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Game Matchups: Jets are strong against the run

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN


This season has been a complete nightmare for the Jets, but one of the few things they do well is stop the run. They entered Week 16 ranked fifth in the NFL in that category and haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher since Week 6 when Denver's Ronnie Hillman totaled 100 on the nose in a 31-17 win for the Broncos. They even held Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell, the league's second-leading rusher, to just 33 yards in Week 10. The Patriots don't feature a run-heavy attack offensively, but they've made changes since the last time they played the Jets, namely re-signing LeGarrette Blount, who has absorbed the lion's share of the carries in recent weeks. Whether or not it's enough to overcome the offensive line's recent struggles and the unpredictability of backups Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray remains to be seen. ADVANTAGE: JETS

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WHEN THE JETS RUN


Even on the wrong end of lopsided scores, the Jets continue to pound the ball with their productive duo of Chris Johnson and Chris Ivory. These two tortured New England's defensive line in Week 7, combining for 168 yards (107 for Johnson on 21 carries). With the quarterback situation constantly in flux, the running game, which entered the homestretch ranked second in the NFL, is New York's only chance to control the clock and compete with superior teams. The Patriots have the edge in nearly every other category but their front seven is still a source of contention with linebackers asked to play multiple roles. Their biggest problem lately is limiting big runs up the middle, which hurt them in a Week 13 loss to Green Bay. ADVANTAGE: JETS

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WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS


This is where numbers are deceiving. On the surface, the Jets are a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to slowing down opposing passing attacks, but having been on the wrong end of so many blowouts, opponents eventually take their foot off the pedal and run the ball in order to run out the clock. New York's two biggest problems are limiting big plays in the passing game and forcing turnovers. They're also terrible on third down, ranking 31st in third-down percentage through 14 games. They simply can't get teams off the field, which is why New England is a bad matchup. Even with a dynamic pass rusher like Sheldon Richardson, who can cause chaos at the line of scrimmage, the Patriots should be able to move the ball against a secondary that intercepted only five passes all year. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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WHEN THE JETS PASS


The embattled Geno Smith figures to be New York's starter -- for now, anyway. That could change before the opening kickoff given how up and down (mostly down) Smith has been all season. Jets quarterbacks have been a disaster all year with Smith and Michael Vick combining for 14 interceptions and only 12 touchdowns. The Jets have some weapons with wide receiver Eric Decker and the newly acquired Percy Harvin, but they're nothing more than expensive decoys with such inconsistency behind center. This is a poor matchup for the Jets, perhaps the most lopsided matchup on paper. New England's secondary is a turnover machine and can shut down -- or at least contain -- most high-powered passing attacks with Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. What they might do to the Jets on Sunday is frightening. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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SPECIAL TEAMS


The Jets have a maddening tendency to give up big chunks of yardage on kick returns, which turned out to be a problem against both Kansas City and Minnesota in recent weeks. For a defense that has the ability to at least keep its team in the game, it's deflating to lose the field position battle. This is where the Patriots excel. They've consistently limited the damage all season in the kicking game and have the weapons to break a few big plays of their own on punt or kickoff returns with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Also, think back to the first time these two teams met this season when Chris Jones blocked Nick Folk's potential game-winning field goal attempt in the closing seconds. The Patriots have made a lot of game-changing plays on special teams this year, something the Jets can't claim. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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OTHER FACTORS


This could be the last game Rex Ryan coaches against the Patriots and he'd love nothing more than to stick it to his arch nemesis, Bill Belichick, on his way out the door, but that alone probably isn't enough to overcome the gap in talent between these two teams. What the Jets do have going for them is the fact they played New England close earlier this season at Gillette Stadium and they did beat the Patriots at the Meadowlands last year, but playing for pride -- or a chance to be a spoiler -- isn't as concrete as what the Patriots are playing for, which is the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Even with another division title already wrapped up, every game means something and the Patriots will continue to play with a sense of urgency. Given their dominance in this division for the past decade, betting on anyone else is a hard sell. ADVANTAGE: PATRIOTS

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