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Pregame: Patriots @ N.Y. Jets, 4:15 p.m.

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Woe Are We!
(Give Me A Break!)

"I think the Patriots are in trouble."

It's all I've heard this week. It's like the Chicken Little Red Sox fans have abandoned the baseball season early to come pronounce doom and gloom on a good team. For a group (baseball fans) that are supposed to be very statistically oriented, they don't seem to be paying much attention.

Yes, the New England Patriots stunk it up last week, particularly in the first half. Yes, they were probably distracted by the Deion Branch thing. Yes, they won the game.

Tom Brady, who had an awful week by all accounts, was 11 of 23 for 163 yards with an interception. He was 3 of 11 for 30 yards in the first half alone. He clearly missed Branch.

Of course, that means he was 8 of 12 for 133 yards and 2 touchdowns in the second half with the game in the balance. And that was with his expected top two receivers (Chad Jackson and Doug Gabriel) on the bench.

When New England went through the Lawyer Milloy fiasco a couple years ago, they lost the first game of the season 31-0 in Buffalo. It was one of the worst 60 minutes of football a Bill Belichick team played since he was in Cleveland. Last week, the offense played a bad 30 minutes, and the defense played a bad 10 minutes. They may still have been feeling out of sorts, but they put things together in front of the home crowd and pulled out a 2-point win to start the season 1-0.

Now it's a week later. The Branch thing is finally settled. Jackson and Gabriel may be able to contribute this week (Jackson is listed as questionable, Gabriel as probable). Tedy Bruschi is a week closer to taking the field. And the rest of the team has a bad game out of their systems.

Now they head to the Meadowlands to take on an inferior team coached by a Belichick "disciple," but a disciple that spent several years as a position coach, just one as a coordinator, and has but one real game on his resume as a head coach.

For all the coach-vs.-coach, master-vs.-pupil talk, neither Belichick nor Eric Mangini will be on the field this week. They hardly even coach against each other. They're not trying to beat the other. And if that were the case, there's simply no way Mangini has the knowledge or experience to outcoach one of the best coaches in the game.

This is game, like all games, is mostly about one team's offense against the opposing team's defense, and vice-versa. And looking at that, a reasonable person doesn't see any way for there to be more than one outcome to this game.

Chad Pennington was the best quarterback in the league last week, statistically, counting passing yards only. Good for him. Of course, the Jets were playing Tennessee, one of the two or three worst teams in the AFC. Without Curtis Martin, the Jets have Derrick Blaylock, Kevan Barlow and a couple other no names. Do you really think these guys are going to do to New England what they did to the Titans?

On the other side, Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney combined 159 yards, and Kevin Faulk made it an even 180. The Jets don't have one of the best run defenses in the league. Even with Brady not playing well and having no one to throw to, which isn't the case, New England should be able to dominate the play clock, field position and pretty much the game.

Bruschi is active for the game, but I think he'll be used sparingly if at all. New England simply doesn't need him this week (barring something "bad"). Gabriel and Jackson should see some limited action at least. I think it's more likely to see them if the game gets out of hand quickly.

WR Jonathan Swift, re-signed by the Patriots earlier this week to replace Bam Childress, is inactive for the game, probably because he's not familiar with the offense yet.

Prediction: Patriots, 34-17.