Earlier this week I felt like this was a huge game for the Patriots to prove that they are indeed in the conversation of Super Bowl contenders. Sure, they've beaten two very good teams since the bye week, but it's been the old school brand of Patriots football that we were more accustomed to in the early part of the decade. Playing solid football, capitalizing on the other teams mistakes, and most of all not beating themselves. But we have yet to see an all around dominating performance in all phases of the game.
You don't really know what you're getting with the Vikings this week. I remember being similarly nervous before the 2006 game against them, and that ended up being, in the words of Brad Childress "a surgical procedure".
What do the Patriots have to do to get the Vikings back on the operating table this weekend after the jump.
1. We Could've Used You This Week, Randy - It seems like just about every Patriots pundit is in agreement that they expect the Patriots to spread the field and go after the weak part of the Minnesota defense, the secondary. I too am in agreement with that plan of attack. Of course it has more to do with avoiding the Williams Wall than it does with Minnesota's secondary really being all that horrible. Their pass defense is actually rated higher in Football Outsiders DVOA than their run defense.
Thus it really does come down to pass protection against the Vikings front four. We'll get a pretty good sense of how the day is going to go within the first two drives. If Brady has time the Patriots are probably going to win. If the Vikings are getting pressure it will be interesting.
I'd expect to see a lot of "12" personnel (1 RB, 2 TEs) to help chip Minnesota's edge rushers. The Patriots have been know to tear apart 4-3 defenses when they get protection. If Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer have big games the Pats could put up thirty-plus points.
2. Starvin' Harvin - Given that the Patriots run defense has been solid this season I'm actually more concerned about Percy Harvin. Earlier in the year opponents would try to get the Patriots in sub-packages and then run the ball on them. This is what Harvin can excel at. I think we could see some of the big nickel package, or even a hybrid package with Dane Fletcher spying Harvin wherever he goes. Earlier in the season this responsibility might've gone to Gary Guyton, but I suspect this could be a week we finally see more Fletcher than Guyton.
3. A Rolling Defense Gives Up No Touchdowns to Moss - I have a feeling that how the Pats deal with Randy Moss will depend entirely on whether or not Brett Favre plays. If he does not I expect the Pats to concentrate more on stopping Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin. The Tavaris Jackson deep ball is just not something they have reason to respect.
But if Favre does play it's a good bet the Patriots will roll James Sanders or Brandon Meriweather over the top of him. The Pats should be able to put up points, but they cannot allow quick scoring strikes to Moss. Favre would have to stand tall in the pocket if Moss is going deep, and if he does that the pressure must get to him consistently. If there's one thing we know for sure, the best way to rattle Brett Favre is to hit him, and that's when he's not playing on two broken bones.
4. Win - It's a pretty straightforward game plan this week because it really comes down to the Patriots offense. If Brady has time they should win. However what makes me nervous is that this is still a young defense, and I'm still expecting a down performance one of these weeks. Deion Branch should be slowly getting caught up on the rest of the offense, look for a big game out of him.
By the time the last trick or treater has retreated the Patriots could very well be 6-1 with only the Cleveland Browns standing between them and 7-1. This game will really prove if this Patriots team is in the elite conversation, and it's there for the taking.