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Better Know the Enemy: New England Patriots

A look ahead at this week's Jets foe

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    There won't be any flying Gronkowski catches on Thanksgiving night.

    Every week during the season, we’ll scout out the Jets' next opponent. This week, that opponent is the New England Patriots.

    Anyone who has spent some time over the years reading the Post had to be well aware that we were getting a cover with someone's face superimposed on the head of a turkey during Thanksgiving week. 

    One imagines they had ones all set up for Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez, but the Jets ruined those plans by not stabbing themselves in the heart during Sunday's 27-13 win over the Rams. So the Post audibled to one of Bill Belichick. 

    His transgression? Leaving Rob Gronkowski in on the extra point team with the Pats up on the Colts 58-24 in the fourth quarter on Sunday. 

    The Pats hit the extra point, but Gronkowski broke his arm and will miss a crucial chunk of the season after having surgery to repair the injury. While the Patriots are a deep and talented offensive team, it's hard to say that losing a guy with 37 touchdowns over the last three seasons is just worthy of a shrug of the shoulders. 

    It's a huge loss, not in the least because it will make life easier for defenses trying to cover one of the toughest matchups in all of football. Gronkowski has the size of a blocker and the athletic ability of an outside receiver, a combination that forces defensive coordinators to pick their poison when it comes to choosing a defender. 

    Aaron Hernandez, coming off an ankle injury that has kept him out of six of the last eight games, provides some of what the team loses with Gronk. He isn't the same blocker, though, and that means less versatility than the Patriots' offense enjoys when they have him on the field. 

    Is that worthy of turning Belichick into a turkey? Plenty of coaches would have made exactly the same decision that Belichick made on Sunday and the next person to predict exactly when a player will get injured will be the first, so we think it's a bit harsh to make that kind of judgment unless you would run the same cover with Gronkowski healthy. 

    Not that any of that will matter on Thursday night. Gronkowski won't be there and both teams will have to adjust to the reality of the situation. 

    Here are some of the guys who will be there and some of the ways they will impact the game. 

    New Corner in Town: The Patriots gambled by trading a fourth-round pick to Tampa for cornerback Aqib Talib, whose lengthy list of red flags includes a just-completed four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Talib's talent is obvious, though, and he returned an interception for a touchdown in his debut against the Colts to give strength to the idea that he'll make New England's secondary less of a weak link than its been for most of the last two years.

    The Receiver Shuffle: The Gronkowski/Hernandez swap fits right in with a tumultuous year for Tom Brady's targets. Wes Welker has faded in and out of a key role, Julian Edelman has been valuable when healthy and Brandon Lloyd was a big factor before getting his playing time cut against Indy. There's no way to predict how things will shake out, leaving the Jets with plenty of preparations to make by Thanksgiving night. 

    Who'll Stop the Run?: While the Pats have made strides against the pass, their run defense has slipped from previous heights just in time to face a Jets team that needs to run to win. It might help if safety Patrick Chung is able to return from injury, although that would be a negative for the pass defense. That's a trade the Pats will likely be willing to make against the Jets. 

    The Great Wall of Vollmer: The Patriots have had their issues on the offensive line this season, but they don't include right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer's been great as both a run and pass blocker this season, which could further limit an already sketchy Jets pass rush. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.