FIRST QUARTER: What to like about last week’s win over the Buccaneers

Todd: Much to like, especially a balanced offensive attack that included an effective passing game for Tom Brady and the wideouts.  The 10 days leading up to this game certainly appeared to be a benefit for rookie receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, who combined for 10 catches (on 17 targets) for 93 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

The running game was more than solid, totaling 156 yards and averaging nearly five yards per carry.  Most pleasant surprise here was the emergence of Brandon Bolden, who is quickly emerging as a capable replacement for Shane Vereen.  Between rushes and receptions, Bolden only touched the ball eight times but had 100 total yards.

Just as impressive was the Pats’ defense, which held Tampa Bay to a mere three points.  The front seven accumulated eight quarterback hits and three sacks, and in the secondary Aqib Talib continues to shine, with an interception (already his third of the season) which directly led to a field goal that closed out the first half and essentially the afternoon for the beleaguered Bucs.

Finally, how about a shout-out for Stephen Gostkowski?  The Pats kicker currently leads the league in points scored (29), is 8-for-9 on field goals (including a 53-yarder last week) and perhaps his most significant stat, has only had one of his fifteen kickoffs returned.

Mike:  Well, for starters, I liked the fact that the Patriots dominated a team they were supposed to dominate, getting a solid win after a couple of weeks of sputtering performances.

The offense looked solid in this one , with the receivers finally holding onto some balls and getting into the end zone. It was nice to see a calm Tom Brady on the sidelines for a change. For the first couple of games, he looked like he was going to rip his hair out, and we all know that Gisele wouldn't like that!

Like Todd said, the defense also turned in a solid performance, albeit against a quarterback who will be sitting on the bench this week. But still, it was nice to see the Pats' defense dominate a team, refusing to let them hang around all game, slamming the door shut and making the outcome a foregone conclusion by halftime.

SECOND QUARTER: What not to like about last week

Todd: I have a little to nitpick about the defense.  It still seems to me that the large majority of the pressures and sacks they accumulate on opposing quarterbacks is the result of good secondary coverage, which was again the case in the win over the Bucs.  As well as Talib has played, there are still some holes in the Pats’ defensive backfield that can be exploited, and I’d prefer to see that pressure up front get to the quarterback quicker instead of having to constantly rely on the secondary, who this week down in Atlanta will have to face a much more talented group of receivers.

Another area of concern is the red zone offense.  As a team, the Pats rank near the top of the league in trips (13) inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, yet they have only come away with four touchdowns.  Brady’s individual numbers have also been poor so far this season, as he’s less than 50 percent in pass completions (8-for-19) and his end zone interception last week could have been costly against an actual competitive opponent.  I’m sure the red zone numbers will improve when Rob Gronkowski returns (last year Gronk had 10 red zone catches, eight for TDs), but I imagine it’s going to take him a few weeks to round back into form and it wouldn’t hurt for Brady to find some other players to rely on in those situations.

Mike: What I didn't like was the continued absence of Rob Gronkowski. Sure, there really isn't anything New England can do about his injuries, and he'll be back when he's healthy, but I want to see him in the lineup, I think having him in there will make the entire offense better.

My other thing has nothing to do with the game on the field, but I didn't like the fact that Fox carried the game, I thought the presentation was uneven, and it seemed, at least to me, that the commercial breaks were longer and more intrusive then when the games are on CBS, NBC or even ESPN. I will admit I have a bias against Fox, and I think they do a lousy job with sports, I shudder to think of having to watch the Red Sox in the World Series on  Fox, but the people I was with on Sunday also commented on how bad they did with the game.

THIRD QUARTER: Patriots-Falcons ‘Sunday Night Football’ preview

Todd: After getting a relatively easy draw the first three weeks, the Pats now get into the true meat of their schedule, starting this week in prime time against one of the teams that used to employ ‘Prime Time’ Deion Sanders.

The Falcons appear to be limping into this matchup with a 1-2 record and several key players injured.  But each of their losses were by less than a touchdown, and after losing a tough one in Miami last week they return home desperate for a win and to prove that last year’s appearance in the NFC championship game was no fluke.  Some numbers working against the Pats this week: QB Matt Ryan (the former BC Eagle) is 34-7 at home in his career, Atlanta is 21-3 following a loss under head coach Mike Smith and the Falcons are a tough out at home in general, having won twelve of their last thirteen regular season games at the Georgia Dome.

If you’re not a believer in those kinds of stats, it’s still easy to believe the Pats’ defense faces their most difficult test so far this season.  While RB Steven Jackson is expected to miss the game due to a bad hamstring, Ryan’s receiving corps of Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez will pose major matchup problems for the Pats’ secondary.  While I don’t expect this game to be a blowout, this just doesn’t look like a good spot for the Pats even if Gronk is able to get back on the field.  On the bright side, out-of-conference losses are easier to accept (as long as they’re not in February).  Falcons 27, Patriots 19.

Mike: Yup, this is going to be the first really legitimate team that the Pats have faced this season, and they have to go on the road in the big prime-time game of the week as well.

But Atlanta has been struggling this season, coming out of the gate with a 1-2 record, and my gut says that the Patriots are starting to get on track and will have the offense firing on all cylinders in the Georgia Dome on Sunday night.

And then, there is the coaching factor...after all, we have this guy...

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And the Falcons are coached by a guy who is a dead ringer for Steve Martin....don't believe me? Check it out!

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So, who are you going to trust to win a football game, an evil football genius, or someone who looks like the guy who made not one, but TWO horrible Pink Panther movies?

For me, it's a no brainer. Patriots 30, Atlanta 27.

FOURTH QUARTER: Other games we like this week

Todd (1-2 last week, 4-2 season): This week I’m giving props to Tom Brady’s former backups.  First, let’s hear it for Brian Hoyer, who made his first NFL start at Minnesota last week and led the Browns to an impressive come-from-behind win; who knew all Cleveland had to do was start Hoyer and trade their running back for instant success?  I think the opponent might have had a little to do with it, and unfortunately for the Browns this week they face a talented division foe in Cincinnati.  Sorry Brian, have to go with the Bengals here.

Hoyer’s win over the Vikings helped cause change at the QB position in Minnesota, where old friend Matt Cassell replaces Christian Ponder.  However, the return of Cassell to an NFL huddle won’t be enough to help the Vikings against the Steelers, who I like to get off the schneid this week.  Please note I failed to correctly predict the Vikings getting off that same schneid last week against Cleveland, and after losing again this week they’ll be left in even schneid-ier condition.

Finally, with no other former Pats’ #2 quarterbacks drawing a start this weekend, my third game involves the team where Cassell used to start, Kansas City.  Even though I like Pittsburgh to finally break into the win column, I can’t say the same for the New York football Giants.  The 3-0 Chiefs are for real, and for the second straight week Andy Reid will use his deep knowledge of the NFC East to secure a win against the 0-3 G-Men, who are definitely trending in the wrong direction.

Mike (2-1 last week, 3-3 season): OK--I need another good week this week, so I'll take the Vikings over the Steelers, the Lions over the Bears and Seattle over Houston.

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