Despite injuries and an away trip to Atlanta, Romilly Evans reckons Brady's boys can maintain their perfect start
"The loss of some spicy ingredients, particularly in the receiving corps, has rendered New England a hit-and-miss stew"
New England Patriots @ Atlanta Falcons
Start-time: Monday, 01:30
TV: Live on Channel 4
Hardy perennials of winter Super Bowl favouritism they may be, but this is the first time in six seasons that the New England Patriots have begun with a 3-0 record.
Take a closer look, however, and there had been as much cause for alarm as celebration in their troika of victories against rivals whose quarterbacks - either through rookie inexperience or rank ineptitude - were unable to take advantage of the Patriots failings in each game.
Conversely, their opponents for this live late game, the Atlanta Falcons, could've comfortably started their season 3-0 but have laboured to 1-2. Where the Pats have managed to stagger over the winning line, the Falcons have fallen at the final obstacle. - failing to convert red-zone possession in the closing stages against New Orleans before conceding a last-minute touchdown to Miami.
Naturally, the game-changers in this hotly contested match-up should reside at the quarterback position. Both Tom Brady and Matt Ryan are elite playmakers and callers but once again Brady has had the edge this term, making the clutch connections when it matters most in the fourth quarter. Ryan, on the other hand, has been thawing his Matty Ice moniker.
That said, Bill Belichick's boys haven't been the offensive machine this season we have come to expect. The loss of some spicy ingredients, particularly in the receiving corps, has rendered New England a hit-and-miss stew. Brady's long-time partner, Wes Welker, has dumped the beautiful man for the beautiful mind in Peyton Manning; Rob Gronkowski was grounded by protracted back issues when the Pats' plane took off yesterday; while ray of light wide man, Danny Amendola, misses another week with a groin strain.
Small wonder, therefore, that Brady has been frustrated by their replacements. However, Belichick always seems to find a diamond in the rough to polish. And Julian Edelman could be the WR to step up, especially against a struggling Atlanta secondary.
The Saints' Drew Brees scorched the turf and made hay for 357 yards and two touchdowns in Week One. Then the Rams' Sam Bradford even got in on the act with 352 yards through the air. Brady will fancy his chances accordingly. Furthermore, with some unlikely backs limbering up nicely in the New England running lanes (be it Stevan Ridley or Brandon Bolden), the Patriots have some much-needed balance on offense.
On the other side of the ball, Ryan may have his hands full with an opposing defense which had allowed just 34 total points for the current campaign. True, the Pats haven't faced anything in the league of Ryan and his receiving crew to date (expect their 50% completion concession to rise). However, a sixth-seeded D is never to be sniffed at, particularly with Ryan's proclivity for deep strikes to the likes of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas.
Ryan may be typically rapid in his distribution. Yet if the Patriots can force him to concentrate downfield, the ensuing opportunity for interceptions should give the visitors an edge.
In a shootout - which this game should be - late turnovers are invariably the key variable. So this could come down to the mistakes these top two quarterbacks don't make. And in this regard, Brady's bunch are the tighter package.
Back New England Patriots to win on the Moneyline @ 2.265/4 or better
Back New England Patriots (+2) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 2.1211/10 or better
Back New England Patriots (+1) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.834/5 or better
Back J Edelman to score First Touchdown @ 12.011/1 or better