There is little doubt that fans and media alike will be describing Sunday night's battle between the Patriots and Falcons at Gillette Stadium as a rematch of last February's epic Super Bowl LI.
Certainly that aspect of the pre-game hype is worthy, considering this will be just the eighth time Super Bowl teams have faced off the following season.
But, in reality, New England and Atlanta are pretty different teams than the ones that faced off in Houston in February. The Patriots have struggled on defense as they've fought their way to a 4-2 start. Atlanta has lost consecutive games to the Bills and Dolphins.
So, Bill Belichick emphasized in his Tuesday conference call with the media that his team has to prepare for the 2017 Falcons, putting more importance on Atlanta's first five games than whatever was the case last winter.
The Boston Globe previews the Falcons saying that Atlanta has some issues but is still a dangerous foe. After fumbling against the Jets, the Globe says Mike Gillislee learned the importance of ball security. The Globe has coverage of the NFL’s anthem-related meeting that took place in New York on Tuesday.
The Boston Herald *writes that the Patriots offense's lack of a knockout punch leads to frustration for Tom Brady and Co. *Herald *columnist Ron Borges declares that an opportunity was fumbled away as most players dodged the meeting with the league regarding the anthem. The *Herald says that the Super Bowl rematch with the Falcons favors the Patriots. The Herald Patriots notebook observes that the Falcons running backs will be a test for the New England run defense that's coming off its best game of the season.
ESPNBoston.com breaks down how defensive tackle Alan Branch rebounded from a healthy scratch to put forth an impressive performance against the Jets. ESPNBoston.com notes that the Patriots have been vulnerable to the big play this season on defense and wonders if they can deal with Julio Jones and the Falcons on Sunday.
ESPN polled NFL players on the league's quarterbacks and Brady plays a notable role in the results, including the fact that “49 percent of the players polled said they want to sack Brady more than any other quarterback.”
ESPN notes that former Patriots defensive end Chris Long is donating his 2017 salary to education equality efforts. ESPN has pushed New England all the way up to No. 3 in its power rankings.
WEEI.com has former Patriots safety and current NBC analyst Rodney Harrison explaining why he left Super Bowl LI in the third quarter.
NBC Sports Boston's Patriots report card calls Sunday's effort in New York a winning, if worrisome, performance. NBC Sports Boston notes that the New England linebacker spot could get a boost with Shea McClellin eligible to begin practicing this week as a possible first step on a potential return from IR. NBC Sports Boston also has a harsh look at what’s missing from the 2017 Patriots, namely a defense “that has a clue.”