After narrowly avoiding disaster against the New York Jets this past week at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, the Patriots improved to 4-3 and have taken sole possession of first place in the AFC East division. This week, the team will be looking to get to 5-3 as they enter their bye week.
Here are the five most important things to watch for in Sunday's game.
Will the extended travel have an effect on either team?
Despite the Rams being listed as the home team this Sunday, the game will not be taking place at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. It will take place at the world-famous Wembley Stadium in London, England as part of the NFL's new international plan, under which the Rams will play one home game overseas in each of the next three seasons. For the Patriots, it will be a five-hour adjustment to life in England, and six hours for the Rams. It will be interesting to see how the extended travel and foreign environment will affect both of these teams.
For the first time this season, new Patriots' wide receiver Brandon Lloyd was matched up against a tough and physically-dominating cornerback in the form of Antonio Cromartie of the New York Jets. Lloyd's performance last Sunday wasn't exactly up to par, as he had two costly drops in the first half that would have set the Patriots up deep inside Jets' territory. In the fourth quarter, Lloyd took a needless offensive pass interference penalty that set the offense back ten yards during one of their most crucial drives of the game. On the final possession of regulation, quarterback Tom Brady put the ball right into Lloyd's breadbasket on a go route down the left sideline, but No. 85 dropped what would have been a game-winning touchdown. In total, the Patriots' number one outside threat was held to one catch for six yards against the Jets. This week, Lloyd will be matched up against one of the NFL's most infamously physical corners, Cortland Finnegan. While I wouldn't exactly deem Lloyd's performance this week to be pivotal, it will be interesting to see how he responds to having an off-game against the Jets and against a very similar opposing cornerback.
Will the Rams put the game in Sam Bradford's hands?
As the New York Jets proved last week, the only way to beat the New England Patriots is to pass the football. And pass the football they did. Mark Sanchez's 300+ yard outing was good for the fourth highest passing yard total of his career. When New York put the ball in the hands of tailbacks Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight, the Patriots stout front seven didn't allow much, causing the Jets' offense to struggle. The Rams have the luxury of an all-pro back in Steven Jackson, but he's been beset by injuries throughout the early part of this season. If St. Louis wants to stay in this game and perhaps even pull off the upset, they must trust quarterback Sam Bradford to lead the offense by throwing the ball at least forty times against an extraordinarily weak Patriots' secondary.
Can the Patriots hold a late lead? (If applicable)
In five of their seven games this season, the Patriots have allowed their opponents to make double-digit late-game comebacks. Three of those games have resulted in New England losses. It is quite possible that we will see the Patriots take a lead into the second half this Sunday against the Rams. If that is the case, New England must be able to prove that they are capable of holding on to a late lead.
Can the Patriots finally take home a win against the NFC West?
In two tries this season, the Patriots have come up empty against a pair of teams that play in what was once called the "worst division in football", the NFC West. There was, of course, their shocking 20-18 defeat at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals back in Week 2 and then the disastrous collapse that resulted in a 24-23 loss at Seattle just two weeks ago. If the Patriots cannot pick up a win this week against the Rams, they very well may be staring directly at an 0-4 year against the NFC West division. Their final match-up against the division is with the San Francisco 49ers coming in December at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
Prediction: Patriots take the win before the bye week, 34-27.
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