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Week 8: Patriots-Rams preview

The SportsXchange

New England vs. St. Louis

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, at Wembley Stadium, London, England - TV: CBS; DirecTV: 711

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

*Keys to the game: The Rams moved the pocket, highlighting the underrated athleticism of QB Sam Bradford, to keep him clear of Clay Matthews last week. A mishmash of niche receivers and a diminished role for RB Steven Jackson is causing the offense to be more disjointed, but the positive development has been the play in the trenches -- on both sides of the ball -- for St. Louis. The Patriots have the right tools to chip away at the Rams' hard-nosed defense. First priority for QB Tom Brady is getting the ball out before DEs Robert Quinn and Chris Long fire off the line. New England's screen game utilizes shifty RB Danny Woodhead and both tight ends -- Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez -- and is a source of big plays against defenses that dare to play "cover 0" with straight man-to-man assignments all over the field. With Daryl Richardson and Jackson running effectively, Bradford and the Rams can control the ball for long stretches, but firepower heavily favors New England. Cashing in when they reach the red zone is mandatory for Bradford and the Rams, who have too often settled for three points. Rookie WR Chris Givens, who has a play of 50-plus yards in four consecutive games, is the Rams' lone home-run threat.

*Matchup to watch - Patriots WRs Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker vs. Rams RCB Bradley Fletcher: The Packers followed suit and avoided challenging CB Cortland Finnegan. Fletcher, who enters in the nickel package with Janoris Jenkins sliding inside, was picked on early and often, and has to tighten his cushion or risk having Brady play pitch-and-catch to the left flat.

*Player spotlight - Rams FS Quintin Mikell: He's the extra cornerback in the Rams' dime and quarters package, but at 5-10, 204, is in a different weight class than Gronkowski (6-6, 265).

*Fast facts: Including two new starters last week, Bradford has played behind 23 different offensive linemen in St. Louis. ... The Patriots average 29 first downs per game; the Rams average 19.5.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

The Rams grind on every play, trying to make enough over the course of the first three quarters to be in the game in the fourth quarter. The Patriots' offense hums with machine-like precision when it is working as designed, keeping the ball in the hands of Tom Brady if games get tight.

*Our pick: Patriots 30-20
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