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State of the Patriots: Week 3, 2016

The Patriots are 2-0 to start the season. My NFL thoughts, recapping the last game, and previewing the next opponent.

The New England Patriots have won two games without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, but face a completely different challenge for Week 3. The Patriots will be playing on a short week against a tough AFC opponent and likely AFC South winner in the Houston Texans. In addition, the availability of Jimmy Garoppolo, who has put up Angry Brady level numbers in 6 quarters of football is very much in doubt. The good news is at worst the Patriots will start 2-2 in their first 4 games with 3-1 looking like a real possibility. That's all we realistically could ask for and the Patriots look like a contender out of the gate like usual.

Recapping Week 2's win: The Patriots looked like world beaters for the first 2 12 quarters against the Miami Dolphins, taking a 31-3 lead. However, having a rookie QB in Jacoby Brissett caused the offense to have some stalled drives and gave Miami the confidence boost they needed to make it a game. Brissett did alright in his first NFL action, as he led a scoring drive in the 2nd half in addition to a huge clock-killing drive on the Patriots' last possession that erased 4 minutes off the clock and all 3 of the Dolphins timeouts. LeGarrette Blount and Martellus Bennett carried the offense, especially on the last drive where Blount was able to keep the Patriots ahead of the chains and afford short-yardage conversion situations. Marty B had a Gronk-like day with 5 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. While Gronk hasn't played the first two weeks of the season, the Patriots offense has been very effective thanks to Bennett.

Jets shaping up to be the most difficult AFC East obstacle: After two weeks, it's very clear the Jets are going to be the biggest problem for the Patriots inside the division. The Jets' offense is very potent, even with Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterbacking their offense with 4 skill players that can put up big numbers for them. The good news is the Patriots won't see the Jets until much later in the season, with Tom Brady taking the snaps. The biggest area of concern for the Jets is their corners, especially Darrelle Revis, who has lost a step from his Patriot days. The Patriots don't likely have a receiver that will force him to back off and play conservative against the deep pass, but they have ways of getting their guys open against him. At the end of the season, I do expect the Jets to be in the playoffs or fighting for it in Week 17. The biggest limiting factor for them is Fitzpatrick's inconsistent play.

Rex Ryan could be done in Buffalo and possibly as an NFL Head Coach: Rex Ryan inherited a very good Jets team when he took the job there in 2009, but lucked into the playoffs that season. The Jets did work their way to the AFC Championship. In 2010, the Jets improved their overall roster and beat an overachieving Patriots team. Since then, Rex's career arc as a head coach has been a rapid spiral with butt fumbles and headset-throwing GIFs. Rex was fired by the Jets in 2014 and immediately went upstate to the Buffalo Bills. The Bills are 8-10 and suffered a humiliating loss against his former team on Thursday. The story with Rex is he often writes checks with his mouth his football team couldn't cash. It's a significant contrast from his replacement, Todd Bowles, who has done a great job of coaching a talented Jets squad to a 10-6 record last season and is 1-1 so far this year.

AFC Rivals with strong starts: Of the AFC rivals for the Patriots, the best looking team is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have picked up a pair of impressive wins against the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals. The Baltimore Ravens are also 2-0 to start the season, which is always a concern when they enter the playoffs. The Steelers and the Ravens are the two teams that present the most problems in a hypothetical playoff matchup with Super Bowl-winning QBs with plenty of playoff experience under their belts.

Injury Report: The Patriots had a significant number of injuries. They are already without Rob Ninkovich, Dont'a Hightower, and Rob Gronkowski against the Miami Dolphins but in the game Patrick Chung and Jamie Collins got dinged up while Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a serious injury. Garoppolo isn't likely to suit up against the Texans, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was active in an emergency capacity either. The Patriots will be playing at home against the Texans, and will face a less than 100% JJ Watt. The Patriots should still have enough talent on both sides of the ball to compete in the game.

We're on to Houston: This will be Bill O'Brien's return to New England, which will be one of the major story lines in the next couple days, but both Bills (Belichick and O'Brien) will tell everyone it's not about them. The Texans are another 2-0 team, but haven't clicked together offensively. The Patriots will face one of the best WRs in the game with DeAndre Hopkins, who can track any ball down like the best of them. I expect the Patriots to neutralize him for most of the game and make Will Fuller and Lamar Miller beat them underneath. At the QB position, the Texans have a new QB in Brock Osweiler, which is why their offense hasn't been operating at full capacity. Osweiler is still adjusting to the Texans offense, which could be enough for the Patriots defense to keep the game close enough to win. Houston is going to be a tough out in November for a lot of teams, but fortunately the Patriots are playing them in September before their pieces can gel.