Originally posted on The Sports Post  |  Last updated 10/11/13
"[I've] just been working hard towards that goal and working hard every day to achieve that. It's going to be exciting, and when it happens, it's going to be awesome." There is only one man in the NFL who can utter words so simple that it reads as if a first grader said them. But, at the same time, there is only one man who can turn the New England Patriots offense from a simple and easily stopped attack to something far more powerful and complex. That man is, of course, Rob Gronkowski, and he is talking about whether he will be able to play come Sunday against the New Orleans Saints in this week's FOX Sports NFL Game of the Week. With or without Gronkowski, the 2013 New England Patriots are an impossible team to judge even now because of who they have played. In their first two games, they squeaked out back-to-back wins against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, respectively. Both teams were starting rookie quarterbacks and have not been pegged for anything, except contenders for two of the top-15 picks in next year's NFL Draft. Although the Patriots were 2-0 after two weeks, we could not put too much stock into it. In Week 3, they beat up on a reeling Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has issues all across the board. After three weeks, they stood undefeated with a 3-0 record against weaker teams. They were beating who they were supposed to, but not authoritatively enough to make us trust this squad. The Patriots went to Atlanta in Week 4 to battle the Falcons, a primetime game that most had hoped to be a marquee matchup between two Super Bowl contenders. As such, this should have been the legitimate test we needed to properly put this New England team in its place. However, Atlanta was only 1-2 entering the game, and had just lost to the Miami Dolphins the week prior. The Patriots won the game against the Falcons 30-23, containing their offense despite 54 passing attempts by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Although the win in Atlanta, a tough place for any team to play, was definitely an accomplishment, in this particular season, it still did not teach us much -- especially now that Atlanta lost to the Jets last week. So, we have a 4-0 team that we can't be too sure of because they still have not proven that they are worthy of the elite class. The following week, they traveled to Cincinnati for the closest thing to a test New England has had all season. Although the Patriots' defense played well, it was their offense that ultimately was stifled, leading to the downfall of our confidence in this team. Scoring only six points is unacceptable for any elite team and it has to raise some doubt about this offense ever being good enough to get over the top. They now have their second biggest test of the season (their first being the November 24th matchup with the Denver Broncos), as the New Orleans Saints come to Foxborough this Sunday. There will be no time for an offensive stalling by New England, as the Saints have been firing on all cylinders, accentuated by their 5-0 record. And that is where Rob Gronkowski comes in. Neither he nor his team will officially announce whether he will play Sunday or not, but reports say that things look good for him to suit up. Let's be honest: the Patriots would never release early information about a player of Gronkowski's importance just to mess with the New Orleans game plan. Right now, this offense needs Gronk, and they need him badly. Not only does he open up the field for slot and wideout receivers alike, but he gives Brady a familiar face who he knows he can trust. This is something Brady simply has not had so far this season. Last season, the Patriots dominated the offensive side of the ball, ranking first in the NFL in points per game with 34.8. This season, however, they have only averaged 19 points per game. Remember, that is against a majority of weaker teams, a major testament to their decline in offensive production that cannot be overlooked. But, where they miss Gronk most is in the red zone and on third downs. These are areas they also ranked first in last season, but this season, they rank 31st and 17th, respectively. Those are the statistics of an offense that is not going places. Now, of course, New England's offense is missing more than Gronkowski -- the losses of Wes Welker and, dare I say, Aaron Hernandez, are huge -- but at the end of the day, Gronk is the most dynamic receiver on this team and he is irreplaceable. While they have done a serviceable job replacing Welker, at least in the sense that there are guys in his place making plays, the Patriots have found nobody to replace Gronkowski. This is why his return means so much to this offense. I still have confidence that, although New England's aerial attack is not where it needs to be yet, a full season for rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson will do wonders to their game. They have improved from game to game and the addition of Gronk to the offense will help them become even better, as he will give them the opportunity to be open more often. This should worry the New Orleans defense that looked vulnerable at times in the secondary last week against the Chicago Bears, giving up 218 yards to Alshon Jeffery alone. If they have any kind of weakness, it is their secondary. So, the big matchup in this game will be between New England's aerial attack and New Orleans's pass defense. Playing in Foxborough is a major advantage for the Patriots, assuming the weather is colder than the Saints are used to, but this game really comes down to the offense for New England. No matter how well their defense is playing, Drew Brees and his crew will put up points. The question is whether Brady and his will be able to keep up. This is the game where we will finally be able to measure the New England Patriots with no excuses. They win this game and they are quickly regarded as an elite team in the league. They lose and, well, they are a decent 4-2 team that won't scare anyone. Isn't the NFL just great?   This FOX Sports NFL Game of the Week preview was sponsored by State Farm

This article first appeared on The Sports Post and was syndicated with permission.

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