1. How big of a loss is Gronkowski for the Patriots and do you expect Hernandez to be healthy and make a major impact on Thursday Night?
Jon Scott: Gronkowski's absence will make a huge difference in the effectiveness of the Patriots' passing game. Without the big man running downfield, New York's defensive backs are free to focus on New England's other weapons, namely Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. Gronk nearly always commanded double coverage, which freed up the other wideouts. Aaron Hernandez is targeted to return to the lineup on Thanksgiving which bodes well for the Patriots passing game, but doesn't necessarily dictate where the coverage will go to. One key to note about Gronk's absence is that depending on where he lined up, he could run block or run a route in coverage – an option that kept defenses unable to make pre-snap reads based upon his alignment. The same isn't always true with his replacements.
2.Boasting the NFL's No. 5 ranked rushing offense with over 142 yards percontest, do you expect New England to focus on the ground game, particularly being banged up at the tight end position?
JS: The Patriots have five tight ends on the roster, something they haven't done in years. Typically they would have two or three for a season. With three backups – Visanthe Shianco, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui – ready to go, nearly all of New England's offensive playbook is available. I do however expect the team to try more runs based upon Brady's pre-snap read. The thing to remember about New England's offense is they change it to match up with what the defense gives them. If New York starts crowding the line, expect the Patriots to spread it out and throw until New York switches to dime defense. When in dime, the Patriots will try to run the ball to take advantage of the mismatches vs DBs up front.
3. Tom Brady hasn't thrown an interception since he tossed two in the Patriots' Week 7 loss in Seattle. Do you think the Jets' secondary has a chance of turning Brady over, or will New England's gunslinger wreak havoc on Gang Green's under-manned secondary?
JS: There's always a chance of getting a turnover with the Patriots passing as much as they do. Brady has been exceedingly accurate with his throws recently, opting for routes that aren't requiring him to beat the defender with his arm strength. If you see more of the safe passes in this game being open, then I'd dial down my expectations of a turnover other than a forced fumble. IF coverage is tight, expect the Patriots to run the ball more to open up some passing lanes.
I do expect New England to throw the ball in the vicinity of 30 times if the opportunity presents itself. Bill Belichick is not one to take his foot off the gas even if there's a big lead. This is the Jets, afterall.
4. What if any impact will a short week have on the Patriots? Any notable injuries or personnel issues that might be affected by a short turnaround?
JS: The Patriots are missing both starting guards, Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly, along with an ailing Sebastian Vollmer. Brandon Bolden has been among the missing and Patrick Chung is fighting a nagging shoulder issue. I would expect Wes Welker to play, as he's fighting through an ankle issue that has hampered him the past few weeks. Expect more Julian Edelman if Welker's ankle continues to be a problem. The team signed Greg Salas to replace Deion Branch (Hamstring) and add depth in the receiver group.
5. If the Patriots were to lose on Thanksgiving Night, do you think that opens the door for the Jets in the division, or do you believe New England will still have a stranglehold on the AFC East?
JS: I think New England is susceptible this year more so than in years past, with the obvious exception of the year the Dolphins won the division when Matt Cassel led the team. The defense is giving up tremendous chunks of yards and cannot get off the field on third down. A pass-happy offense could have its way with the Patriots' secondary, and if that team were able to generate pressure on Brady to throw off the scoring machine offense, then anything's possible.
But with that said, I only see three potential losses on the horizon for New England and only one of those coming in a division upset (New York or Miami), which would give New England the division by default.
I see a banged up Patriots team doing what it can to make Mark Sanchez look like the former first round pick that he was. I see a New England offense struggle early, throw in a bit of desperation, but ultimately prevail in a game that turns out to be a lot closer than many think. Patriots win by one score.