If it hadn’t been for a mistake and a false penalty kick in their first game of the season at Tampa Bay, the Dallas Cowboys would show up at Gillette Stadium on Sunday with a sparkling 5-0 record to start the year. .
The Patriots, on the other hand, are just lucky that the Texans’ coaching staff decided to act just cute enough to prove to everyone how stupid they really are. New England’s two wins this season came against teams that have a combined 2-8 record this year, and the Patriots have grown unusually unruly under Bill Belichick’s tutelage.
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All signs point to a rout of the Cowboys.
But it’s also a watershed moment for the Patriots. A loss drops the team to 2-4 this year, and we’d better be talking about draft picks rather than New England’s playoff chances.
You have to go back to 1993 to find the last time a Patriots started 0-4 at Foxborough. It might not be a coincidence that this team found themselves behind rookie quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
He’s also gone 5-11 this season.
Chances are we will see a similar season behind Mac Jones. This is where Sunday is so huge for the Patriots. Lose, and 5-11 is probably your fate. Take the surprise off and suddenly the team is 3-3 with the Jets waiting backstage.
Will the pockets of potential that have emerged here and there open a more consistent window on Sunday? Will the Patriots’ defense prove its statistical place in the top five? Or will we have the performance that made Davis Mills look like Warren Moon? How are they going to limit Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Cedee Lamb, etc., etc…
How they plan to answer these questions will help define the direction of this team for the rest of the year. Who are the Patriots?
On Sunday, we get a definitive idea.
The predictions of the week
Dallas Morning News staff: All four choose the Cowboys.
Boston Globe staff: Four out of six choose Dallas (-3.5).
Emmanuel Morgan, New York Times: Cowboys (-4). “Dallas (4-1) is leading a three-game winning streak, Dak Prescott’s 13 touchdown passes are tied for third in the league and the Cowboys’ defense seems legitimate. The Patriots (2-3) have not found such consistency. New England needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Texans last week and injuries along the Patriots’ offensive line (tackle Trent Brown entered the injured reserve list this week) mean that Mac Jones will have to think fast against the pressure – not a good scenario against a team debuting Trevon Diggs in high school. Dallas will want to start its week off in style. “
Jim Derry, NOLA.com: Cowboys Direct, Pats to Cover (+4). “That spread was New England -3 until September 1. And what has changed in six weeks? Dak Prescott is above what Roger Staubach or Troy Aikman has ever been, Ezekiel Elliott is Emmitt Smith and Cee Dee Lamb is the best thing since Michael Irvin. Leave me alone.
Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Patriots (+4). “Call it a hunch. Call it a practice game. Call it a feeling that a Bill Belichick team won’t start 0-4 at home and the Cowboys should come back to earth.
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Cowboys 33, Patriots 23. “The Cowboys have won four in a row, while the Patriots haven’t looked good over the past two weeks, losing one and winning a close game with the Texans. The Dallas defense has made great strides, but it will be about the offense. Davis Mills put the New England defense aside last week, and now Dak Prescott will do the same. Dallas is the best team, and it shows.
Will Brinson, CBS Sports: Patriots 24, Cowboys 21. “Did I mention there might be house dogs on this slate? Dallas looks AWESOME. Dak Prescott is as comfortable as he has been in his career. He seems to be in charge and on the same page as Kellen Moore. The Patriots aren’t quite as hot, as they barely managed to escape the Texans for their second win of the year, both against rookie quarterbacks. But it’s still Bill Belichick, and the Cowboys are going to a place where they haven’t really blossomed in the past few years. It’s a gem of a game on CBS, it’s Nantz and Romo without even looking. The Dallas defense is even in the top 10 five weeks into the season without DeMarcus Lawrence. Everything here screams Cowboys. What looks like when Bill Belichick finds a victory. Total bowel clearance.
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Dallas (-3.5). “I guess technically the Patriots defense is difficult to understand. They did well to limit Tom Brady two weeks ago and then allowed Davis Mills to pitch for a costs 312 yards and three touchdowns. More often than not, the Patriots’ pass defense has been pretty good. But Dak Prescott is a whole different challenge. Getting shootout vibes to the limit, because the Cowboys’ pass defense is terrible. But Dallas is much better equipped to emerge victorious from such a match. It should be an easy day for punters, however.
ESPN Staff: Nine out of 10 choose the Cowboys.
Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Cowboys (-3.5). “That line looks oddly low, like it’s only 3.5 points because people always claim the Patriots are a good football team. They are not. The party is over and it’s worth noting that their home dominance is gone as well. 0-3 to Gillette so far this season, soon 0-4.
Vinnie Iyer, Sports news: Cowboys 27, Patriots 20. “The Cowboys offense seems unstoppable because it’s balanced, explosive, versatile and versatile and can switch between happy-go and run-heavy. They also have the added element of a mobile quarterback, Dak Prescott. Bill Belichick is considering taking one thing away from Prescott, quite possibly a top receiver, Amari Cooper or CeeDee Lamb. That still leaves the other to do some damage and Prescott felt him throw himself over his tight ends and backs as well. The Patriots race game has another injury and Mac Jones faces an aggressive defense with Trevon Diggs ready to jump on any mistakes. Dallas has the perfect plan to thwart New England on the road. “
Bill Bender, Sports news: Cowboys 23, Patriots 20. “The Cowboys are starting to get a bit of hype with a balanced attack around Dak Prescott. Dallas has run over 200 yards in the past two weeks. The Pats are fifth in the NFL in scoring defense and will try to curb that momentum, but New England will fall to 0-4 in home games this season.
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Cowboys 31, Patriots 23. “The US 1.0 team gets the upper hand over the 2.0 US team, and the Pats are down to a superb 0-4 at home.
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Cowboys 34, Patriots 27. “The Patriots narrowly escaped with a win over the Texans last week. The other Texas team is not going to take it so easily with them.
FiveThirtyEight: Cowboys, 54% (-1).
Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Cowboys 31, Patriots 24. “People keep looking for reasons to believe the Cowboys are not a juggernaut. People also continue to look for reasons to believe that the Patriots are anything but a mediocre team with a defensive standings which is mainly supported by the lack of quality opponents. I am not one of those people.
NFL Pickwatch: Ninety-five percent Cowboys.
It’s written here: Patriots 24, Cowboys 20. A 0-4 start to Gillette just seems a little more unlikely than the Patriots, in a way, eliminating one.
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