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Boston Globe / Contributor

Mac Jones and the New England Patriots are feeling good after landing a win in Week 5, but Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys are feeling better after winning their fourth straight -- a streak that includes downing two NFC East rivals and has them sitting atop the division at 4-1. Entering the Week 6 clash between the two, the Patriots are 2-3 with victories over the New York Jets and Houston Texans, teams with a combined record of 2-8 on the season. The Cowboys present a much more daunting hill to climb for a rookie quarterback; even with Bill Belichick as the head coach.

That said, Belichick is a legend for a reason, and he'll throw the kitchen sink at the prolific Cowboys offense, with constant adaptations that must be adjusted for, but offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has now proven himself to be one of the best in the league in adapting. 

There are added complications for the Patriots that lead them to being 3.5-point underdogs on their own field this coming Sunday, according to Caesar's Sportsbook, in what should be an exciting fight at Gillette Stadium. But this time around, with no Tom Brady or Stephon Gilmore on the field, how much of a chance do the Patriots actually have?

Let's talk about it.

How to watch

Date: Sunday, Oct. 17 | Time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, MA)
TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Cowboys -3.5, O/U 50.5

Preview

Quiet as it's kept, this is yet another revenge game for Prescott. Granted, it's not nearly of the same magnitude as what he battled through mentally to lead the Cowboys to a blowout victory over the Giants in Week 5, but there's still a stench in the air regarding the Patriots that he'd like to clear. The last time Prescott faced the Patriots was in 2019, also at Gillette Stadium, when his offense managed just nine points in a loss that saw him throw no touchdowns with one interception. Belichick's defense stifled Prescott in the first and only meeting between the two since Prescott entered the league. Ezekiel Elliott, who is currently on a tear over the last four games, fared a bit better in that contest, but his 86 yards didn't yield a touchdown, either.

Both would like nothing more than to punch the Patriots into submission and land their first-ever win against Belichick and, as mentioned, neither Brady nor Gilmore will run out of the tunnel in New England in Week 6. Replacing the former is Mac Jones, the rookie first-round pick who has impressed individually thus far but isn't without his share of errors. Jones has thrown five touchdowns but also has five interceptions, and he narrowly missed adding to his INT tally on multiple occasions against the Texans. 

Those types of mistakes could be devastating against a defense that leads the league in takeaways thanks to the historic run on interceptions by cornerback Trevon Diggs -- who has proved he can take the ball away even when both of his eyes are failing him.

So for all of the tricks Belichick will have up his sleeve, so will Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who has proven he can rattle even the most composed quarterbacks into making mistakes. Just ask players like Brady (from Week 1) and Justin Herbert (from Week 2) -- two of the best in the league who Diggs, first-round pick Micah Parsons and the rest of the Dallas defense have victimized.

Key matchup

There will be matchups to watch all over the field, from Elliott vs. linebacker Matt Judon and Co., to Prescott vs. cornerback J.C. Jackson and lots in-between -- including the battle upfront with center Tyler Biadasz going against defensive lineman Davon Godchaux -- but the most poignant one has to be Jones versus Diggs. The latter has six interceptions in his first five games of the 2021 season and has narrowly missed having upwards of 10 already, literally. He's a magnet for passes because he sees himself as the wide receiver he once was before converting to defensive back at Alabama, and he's become a nightmare for NFL quarterbacks. 

If defensive end Randy Gregory can continue applying pressure this week, along with Parsons and an impressive front of other defensive talent in the trenches, the fact Jones has shown he can be rattled like any other rookie QB could result in Diggs' streak of INTs continuing through Week 6. If so, it'll lead to more possessions for a Cowboys offense that's scored more than 35 points in each of their last three games and more than 40 in two of those three outings.

Prediction

Extra possessions for the Cowboys would be disastrous for a Patriots offense that ranks 26th in points per game (19.2), and ask far too much of their fifth-ranked defense in a game where the Cowboys are entering as one of the league's juggernauts and seeking revenge for 2019. Belichick will make sure this game remains as interesting as possible for as long as possible, but Dallas might run away with this one in the second half and hand the Patriots their worst loss this season. It's a team that allowed 28 points to Jameis Winston and the New Orleans Saints, and Prescott leads an offense that packs a much more potent punch.

Cowboys 40, Patriots 17