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Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by CarMax: Patriots so fresh and so clean

New England comes out of the bye well-positioned to host Seattle on Sunday Night Football.

The Super Bowl XLIX battle between the Patriots and Seahawks was one for the ages. 

Comparing this Sunday's night's "rematch" to that big game is really just false hype.

That said, in this world where it's suddenly become cool to criticize the quality of the NFL product, Seattle's trip across the country to New England is a rather intriguing regular season prime time affair.

It's also certainly not out of the realm of possibility that the action at Gillette Stadium could be a precursor to something far more important come February in Houston.

For the here and now, though, this matchup is a good spot for the Patriots and a tough one for the Seahawks. New England is coming off a bye week as healthy as the team has been in a long time - just a season-low three players were limited in practice all week. They sit at home waiting for a Seattle team that has to fly all the way across the country after playing a tough Monday Night Football game with an already somewhat banged up roster.

Two Super Bowl-winning coaches will lead two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks of two Super Bowl-contending teams on Sunday night. It's an appealing battle with almost limitless star power, endless personnel matchups and the potential to make people forget all their complaining about TV ratings this season.

It's also a chance for the home Patriots to once again prove their status as the best team in football yet again.

As the clock ticks down to that very real possibility, here are a few keys to keep an eye on this Sunday night:

Brady's roll - Stop me if you've heard this before in the last 17 years, but Tom Brady is playing as well as he ever has. Sorry, but it's true. TB12 has yet to throw an interception and is leading the NFL in completion percentage, rating and yards per attempt. He has a history of lighting it up on Sunday night at home - he's scored at least 31 points in the last six SNF games at Gillette on the way to a 5-1 mark. He's moving well to avoid pass rushers and making plays well down the field. His weapons are healthy and maybe as diverse as ever. He has the tools to spread out a talent-filled Seahawks defense, pinpoint a matchup he likes and take advantage. Brady is cruising and it's a huge challenge for any defense, even Seattle's impressive group. Brady hasn't dominated the Seahawks - he has seven touchdowns and five interceptions in three career games, including Super Bowl XLIX - but nothing is stopping the New England quarterback these days. Nothing.

PFW's Andy Hart shares his players to watch during the Patriots Week 10 game against the Seattle Seahawks.

Tight ends rule the night- Three of the best tight ends in football will be on full display for all the world to watch Sunday night. Rob Gronkowski is at the top of the heap and will be a major matchup nightmare for the Seahawks, even with Kam Chancellor back in the mix after missing a month to a groin problem. Martellus Bennett should be healthier than before the break with two weeks to rest his ankle. That will put added pressure on the Seattle secondary and overall pass defense. On the other side of the ball Jimmy Graham is back to health after last year's torn patella and making big time plays again, including a pair of one-handed touchdown catches on Monday night. While Brady has to figure out how Seattle deals with his duo of potent pass catchers, New England will have its hands full with Graham. The Patriots will likely throw different looks with multiple bodies at the former basketball player. That could include Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower and maybe bigger cornerback Eric Rowe. If you like tight end play and the challenges the position presents for a defense then this game is for you.

Protect the franchise - The pressure on Brady from the Bengals, Steelers and Bills prior to the bye week never led to a loss or any major negative plays. Still, that's a concern moving forward. Asking Brady to continue to move well in the pocket and even run out of it at times is not ideal. New England gets a break not having to face Michael Bennett, but the Seahawks cans still get after it. Cliff Avril has nine sacks, 16 QB hits, and three forced fumbles - numbers that will get Dante Scarnecchia's attention. Frank Clark has filled in to the tune of six sacks and Seattle has an impressive 27 sacks as a team. There is no question the Seattle front has the ability and resume to get after Brady. Lesser groups have done it in recent weeks. Simply put Nate Solder and the rest of the New England line have to be better coming out of the bye than heading into it. It might be the area most in need of improvement on the Patriots roster at this point.

Rush to succeed - If the Patriots pass protection isn't the area most in need of improvement then it would probably be the team's pass rush. While this is another game where the edge guys have to be aware of Russell Wilson's mobility - even though injuries have basically made the Seattle star a pocket passer this season - they can't be so controlled and conservative that they don't make life difficult on the quarterback. Rob Ninkovich needs to starting getting home, halfway through the season without a sack after a half-decade as the most consistent, productive pass rusher on the team. Jabaal Sheard needs to do more. It falls on all the defensive front players to do a better job in the passing game to help out the guys in the back end who've been battling all year.

Moving on - This will mark the first game for the New England defense since the shocking Jamie Collins trade. The athletic linebacker probably would have been in the mix dealing with Graham and maybe spying on Wilson had he remained a part of the Patriots plans. But he's now making plays for the hapless Browns and Matt Patricia is left to put together a plan of attack without arguably his most versatile defensive weapon. It will be interesting to see the Patriots stop the run and scheme together the pass defense without Collins. Elandon Roberts and others will be counted on to step up. But if the unit struggles at all, there will certainly be some who have snarky comments (social media is great!) regarding the still-raw-wounds from the Collins trade.

Fresh and clean - While the Patriots are certainly physically fresh coming off the bye, they need to continue the trend of playing clean football. While that would include the improved pass protection it would also be about taking care of the football. New England is on the verge of tying to 1960 Browns for the record of opening a season with nine games without an interception. A Seattle team known for turnovers is actually having a slow year in that department with just eight takeaways to date. Patriots coaches emphasized that the team has to put the ball on the ground less. Seattle coaches are probably emphasizing the need for more takeaways. If the Patriots continue to play clean, it will be hard for Pete Carroll's team to pull off the clear upset.

Prediction - Seattle is generally one of the best teams in terms of points allowed on defense and that is the case again. The Seahawks don't get blown out, including the crazy stat that Wilson has never lost by more than 10 points. New England is generally one of the highest-scoring teams in football and that is falling into place yet again. Brady puts up big points often, especially at home and on Sunday night. New England is rested, healthy and has been preparing for two weeks. Seattle is probably tired, has some injuries and had a short week to work. That all favors New England. The Patriots are just too good right now. Brady, Gronkowksi and the rest are rolling at a crazy success rate. Seattle may slow that down, but unless Wilson can get into a shootout it might be a long night. New England seems in position to control the game on the way to a 31-17 victory in what looks to be in a line for a game with a lot of passes thrown. Bill Belichick's team is building toward January and that's a scary thought for the upcoming opponents. 

What do you think of our keys? Let us know with a comment below!

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