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Scouting the Matchup: Lewis, ground game in focus

WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN

The Patriots could be without running back Rex Burkhead for the second consecutive week. Burkhead suffered a knee injury in New England's victory over the Steelers and, if he doesn't suit up, his loss will likely be felt most in short-yardage situations near the goal line, as Burkhead has five rushing touchdowns this season. Mike Gillislee could get the carries in short-yardage situations, but he’s also dealing with a knee injury. Gillislee scored on a 1-yard run against Buffalo last Sunday and also has five rushing TDs this season. The Patriots ran for 118 yards and a TD (Dion Lewis 1-yard run) on 25 carries in their previous meeting with the Jets on Oct. 15. Lewis ran for a career-high 129 yards last week against the Bills and has clearly established himself as the team’s best option. The Jets have been getting good play from linebackers Demario Davis, Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins but have allowed at least 112 yards on the ground in 12 games this season. Advantage: Patriots

WHEN THE JETS RUN

New York's running game has had its moments - 256 yards against Jacksonville and 194 versus Buffalo - but not enough of them. Although the Jets jumped out to a 14-0 lead against the Patriots when the teams squared off in October, New York wasn't able to take advantage of New England's porous run defense after that, primarily because running back Bilal Powell was inactive with a strained calf that day. Powell leads the Jets in carries (165) and rushing yards (726). He gained 145 yards on 19 yards against the Chargers last Sunday but has had very few games this season where he's averaged at least 4 yards per carry.  If you measure it by yards allowed per rushing attempt, the Patriots have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, but few teams have really been able to exploit that. The Jets won’t likely be able to either. Advantage: Patriots

WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS

When it's clicking, New England's passing attack is a tough matchup for any defense. The Jets did a decent job of defending the pass when the teams met in October. New York limited Tom Brady to 20 completions for 257 yards in New England's 24-17 come-from-behind victory. Brady was intercepted once in that game but tossed two TD passes to tight end Rob Gronkowski. An inability to pressure the quarterback has plagued the Jets, who rank near the bottom of the league in sacks. Only two teams have passed for more than 300 yards against New York this season, however: Miami (304) and Kansas City (362). If the pass protection is good, New England's top-ranked passing offense has the edge. Advantage: Patriots

WHEN THE JETS PASS

Quarterback Josh McCown passed for 354 yards and two touchdowns in New York's 24-17 loss to New England, but the Patriots will be facing third-year QB Bryce Petty on Sunday. McCown suffered a broken hand during the third quarter of New York's loss to Denver, and the injury required season-ending surgery. Petty, who has started in New York's last two games, played in six games last season (four starts) and passed for 809 yards with three touchdowns and seven interceptions. Petty has been intercepted three times in his two starts this year. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins caught eight passes for 46 yards and a TD during New York's Week 6 loss to New England. Robby Anderson has enjoyed a breakthrough season in New York and will be a focus of the Patriots coverage. Statistically, the Patriots remain near the bottom of the NFL in pass defense but the task for the inconsistent secondary should be much easier with Petty at the helm. Advantage: Patriots

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Jets are average or below average in most special teams categories. New York's biggest struggles have come on punt returns. They fumbled the ball away on punts at crucial times in losses to Oakland and Atlanta, and the team's punt return average is among the worst in the league. New York's punt coverage has been far from exceptional as well. New England has made numerous big plays in the kicking game this season - including a fake punt that jump-started their victory over Miami - and are one of the NFL's best teams at covering kicks. The Jets opened last week's game against San Diego with an onside kick - and recovered the ball - so clearly they're not afraid to take chances at this point in the season. Advantage: Patriots

OTHER FACTORS

The Patriots have plenty to play for, especially since they need a victory to lock up the No. 1 seed for the AFC playoffs. The Jets, on the other hand, have nothing on the line except professional pride, and starting a young quarterback (Petty) behind a shaky offensive line on the road in Foxborough doesn't seem like a recipe that's going to produce a victory. The fact that the Jets scored the first 14 points of the game and played the Patriots tough earlier this year should help sharpen New England's focus. The Jets may need a turnover edge to prevail, but Brady - despite his recent struggles - is arguably the best quarterback in the league at protecting the football. The Jets are 1-6 on the road this season, and their one victory came against Cleveland.* Advantage: Patriots*

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