The 2013 NFL season is now seven weeks old, but Rob Gronkowski is finally ready to make his debut. The New England Patriots tight end has been medically cleared to play, and he’s expected to do so against the New York Jets on Sunday. Gronkowski is officially listed as questionable for the contest.
"I feel so much better than I have in the past few weeks; compared to last week right now at this time, I feel great," Gronkowski said in a video announcing his return. "You might think that we just show up and play on Sundays, but there's so much behind the scenes ... that goes on before you can get back out on the field."
Even without, probably, the best tight end in football, the Patriots have played at an elite level. At 5-1, they’re in first place in the AFC East and have the second-best record in the conference. The usually explosive New England offense, though, has struggled compared to the numbers it has put up in recent years.
Twenty-one teams are scoring at a higher rate than the Patriots. With a healthy Gronkowksi for the majority of 2012, New England had one of the best offenses in NFL history. In the Patriots only loss this season, Tom Brady failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time 53 games.
In the first matchup between the Jets and Patriots, New York kept Brady in check. The quarterback managed to throw for a touchdown, but completed less than 50 percent of his passes. New England was held to 232 yards of total offense, barely squeaking out a 13-10 victory.
Despite their issues on offense, the Patriots were able to win because of the Jets struggles on that side of the ball. In just his second career start, Geno Smith was picked off three times and completed just 15 of his 35 passes. A few of those interceptions came when the Jets were driving with a chance to take the lead.
"During that time in the game, you've got to be more mindful of the situation," Smith said after the loss. "With the costly mistakes, that was completely on me."
New York and Smith bounced back from that loss, winning two of their next three. However, last week was the rookie’s worst performance, since the game against the Patriots. The Jets were defeated by the winless Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith threw two interceptions and the New York failed to get into the end zone.
On Sunday, however, the Jets will take on a banged up Patriots defense. Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo are both done for the year. Cornerback Aqib Talib practiced on Friday, but isn’t expected to be ready to take the field this week. He’s suffering from a hip flexor injury.
Las Vegas Betting Odds: New England favored by 3.5 points
Over-Under: 43.5 points
Where To Watch Online: NFL Sunday Ticket Max
Kickoff Time: 1:00 PM Eastern Time
TV Channel: CBS
Prediction: New England 27, New York 20