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Patriots at Jets Pregame Six-Pack

Posted Oct 19, 2013

New England makes the short trip down to New Jersey to renew its AFC East rivalry with the Jets.

Even though the Patriots have won five straight games against the Jets, New York coach Rex Ryan says he hasn't been kissing Bill Belichick's Super Bowl rings and never will. In reality, Ryan's Jets (3-3) gave Belichick's Patriots (5-1) everything they could handle in New England's 13-10 victory in Foxborough in Week 2. This time New York has the home field advantage and Ryan has put out a call for fans to be prepared to maximize that advantage Sunday at Met Life Stadium. New England heads into this 2013 rematch looking to sweep New York for the third straight season while going for its 13th straight win over AFC East foes. But the supposed lame duck coach Ryan has his team fighting hard and schlepping out victories. That said, the second game in this series over the last two years followed up a tight first affair with a New England blowout in the Meadowlands. The emotions of this rivalry are always high as the hate between the two franchises clearly flows in both directions. As you stock up your own distaste for everything that is Gang Green swig on this rivalry-brewed edition of the Patriots at Jets Pregame Six-Pack!

1. Gronk cleared for landing vs. Jets? – Agent Drew Rosenhaus said late this week that Rob Gronkowski has been cleared by doctors to return to game action. BodyArmor sent out a video on Friday of its tight end spokesman and declared that Gronk is Back! Rex Ryan said he had a funny feeling that Gronkowski would play this week and that maybe the Patriots even saved the tight end's return for the Jets. Officially the Patriots have said nothing and simply listed Gronkowski as questionable to play on Sunday. And even though the tight end's travel bag was empty and unpacked while the media was in the Gillette Stadium locker room on Friday, all signs seem to point to No. 87 finally returning to action and making his season debut at Met Life against the Jets. If that's the case, it will certainly be a boost for an offense that has struggled to score points at times this season and remains 30th in the NFL in red zone efficiency. Gronkowski has been practicing since the first day of the season, so if he does return there is a chance he could even be a big part of the offense against New York. At least it sounds like that's what Ryan is expecting. Given all the controversy and frustration surrounding the tight end's return, Patriots fans are probably expecting the same thing. After all, the guy did average better than a touchdown a game over the last two seasons. That type of production would be a welcome site for sore eyes and sore teammates.

2. Big Apple turnovers – As is the case with so many NFL games, turnovers could be the deciding factor in New York. On paper, that's a major advantage for the Patriots. New England enters the game with a plus-5 turnover ratio that's tied for sixth-best in the NFL. The Jets are minus-11 for the season, ranking 30th in the league. The Patriots have forced at least one turnover in 33 straight games, including four in the Week 2 win over New York. The Jets have turned the ball over 14 times, including 10 interceptions by rookie quarterback Geno Smith, ranking fourth in the league in turnovers. And Ryan's defense has forced just three turnovers on the season heading into a matchup with a Patriots team that has just seven turnovers on the year, and a mere four in the five games since opening day. While turnovers in the passing game will remain a concern as Brady continues to work with young and changing weapons on offense, the group has done a good job taking care of the football over the last month-plus. Smith proved at Atlanta that when he takes care of the football he can be a productive passer. But for the most part he, like the other quarterback in New York these days, has been a turnover machine as he learns the ropes with limited weapons to work with. Swinging the turnover ratio in their direction is probably the key way the Jets could pull off the upset at home.

3. How's the camel's back? – It's no secret that the Patriots, like so many NFL teams, are being decimated by injuries less than halfway through 2013. The question is whether or not the team can continue to overcome the personnel losses. The absence of Gronkowski, Shane Vereen, Danny Amendola, Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork wasn't enough to keep the team from a 5-1 start. But the biggest blow, by far, could have come in the win over the Saints when Aqib Talib, Jerod Mayo and Amendola left with key injuries. Mayo (reportedly a pectoral tear) landed on IR. Amendola (concussion) missed practice all week and is out. Talib (hip) did not practice on the key days of Wednesday and Thursday and is listed as doubtful. Even with the potential return of Gronkowski, the health of the Patriots on both sides of the ball is a huge issue. The questions are especially concerning on defense, where there is a chance New England will be playing without its top player at all three levels. Losing two defensive captains in the first half of the season is huge. Losing a guy in Talib who's been the team MVP through six games and a defensive player of the year candidate would be even bigger. The Jets don't have a ton of aerial weapons or consistency in the passing game, so going without Talib in this one might not be a back breaker, but it's a big problem especially since the cornerback dealt with a hip injury last season as well. Can Dont'a Hightower step up as a playmaker and a defensive play caller? Will the loss of another force in the front seven weaken the run defense beyond repair? Is the secondary going to go back to giving up big plays through the air like it did last year in the pre-Talib days? Has the injury list in New England reached a critical point? Can the next man up philosophy continue to succeed? So many injuries. So many questions.

4. Line ‘em up – Clearly the strength of the Jets, and the team's defense, is the front. Muhammad Wilkerson is a beast in his third season. Rookie first-round pick Sheldon Richardson is very good on the other end of the line. David Harris remains a tackle machine in the middle of New York's No. 2 ranked run defense. The Patriots struggled on the ground in the first meeting, averaging just 2.3 yards a carry. The Jets have only allowed 3.0 yards per carry on the year. So even though Stevan Ridley is coming off his best game of the year, getting things going on the ground might be a struggle. Regardless of whether it's through the air or on the ground the New England offensive line has a challenge on its hands to fight the good fight at the line of scrimmage. Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer will have their hands full with Wilkerson and Richardson, respectively. Solder in particular is worth watching as a big, strong battle with Wilkerson may not be the best matchup for him. New England only allowed Tom Brady to be hit once in the first game, which was impressive. Keeping No. 12 clean a week after he was sacked five times is important. The Jets have 20 sacks on the year, with six different guys recording two or more sacks. The Patriots front has its hands full with the talent that the Jets put forth, as well as the way Ryan deploys his playmakers up front.

5. Fight to the finish – Given the way things have been playing out this fall for the Patriots, this looks like it has the makings of another tough, hard-fought battle. The familiarity of AFC East games, even with the Patriots winning most of them, can create tight battles. Four of New York's six games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Five of the six Patriots games have been decided by a touchdown or less. So predicting this game to be decided by a touchdown or less wouldn't exactly be a groundbreaking thought. Even with all the injuries and personnel changes, the Patriots seem to have plenty of fight as a team. Early on this season Brady was alluding to the fact that he had no question that his teammates would fight to the finish. Ryan has his team fighting for its life early in the year, and maybe his own job. Neither team likes the other. This game should be a true battle to the finish. And if you're banking on one side to make the key plays at the key time late, looking toward New England would be a pretty safe option given what we've seen through the first six weeks on both sides of the ball.

6. Brady – Brady had been hearing his critics after the loss in Cincinnati. He probably would have been hearing more had his interception late last week led to a Saints victory. But No. 12 bounced back with a big drive and a huge throw to pull out the victory. Now he looks to keep that momentum rolling against a familiar foe. Brady owns an 18-4 record over his career against the Jets. He's thrown 32 touchdowns compared to 10 interceptions against New York. His passer rating against Gang Green is 93.4. He hasn't thrown a pick in his last four games against Ryan's defense and just once in the last six games. As much as people assume that Belichick dislikes the Jets given his history with the team, Brady also seems to have a distaste for his rival from New York. Brady has talked about the offense having to take some pressure off a banged up defense that's played so well to help the team early in the season. He's motivated and emotional. He's facing Smith. The Jets are a bit banged up in the back end. Even with his weapons being a concern, Brady could be in store for another of his fiery performances.

Prediction: Really the only known commodity in this game is the Jets defense. It's a solid, physical unit that gave the Patriots plenty to deal with in the first meeting. Both offenses have had up and down stretches throughout the year. New York lacks many weapons on offense, although Stephen Hill is certainly capable of the big play. New England's offense may have Gronkowski back and that could be an immense boost. But neither of these teams is likely to put on a glamorous, pretty performance in this battle. Plays will be at a premium. Turnovers will be key for both teams as neither is consistent enough on offense to overcome too many mistakes. I expect the Patriots to utilize a short passing game – although with Amendola out and Edelman banged up that might not be as easy as one might expect. Running will be difficult. Defensively the run defense will get challenged by Bilal Powell (4.1 avg.) and Co. Put it all together and this game will likely be decided by a couple big plays, maybe even on special teams. Really, though, it's hard to pick Smith over Brady in a tight game. So I won't be doing that. Look for Gronkowski to give the offense a big boost and be a difference maker. Look for two to three turnovers for the Patriots defense. Look for New England to leave town with the 24-16 victory. Look for Ryan to be really upset about it.