While the players themselves would doubtlessly love to stay within the continental United States while they're fighting for a win they both desperately need, these are the cards that have been dealt.
The Patriots, coming off a 29-26 "win" over the Jets that showed far more negatives than positives, will take on the Rams, who risk heading into the bye week on the heels of a three-game losing streak.
New England, too, is one incredibly fortunate Mark Sanchez fumble away from coming into this matchup on the heels of a two-game losing streak, and after a mediocre and somewhat shocking 4-3 start to the season, it needs this win to enter the bye week with any sort of momentum and/or hope.
Where: Wembley Stadium, London, England
When: Sunday, Oct. 28 at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: 98.5 The Sports Hub in New England, 101.1 FM WXOS in St. Louis
Live Stream: NFL GamePass
Betting Line (via OddsShark): New England -6
What's at Stake?
The Patriots really need this win, but if the Rams get it, it could go a long way for them as well.
Let's start with New England. There are some people who are shocked that the Patriots have started this season 4-3, but this is a team that has displayed two very disheartening trends: One, its secondary has a tendency to give up huge plays, and two, it can't seem to close out games.
Both of those factors came into play against Seattle in Week 6: The Patriots blew a 23-10 lead in the fourth quarter, and the decisive touchdown came on a 46-yard pass from Russell Wilson to Sidney Rice with about a minute left. Talk about coughing up a huge play. The secondary wasn't much better in Week 7 against the Jets, allowing 297 passing yards to Mark Sanchez.
You have to imagine that Bill Belichick isn't going to stand for those shortcomings much longer.
With a win this Sunday, the Rams could still be very much in the mix in the AFC West. And it's not as though this team is incapable of a big win: It has beaten two of the three teams that have taken down New England this year (Seattle and Arizona).
Snagging a win in London before the bye week could be a big momentum swing for St. Louis.
Key Injuries: Patriots (via CBSSports.com)
- RB Brandon Bolden (knee) missed last week's game
- DL Ron Brace (back) missed last week's game
- DB Patrick Chung (shoulder) missed last week's game
- DB Steve Gregory (hip) missed last week's game
- LB Tracy White (foot) missed last week's game
Key Injuries: Rams (via CBSSports.com)
- WR Danny Amendola (shoulder) missed last week's game
- LB Mario Haggan (thigh) missed last week's game
- DB Trumaine Johnson (left) left last week's game
- DL Eugene Sims (knee) left last week's game
Fantasy Prospect to Watch: RB Stevan Ridley (Patriots)
Stevan Ridley's journey through the 2012 season thus far has been a strange one. It was clear after his breakout performance in Week 1 against the Titans that he was going to be the No. 1 back in New England, but over the last two weeks, he's struggled.
And over the last two weeks—when fellow running back Brandon Bolden has been battling injuries—has been precisely when the Patriots have needed him the most.
After two straight 100-plus yard games against Buffalo and Denver, Ridley has totaled 99 yards in his most recent two games. Now that Bolden, who's dealing with a knee injury, may not be around to pick up the slack, Ridley needs to be the player he's been in flashes this season, especially when the Patriots really need to go into the bye week on the heels of a win.
It won't be easy, though: The Rams only allow 98.9 rushing yards per game. If there were ever a time for Ridley to show up in a big way, it would be this week.
What They're Saying
No one is denying the idea that the Patriots got very, very lucky in their 29-26 overtime victory over the Jets on Sunday. They certainly didn't play well enough to win that game, but somehow, they did.
They were lucky that Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill made a huge, critical drop in the waning minutes of the game. They were lucky that Rex Ryan kept calling running plays despite the fact that the Jets were getting nothing on the ground. They were lucky that Mark Sanchez fumbled away an opportunity to burn the Patriots in overtime.
None of that can leave New England feeling particularly good heading into this week's game, according to The New York Times' Judy Battista:
The Patriots entered the game as the NFL’s top-scoring team, but all that dazzling offense still doesn’t close out opponents. They have blown two leads in losses, and in the last three games, they have been outscored in the fourth quarter, 34-6.
On Sunday, they better hope their defense (talking to you, DBs) shows up, too.
Meanwhile, the Rams have already arrived in London as the home team, and after a day of sightseeing on Tuesday, it was time to get down to business on Wednesday.
Quarterback Sam Bradford isn't thinking much of the strange travel schedule; in order to take some of the pressure off, he's just looking back to his college days to recall what it's like to travel to a neutral site for a huge game.
Bradford told NFL.com's Henry Hodgson:
Being in college and playing in Bowl games, you have to travel to a site and prepare somewhere that's different to normal; staying in a hotel, going to a different facility to practice, so I really don't think it's going to be that big of a deal for us.
Patriots Key Player
Remember a few weeks ago, when we were all saying that Wes Welker was being phased out of the Patriots' offense? Well, times have changed.
Partly due to injury and partly due to the fact that New England cannot afford to fail to utilize him to his fullest, Welker has been one of the most significant components of this Patriots passing attack in 2012.
And after a less-than-excellent outing against New York last week, he needs to have the kind of game against St. Louis that he had for four straight games from Sept. 23 to Oct. 14, when he totaled 100-plus yards in each one.
New England has looked vulnerable over the last couple of weeks, but if the Brady-to-Welker connection comes out firing on Sunday, it could put the Rams in an early hole they won't be able to climb out of.
Rams Key Player
If the Rams do get put in an early hole, the only way they're going to get out is by moving the ball in the air. They need to find some way to take advantage of a very weak Patriots secondary, but that isn't going to come naturally for a team that boasts a much better running game than passing game.
Establishing a rhythm in the air is going to be even more difficult in light of Danny Amendola's injury, which means this is the week Brandon Gibson really needs to step up. Without Amendola, Bradford will be looking to him as the playmaker, making this the perfect time for him to register his first receiving touchdown since Week 2 against Washington.
Prediction: Patriots Win
This comes down to more than both of these teams needing wins. It comes down to the fact that although the Patriots have struggled, they're still an excellent football team with an offense the Rams are going to have a very difficult time stopping.
St. Louis' defense ranks 19th in the league, and the Patriots' offense ranks first. We know that good defenses trump good offenses, but St. Louis' D isn't all that good and their 20th-ranked offense isn't formidable enough to victimize New England's defense the way some other teams have this season.
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