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Keys to the Starting Lineup presented by CarMax: Patriots will be passing through New York

New England heads to MetLife Stadium on Sunday set to challenge a suspect Giants defense with one of the NFL's top passing attacks.

The Patriots (8-0) and Giants (5-4) have an obvious history heading into Sunday's inter-conference game at MetLife Stadium. It's a recent history that many New England fans would certainly like to forget.

New York has won three straight games against the Patriots, including upset wins in Super Bowl XLII and XLVI. The first devastating upset came following the 2007 season, turning what was supposed to be a coronation and culmination of New England's perfect season into a disastrous disappointment in the Arizona desert.

Tom Coughlin not only claimed each of his two Super Bowl rings by beating Bill Belichick, but actually has a 5-1 career record against his former co-worker from their early days together on Bill Parcells' staff with the Giants.

Past disappointments aside, Tom Brady made it quite clear this week, though, that the history between these infrequent (aside from the preseason) northeast foes will not be a factor in this latest matchup. 

Patriots Football Weekly's Andy Hart shares his players to watch during the Patriots Week 10 game against the New York Giants.

"I'd much rather have won them than lost them, but they won't have any bearing on this week or what the matchups are," Brady said of his only two Super Bowl failures in six tries. "It's a totally different team and game and situation and so forth."

In many ways, Brady is right. But until he, his coach and his teammates take care of business against New York some room will be left for doubt. Does Coughlin really have Belichick's number? Is Eli Manning just cold-blooded enough to continue to get the better of Brady?

Maybe Sunday will answer those questions in some indirect way. But the game will in no way make up for Patriots failures in past Super Bowls. That was then. This is now.

Now, a once again undefeated Patriots team is looking to move on to 9-0 and remain the odds-on favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl and defend its latest title.

The Giants are struggling to stay atop the bunched-up NFC East and win an unprecedented fourth-straight game against the Patriots in the Belichick/Brady era.

History may hang over this game, but it will not have an effect on it. But guys who had a major role in those past meetings - Brady, Belichick, Manning and Coughlin - certainly will.

Here are a few key factors to keep an eye on in this battle between these former Super Bowl foes, two very different teams who currently lead their respective divisions:

A game of give(away) and take(away) - Turnovers always matter in football. They matter even more in a matchup of teams with a relatively significant divide in perceived talent/potential. But they may matter in this matchup as much as almost any. The game pits the two teams with the best turnover differentials in the NFL through nine weeks, with the Giants No. 1 at plus-12 and Patriots No. 2 at plus-7. The teams get to those impressive rankings in different ways. New York leads the league in takeaways with 21. New England paces the NFL with the fewest giveaways with just 5. The Patriots talked a lot this week about how the Giants work hard to get turnovers. As such, New England obviously focused on ball security, which has always been a strength of the team. If the Giants can play to their resume and force some turnovers - maybe turning one into points as they have with four defensive scores this season - it will give the home squad a step up on the upset. If the Patriots play to their resume, though, and take care of the ball, the Giants may have a tough time trying to close the gap between the two teams.

Air and land support- On paper the Patriots should be able to move the ball either through the air or on the ground. The Giants have the NFL's worst defense in terms of yards, are 31st against the pass, 31st on third down and allow 4.3 yards per carry on the ground. The front lost its best big-bodied run player, Johnathan Hankins, to an injury. For the second-straight week Josh McDaniels faces a defense that it should be able to run or throw on. That could mean another balanced approach with LeGarrette Blount getting his chances to tote the rock again, a week after his notched a career-high 29 carries against Washington. But Brady will also get his chances to take advantage of a pass defense for New York that has just nine sacks in nine games, is allowing a combined 7.7 yards per attempt, has given up 17 touchdowns and is, well, rather suspect. Having a balanced attack not only takes advantage of the Giants wide-spread defensive weaknesses, but could also take some pressure off the Patriots makeshift, banged-up offensive line.

It's all on the line - Speaking of the New England offensive line, it's an absolute injury-abused mess right now. Sebastian Vollmer (concussion) and Marcus Cannon (toe) both missed practice all week. That means Cameron Fleming is the only healthy tackle on the roster, and the practice squad call-up had never played the left tackle spot until last Sunday. So, Bryan Stork could be asked once again to man the right tackle spot despite his history of essentially only being a center before last weekend. Tight end Michael Williams may be next in line at the position, given that he was playing tackle this summer in preseason action with the Lions. Josh Kline may also be an option to bump outside, while it wouldn't be surprising for practice squader Blaine Clausell or Chris Barker to get the call-up from the practice squad. Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo has done a phenomenal job this season and continues to be tested with his personnel. The Giants defensive front is nothing like some of the tests that the Patriots have passed in the trenches this year, but the injuries are certainly making things dicey in front of Brady. The line doesn't have to be great or even good under the current circumstances; it simply has to be good enough for the rest of the offense to get its job done.

Right place, White time? - The loss of Dion Lewis is a big one. The diminutive playmaker had become a key cog in the Patriots offense and was a guy that opposing defenses had to game plan for. Now, another back will have to step up in the third-down role. It would seem the most likely candidate is second-year former fourth-round pick James White. The young back had a solid summer and this is the kind of role he was drafted to fill, back when Belichick compared the Wisconsin product to Shane Vereen on draft weekend. White just has never really done the job in a real NFL game. He's never proven himself. He doesn't have much of a rapport with Brady. Can he step in and do the job like so many passing backs have before him? No one has ever really failed in the role behind Brady. Or will the veteran Brandon Bolden get another shot to fill in, as he did rather impressively last Sunday after Lewis went down? If White is not called on now to chip in to the offense, then one would wonder when he would be called on. Still, White is an unknown factor in a key role in the Brady-led offense that will be looking to roll on against the Giants without Lewis' giant contributions.


Catching on - One could argue that the two biggest catches and most notable plays in the NFL a year ago were made by guys who could go head to head this Sunday in New York. Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.'s crazy, one-handed catch a year ago made him an instant star. The same was true with Malcolm Butler's Super Bowl-clinching interception. Rookies when they made those plays, the two players are now key contributors on their teams as second-year veterans. Butler is New England's No. 1 corner. He's had his ups and downs this fall, but has been asked to compete on a regular basis with some of the best receivers in the game. That's exactly what Beckham Jr. has become this fall, as Manning's No. 1 target and one of the most productive playmakers in football. The two should cross paths plenty on Sunday, even if Butler doesn't get a true man-up assignment on the Madden cover boy. Two of the biggest breakout stars coming out of the 2014 season will try to build their 2015 resumes against each other this week.

Primary test - Beyond just the Butler vs. Beckham Jr. matchup, the Giants pose a major midseason challenge for New England's secondary. Opinions on the Patriots defensive backfield are varied. Are they good? Are they good enough? Are they getting by against inept quarterbacks and drop-prone receivers? There are still plenty of questions about the group. Manning is having a very impressive season with 19 touchdowns and just six interceptions for a 96.9 passer rating. He runs some no-huddle and gets rid of the ball quickly at times. He has the proven experience and production that many of the other passers the Patriots have faced this fall have lacked. He also has more than just Beckham Jr. (59 catches, 759 yards, 7 TDs) to throw to. Rueben Randle and Shane Vereen fill out a group that could challenge Butler, Logan Ryan and the Devin McCourty-led safeties as well as a Jamie Collins-free front seven. A strong performance for the new-look secondary will answer some questions and boost its resume. A hiccup could fuel the so-called haters that see the group as the potential fatal flaw of the team. Manning, Beckham Jr. and the rest present a true test. 

Prediction - History be damned, the Patriots are the better team in this matchup. (Yes, I know New England was the better team in both Super Bowl losses, as well.) But it may not be easy. This is a somewhat tough spot. The Patriots will be on the road dealing with a lot of key injuries. The offensive line is the biggest concern. Playing without Collins is another issue as is the transition taking place at passing back. But the bottom line is that the Patriots have the better offense and better defense. The Giants can't stop the pass or get off the field on defense. They force turnovers, but no team does a better job taking care of the ball than New England. While I fully expect Manning to make some plays through the air and put points on the board, I expect Brady to make more plays through the air and put more points on the board. To boil it down to as simple a term as possible, if the Patriots don't turn the ball over they should win. That's the bet here. New England takes the 35-24 victory to remain undefeated and end the Giants run of victories against Belichick's squad. Current talent, not history, wins football games.

What other things will you be watching for in this Sunday evening trip down I-95 as the Patriots looked to remain undefeated in the face of an historic foe? Let us know with a comment below!

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