After defeating Buffalo and Miami at home, the Giants will face their third consecutive AFC East opponent when they visit the New England Patriots Sunday in Gillette Stadium. This is the teams' first meeting since the Giants' 17-14 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII on Feb. 3, 2008. Both teams are 5-2. New England has a 20-game regular season home winning streak, including three victories this season (though the Patriots lost home postseason games each of the last two seasons). The Pats have won 18 consecutive games against NFC opponents in Gillette since losing to Green Bay in 2002 – the first game they played against the NFC in that venue. New England has won the last four regular season meetings between the teams to take a 5-3 lead in the series.
The Patriots have gained an average of 437.1 yards per game, which is the third-highest figure in the NFL. They are 18th in rushing yards (112.4 a game) and second in passing (324.7). New England is fifth in scoring with an average of 28.9 points a game. After scoring at least 30 points in each of their first five games – extending their streak to 13 in a row dating back to last season - the Patriots put 20 and then 17 points on the board in their last two outings, including last week's 25-17 loss in Pittsburgh.
The Patriots have a big-play offense that performs at a fast pace and will go to a no-huddle at any point in the game – they use it early and often. They try to prevent defensive substitutions and take advantage of matchups that are on the field.
Tom Brady is the key to the offense working at optimal efficiency. Ten years after he became the starter, Brady is still one of the very best quarterbacks in the NFL. Brady has a 31-game regular season winning streak at home, where he is 65-10. The Patriots have not lost a regular season home game in which he started since Nov. 22, 2006. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 35 consecutive games and has won 32 games in which he led the Patriots from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie. This season, Brady is second in the NFL in passer rating (104.4) and completions (184) and has thrown 13 touchdown passes and five interceptions. He has a quick release, throws accurate passes and few quarterbacks in history have had Brady's success against the blitz.
Brady has two play-making wide receivers in Wes Welker and Deion Branch and a pair of athletic tight ends in Rob Gronkowksi and Aaron Hernandez. New England's wide receivers are third in the NFL with 1,016 yards after catches.
Welker leads the NFL with 57 catches - he has at least five in every game - and is second with 824 yards. He leads the team with six touchdown receptions. Welker has tremendous quickness, a knack for getting open and a sense for where Brady needs him to be. Branch, a 10-year veteran, has started every game and is seldom off the field. He sometimes lines up in the backfield. Branch is a smart, savvy, instinctive player who consistently makes clutch plays. The third receiver is Chad Ochocinco, who was a highly-publicized training camp acquisition but has only nine catches and no touchdowns.
The Patriots line up with two tight ends more than any other NFL team (more than 66 percent of their offensive snaps.) because Gronkowski and Hernandez are too good to take off the field. Both players have exceptional receiving skills and cause mismatch problems, because they are too fast for linebackers and too large for cornerbacks to cover. Gronkowski is second on the team with 36 receptions, 495 yards and five touchdowns. He is also a powerful blocker. Hernandez, who missed two games with a knee injury, has four scores and is particularly dangerous with the ball in his hands. Brady likes to throw the ball high and let Hernandez out-jump defenders.
New England has several options in the backfield, though using a fullback is not one of them; the roster does not include one traditional fullback. The Patriots often line up with an empty backfield. The leading rusher is BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who has 400 yards and five touchdowns. He's the hammer, a tough, aggressive runner who has never fumbled in 425 career rushing attempts. His 18 rushing touchdowns since the start of the 2010 season tie for the league's third-highest total. Rookie Stevan Ridley (180 yards) and Danny Woodhead have also contributed. But their carries could diminish with the return of Kevin Faulk, the longest-tenured Patriot at 13 years who played last week for the first time in more than a year after coming back from a torn knee ligament. Faulk started and ran for 32 yards and caught five passes. He is the best receiver of the group, perhaps the primary reason he is expected to get considerable snaps.
Guards Logan Mankins and Brian Waters are the strength of a very good offensive line. Mankins has started all 106 games (including playoffs) in his career and is arguably the NFL's best guard. He is tough, competitive and smart and plays with a nasty disposition. Waters, a 10-year starter at left guard in Kansas City, has moved to right guard in his first season with the Patriots. He is a strong and powerful five-time Pro Bowler who is playing at a very high level. Left tackle Matt Light has played in three Pro Bowls. He is an athletic and alert player who is seldom out of position. Sebastian Vollmer is listed as the starting right tackle, but because of injuries, he has played less than first-round draft choice Nate Solder, a 6-8, 320-pounder who sometimes lines up as an eligible receiver. Center Dan Koppen is on injured reserve with a leg injury and has been replaced by Dan Connolly, who was forced into action in the season opener after starting at guard the previous two seasons.
New England is ranked an uncharacteristic 32nd in the league in yards allowed per game (424.1), per play (6.4) and passing yards allowed per game (323.1). The Patriots have given up 39 pass plays of 20 or more yards and an average of 7.94 yards per pass attempt, which is more than all but one other team. Six of the seven starting quarterbacks to face the Patriots this season have thrown for at least 300 yards. The exception is Mark Sanchez of the Jets. New England is ninth in the NFL in rushing defense (101.0) and 17th in points allowed (22.9). The Pats have nine interceptions among their 12 takeaways and have a plus-two turnover differential.
The Patriots play a variety of odd and even fronts and significantly mix up their defense each week to best match up with their opponents. They have played more zone defense in the last few games than they did earlier in the year.
New England brought in several new players on its defensive front, which has all but one of the team's 15 sacks. But the best of the group is holdover Vince Wilfork, who can create havoc in a two-point stance at nose tackle or standing up on the edge. Wilfork is very athletic for a 325-pounder, as demonstrated by the fact that he has more interceptions (two) than sacks (1.5). The newcomers include ends Andre Carter and Mark Anderson, who lead the Patriots with 4.5 sacks apiece. Carter has been the most consistent performer and his role in the sub packages has expanded. Albert Haynesworth, another big-name acquisition, has played well in limited action. Left end Shaun Ellis is a two-down player. Kyle Love has received several snaps each game.
Jerod Mayo, perhaps New England's best linebacker (he had more than 100 tackles in each of the previous three seasons), played for the first time last week since suffering a knee injury at Oakland on Oct. 2. He did not start, however – Gary Guyton did. Mayo is expected to return to full-time duty this week or soon after. The other inside backer is Brandon Spikes, the unit's most consistent player and a consistently effective blitzer. On the outside, Rob Ninkovich is a stout player on the strong side. Jermaine Cunningham mans the other side. All the linebackers are very gap sound.
The Patriots' defense has a new look in the back, where the starting safeties are Patrick Chung and James Ihedigbo. Chung has been a steady and productive player all season. Ihedigbo stepped in for an injured Josh Barrett. Left cornerback Devin McCourty, a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2010, leads the team in tackles with 52 (39 solo). Former starter Leigh Bodden was released last week and Kyle Arrington stepped in as the starter in Pittsburgh. He leads the team with four interceptions and six passes defensed. Antwaun Molden (claimed off waivers on Sept. 1) and Phillip Adams (released on Oct. 8 and re-signed 10 days later) both saw their first significant playing time last week against the Steelers.
Kicker Steve Gostkowski has made 11 of 13 field goal attempts and has 15 touchbacks. Punter Zoltan Mesko is 16th in the NFL with a 45.1-yard gross average and 12th with a 39.6-yard net average. The return game is a bit of an unknown this week because Julian Edelman leads the team in both punt and kickoff returns but was inactive in Pittsburgh and was arrested early Tuesday and charged with indecent assault and battery. Welker has averaged 10.3 yards on eight punt returns and Ridley and Woodhead have returned kickoffs. The long snapper is rookie Danny Aiken.