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Patriots at Jets Pregame Six-Pack!

New England heads down to New Jersey looking to clinch a playoff bye, and maybe more, with a win over the Jets.


While it certainly seems that Bill Belichick and Rex Ryan have respect for the other's coaching abilities, there isn't a lot of love lost between the Patriots (11-3) and the Jets (3-11) heading into Sunday's battle at MetLife Stadium. Jets players apparently feel disrespected by the Patriots organization. The Patriots clearly enjoy beating the Jets as much or more than any other team in the game. New England, fresh off clinching the AFC East, is rolling toward another postseason and potential Super Bowl run. New York is likely in the final stages of Ryan era and will have a very interesting offseason. New England is an obvious road favorite in this latest battle of the old Border War, despite the two teams having played down to the wire and a Chris Jones blocked field goal to secure the Patriots victory at Gillette Stadium in October. The Patriots can clinch at least a first-round playoff bye with a win on Sunday and keep some momentum rolling into the finale. Ryan's Jets could throw wrinkle in New England's postseason seeding plans with what would be an emotional upset. While the records say that these two teams are far apart in talent and the standings, there is always something interesting that comes out of the games in this bitter rivalry. As you finish up your shopping, wrapping and taste-testing of Grandma's Christmas eggnog recipe leading up to the 1 p.m. kickoff, enjoy this festive-as-hate-filled-rivalries-can-be, pre-Christmas edition of the Patriots at Jets Pregame Six-Pack!

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Match the emotion/start fast –** Jets players indicated this week that Ryan was even more emotional than usual in his mid-week team meeting preparing for likely his final matchup with Belichick's Patriots. Ryan even admitted to the media that he was envious of what New England has created. He's at the end of the line. He's a wounded, beaten man leading a wounded, beaten team. But we all know that wounded animals can be dangerous. The energy and emotion for kickoff at MetLife could be unique. Patriots fans will be rooting against the Jets. Jets fans, looking to a turnover with the franchise's front office and a high draft pick, will be rooting against the Jets. There easily could be an us-against-the-world, one-last-stand mentality from Gang Green. The Patriots need to match that emotion early on, emotion that can only last so long for either team as the actual play on the field begins to tell the story of the game. New England hasn't been great in terms of fast starts of late. The Jets will be looking to control the game from the beginning. If New England can score a few early points – more than the 10 total points the team has scored in the last three first quarters combined, a number that includes a blocked field goal return for a touchdown last week – it could suck the life out of any win-one-for-Rex plan the Jets players have. The Patriots are the better team with more to play for. But the Jets are dangerous and proved in Week 7 that they can drag the Patriots into a dogfight. A hot start with an early two-score lead would probably nip that problem in the bud, regardless of any emotion the Jets bring to the field.

*   **Stop the run –** The reason the Jets nearly pulled off the upset in Week 7 at Gillette Stadium is simple: they ran the football down the Patriots throat. New England gave up a season-high 218 yards. Since then the Vince Wilfork-led run defense has played much better. After allowing New York to average 5.1 yards per carry that day, New England has allowed an opponent to average better than 3.6 yards per carry just once in the last five games. Of course the Jets remain one of the most dangerous rushing attacks in the game. New York has the No. 2 rush offense in the league. The team averages 4.7 yards per carry. Six different players have run the ball 20 times or more and all six average 4.1 yards per carry or better. Belichick has said this is the biggest challenge the Patriots have faced in terms of running schemes and issues from an opponent in a long time. There are a variety of schemes, looks and personnel they have to deal with. The Jets average nearly 150 yards a game. Was the success they had against the Patriots in the first game simply an example of their impressive ability to run the football or a low point in New England's early season defensive struggles up front? Is the Patriots late-season surge on run defense for real? We should have an answer to those questions Sunday afternoon. If the Patriots can reasonably keep the Jets ground game in check it could be a long day for the New York offense – namely Geno Smith – and a major first step toward the expected victorious outcome in an environment that could actually be hostile for both teams.    
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Turnovers are trending –** The Patriots got back into the turnover game in last Sunday's win over the Dolphins. Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung notched key interceptions. New England also forced a trio of fumbles, even though they didn't actually recover them. It was New England's first game with multiple takeaways since the win over the Broncos on Nov. 2. New England is fourth in the NFL with a plus-11 turnover differential. New York is 31st in the league with a minus-11 differential. But in the first meeting New York did not have a single turnover. That was a big part of the reason, along with the success in the running game, that the visitors put a major scare into the home crowd in Foxborough. That was one of just three games this year the Patriots failed to notch a takeaway – along with at Kansas City and at Green Bay – and the only time the team escaped with a win. Smith has thrown an interception in all but three games this season, including the first meeting and last week's win over the Titans. But he's still having an abysmal year completing 57 percent of his throws and notching a 69.8 rating for the season. The Patriots defense is at its best when it's putting another turnover in the ball bag. The pace of those picked up a bit last week, although the team has still gone six straight games without recovering a fumble. Keeping the turnover momentum rolling and maybe breaking the streak of fumble-less games would be a nice way to take care of business against an underwhelming Jets offense.

    • Scoring is in the air –The Jets have a formidable defensive front – whether Muhammad Wilkerson returns from missing three straight games to a toe injury or not. Sheldon Richardson says he's comparable to J.J. Watt. (We'll see about that!) But the back end of the New York defense is not nearly as impressive. Ryan's defense has allowed a 104.6 opposing passer rating on the season. The group has allowed 29 touchdown passes while notching a mere five interceptions. New York has the league's 31st-ranked defense on third down. Just about the only thing the pass defense does at a decent level is get after the quarterback, ranking 12th in the league in sacks per pass play. If the Patriots inconsistent offensive line can give Brady time to work, No. 12 should find a lot of fun throwing the football in the Meadowlands. Though his completion percentage was just 54 in the first meeting, Brady did have three touchdowns and a 103.5 passer rating. There is no reason to think he should do anything but improve upon those numbers this time around. Brady has been a little inconsistent of late – and CBS cameras seemingly showed him working out an issue with his right hand on the sidelines last week – but this should be a chance to get the aerial attack rolling. The Jets just don't have the experienced, proven bodies at either cornerback or safety to deal with an elite passing attack. Rob Gronkowski should find plenty of chances to continue his impressive production, especially if he gets around physical New York first-round safety Calvin Pryor. Julian Edelman being listed as questionable due to a concussion and thigh injury is obviously less than ideal, but even without its top target the Patriots passing attack should have a major advantage over New York's porous pass defense.
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Line it up – **The strength of the Jets is their defensive front. That's obvious. Another seemingly obvious note at this point is that when the Patriots offense struggles – either in the running game or passing game -- it can usually be traced back to the offensive line. It was pretty bad to open the year. It improved mightily during the middle of the season. And it's been less-than-perfect over the last month. Aside from injuries, the lineup isn't going to change. It's simply about the five guys who've now started seven straight games together simply playing their best football as a group at the most important time of the year. It's well known that when the Patriots season has ended in recent playoff memory – including a couple Super Bowl losses – it came in part to a defensive front dominating the offensive line of New England. That's a fear that many fans still have for this team, that it could once again be the fatal flaw. This matchup with New York's physical, athletic, productive front gives Dave DeGuglielmo's group a chance to prove its mettle and put forth an impressive performance against impressive competition. There aren't too many question marks surrounding the various aspects of the Patriots team as they look to take another step toward the No. 1 seed in the AFC and toward the Super Bowl. A nice performance by the offensive line in this battle would likely make people – maybe inside and outside the team – feel a bit more at ease moving forward.

    • Health check –Though there haven't been any major injuries – in fact Sealver Siliga and Chandler Jones have returned in recent weeks after extended absences – the Patriots injury report has been growing. As of Friday, New England listed a dozen players as questionable for Sunday's game in New York. That included as many as eight key starters. All of the players were limited in practice during the week and most are coming off action last week when they were also listed as questionable. But a combination of new injuries and lingering issues are a minor concern with two games to go before either a bye week or the postseason. Edelman's concussion is certainly worth watching given his key role in the passing attack as well as the return game. Dan Connolly left last Sunday's game with a neck injury. He was listed first with an ankle issue and then a knee injury throughout the practice week. Kyle Arrington (ankle), Dont'a Hightower (shoulder), Jones (hip) and Rob Ninkovich (heel) are all ultra-important contributors nursing seemingly manageable issues. But if any were to become worse, or any combination of those players were to miss time, it would be a major blow to a budding, building defense. The NFL season is a battle of attrition and the Patriots have made it to Week 16 in relative good health. It's important to keep it that way, even though neither coaches nor players can really go into a game with that idea on their mind.

Prediction: **

  • The Patriots have blown the Jets out in two of the last three games in New York, not including last year's loss. New England has had a strong upper hand in the second meeting of the season in this series four of the last five years. More importantly, the Patriots are the far better football team with more to play for and more to lose. Even if there is some initial emotion on the Jets side as they try to rally for Rex Ryan, I don't see that as sustainable. The New England run defense is much deeper and better than it was back in Week 7 playing without Siliga and Alan Branch, when it struggled in its first game without Jerod Mayo. So I can't see even a very good Jets rushing attack having its way with the Patriots defense. Not gonna happen again. And I can't see a pretty poor Jets pass defense holding Brady in check with No. 12's chance to clinch a bye and maybe more. I expect the Patriots to come out throwing to build an early lead. I expect New York to struggle early on offense and put pressure on Smith to make plays. Not a good situation for the team in green. New England should be able to control the tempo, to some degree, with a spread passing attack and then set up the run later. Turnovers should come, even if it's not in a butt-fumble kind of flurry. I just think the Jets are in trouble in this one and could put up an ugly performance in front of the home crowd for the final time in the Ryan era. The Patriots score a lot. The Jets don't. And New York really isn't even all that impressive in terms of points allowed. It just sounds like a bad deal for the Jets all the way around. New England will get the 33-9 victory and keep cruising toward January. New York will get the embarrassing butt-kicking and get the heck out of the stadium as soon as it can for its own collective safety.
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