses, and in particular, front-sevens and that's before mentioning the moderate wind gusts throughout the game.
So, maybe Sunday's game was the confidence booster Jones needed to get back to the form he showed as a rookie last season. And at some point, the Patriots are going to need him to play at least at that level in order to win a game as their schedule gets tougher.
That's not to say that I expect Jones to outduel Cousins in a shootout on Thursday. In fact, I still expect a lower-scoring affair. But I think it's likely that the Patriots will have the ball late in the game either trailing by a score, tied, or holding a small lead and will need their quarterback to step up in the clutch.
After last week and his “full audit” during the bye, I think Jones has it in him to make that play (or possibly even more) to win the Patriots the game.