Not long ago the Jets seemed a like fractured football team, limping through a three-game losing streak that culminated in a loss to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. At the same point New England was riding high at 4-1 after dismissing its AFC East Border War rival. Things have gone in different directions over the last month. The Jets and Patriots are now tied with the Bills atop the East with 5-3 records. New England has hit a midseason slump having lost two straight. New York is playing much better on defense and has won three-straight. Regardless of recent action, both teams will be looking to take a big step on Sunday night toward taking a stronger hold on the East with an eye on a home playoff run. But in the short term one of the more heated rivalries in the NFL brings another installment as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick look to silence Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez in this primetime affair with the entire NFL watching. As the hype builds toward Sunday night, Faith Hill and the rest of the world can sit back and enjoy this Jets Friday Six-Pack!
1. Run for fun - The Patriots passing game has hit a bit of a slump of late. The points aren't coming quite as easy. The turnovers a little too often. Maybe the best way to take some pressure off the passing game, in this matchup against the NFL's best pass defense in terms of rating, would be to get the ground game going. New York is a middle of the pack run defense that allows 4.2 yards a carry. New England looked like it wanted to establish the run against the Giants, but after an 18-yard first play never really got things going most of the rest of the way. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley deserve more carries, more chances. Ridley certainly would seem to be due more attempts, having gone dark after his impressive efforts in Oakland. The line wants to run. The backs want to run. Running would help the passing game. The Jets aren't likely to put up a ton of points or get into a real shootout. It all seems to set up a nice chance to run the ball.
3. Flood the sub - Defensively the Patriots continue to struggle, even after last week's first-half shutout. The Jets aren't the most imposing of offenses, but they have plenty of weapons for Mark Sanchez in the passing game. Santonio Holmes, Dustin Keller and Plaxico Burress can all be scary in their own way. The New England secondary is even more undermanned of late as Josh Barrett is gone and Patrick Chung is a question mark with a foot injury. Still, I think the best approach against New York is to play a lot of sub defenses and flood the secondary with pass defenders. If New York runs the football more often, I deem that a win for the Patriots defense. Shonn Greene has been better of late, but is still averaging 3.8 yards per carry on the season. The Patriots have been OK against the run, certainly better than against the pass. So by going sub and flooding the secondary you either help out the pass defense against Sanchez or take the ball out of his hands. Either way, I think it would help the Patriots on the road.
4. Spark it up - The Patriots need a spark. It could be a big hit on defense, like what Brandon Spikes did last week. It could be a key turnover or defensive touchdown. It could be a big play on offense. Regardless, New England needs to build some positive momentum and energy. Things haven't been going well of late, in some ways in all three phases. Getting a big play in each of those phases could spark other plays, other players to get things turned around and get things going in the right direction.
5. Special effects - New England's special teams have been below average to bad of late. Julian Edelman had the fumble. Stephen Gostkowski missed a chip shot. No kick returner seems to be able to get the ball much past the 20. The third phase hasn't been carrying its share of the load, hasn't been able to help the team get out of a recent funk. Edelman proved last year he can be an impact punt returner. He needs to show that yet again, in a tough road environment. It's also important that New England's coverage units play well against Joe McKnight and the Jets. McKnight averages 40.2 yards a return with a 107-yard touchdown. He missed some practice time this week, but if he plays he can be dangerous. With more of New England's special teams players forced into playing time on defense - guys like Tracy White, James Ihedigbo and Sergio Brown - Scott O'Brien needs to ensure it doesn't lead to even more of a drop off in the kicking game.
6. Rallying cry - There are a lot of reasons to pick the Jets in this one and against the Patriots. New York is playing much better of late. New England is in a funk. The home team has won the regular season meetings in this series in the Ryan era. Everyone in the media seems to be reassessing their opinion of the Patriots. Belichick is telling his team it is 0-0 and has a clean slate in a competitive AFC. For the players and coaches, it may seem like "us against the world" time. Heck, in Patriots Football Weekly this week among the nine-person panel of experts on Patriots Today's Brian Lowe actually picked New England to win on the road. There is plenty of doubt, plenty of motivation available for the Patriots. New York thinks New England is the evil empire. Embrace the hate and pull off a big road win. Either rally together as a team or take another step toward your season falling apart. Only the players can decide which way it goes on Sunday night.
I'll start with the positive, I won't be surprised if the Patriots roll into MetLife Stadium and pull off the upset on the road. It feels like a game where they surprise everyone and then grumble afterwards about the utter lack of respect they've been receiving. Now that that's out of the way, I have to go with all the factors at play heading into the game. The Patriots are failing to score more than 20 points. Their defense is still a major question mark. The Jets aren't giving up any points of late, and New York is scoring in the high 20s. Brady's Patriots have scored a total of 23 points in the last two trips to the Meadowlands. Brady has thrown more picks than touchdowns in those trips. Sanchez has played much better against New England in New York, throwing touchdowns instead of interceptions at home. Put it all together and reason seems to point to the Jets getting a victory at home to continue their ascent in the AFC East. I'll go with the 27-21 New York victory that will send even more shockwaves of concern throughout Patriots Nation.