Are The Patriots Still The Team To Beat?

The odds are against them now, after Tom Brady went down with a season-ending knee injury. But, are they still the team to beat? That seems to be the status... at least for now.

The New England Patriots have had 72 hours to absorb the shocking loss of Tom Brady. Now they must focus on the quarterback on the opposite side of the field this weekend as they prepare for what should be a difficult game against the Jets.

Brett Favre's presence in New York vaulted the Jets from also-rans to playoff contenders long before Brady tore up his knee last weekend. Now with the reigning league MVP out for the season, the Jets have become the chic pick to dethrone the Patriots in the AFC East.

Not so fast, says Randy Moss.

"I think the New England Patriots have won the division over the last couple of years, so the New England Patriots are the team to beat," Moss said Wednesday. "Tom was a big, big, big component to make the offense move, and with him gone, we have to find other ways to make the offense move, but we're the team to beat, and we'll see what happens."

A win at the Meadowlands this weekend would be a major step toward quelling any doubt about the Patriots' chances to survive without Brady. To do so, they need to find a way to put pressure on Favre, who threw two touchdown passes in his Jets debut last week in Miami.

"In the secondary, particularly, you can never relax," coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. "You never want to relax anywhere, but Brett is the type of player that can take the ball from one side of the field and, in a split second, turn around, whip it somewhere else and put it right on the money.

"You don't really want to guess with Brett. You've got to react to him. When he starts to do something, if you think, 'This is what he's going to do,' (and) then he switches it, you are out of position and you're really in trouble."

The good news is they have recent history on their side. Favre is 3-2 lifetime against the Patriots, but hasn't beaten them since 2002. Two years ago, the Patriots bludgeoned the former Green Bay quarterback in a 35-0 win at Lambeau Field, limited Favre to just 73 yards on five completions while temporarily knocking him out of the game with an elbow injury.

Favre does not have the same supporting cast he had back in '02, nor does he have the same team from last season, when he threw for 4,155 yards and 28 touchdowns (his highest totals in three years). What he has now is a run-oriented Jets team with a revamped offensive line and two dangerous receivers in Jerricho Cotchery and Laveranues Coles. The Jets have opened up the playbook for their new quarterback while Favre has made adjustments of his own to fit into their style of play.

"In some respects, they're doing a little bit more and in some respects, I think, they are doing some of the same things," Belichick said. "They are just doing (them) a little bit differently. I think part of that might have been an actual transition from one year to the next, but that is hard to tell. That is probably the same thing you could say about most teams."

As for the quarterback in their own huddle, the Patriots have thrown their full support behind Matt Cassel -- for better or worse. The young backup will face his first major test Sunday in what could be a pivotal AFC East showdown despite the fact it's only Week 2.

"I haven't really had a chance to work with him or with him working with the first team, because I was working with Tom," Moss said. "He hasn't experienced much in the preseason, or in the regular season, when the bullets are live, but our organization and team is behind Matt Cassel. He's our quarterback now, and it's up to him to go out and make things happen."

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