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Scouting the Matchups: Banged up Patriots look to clinch top seed

Injuries will have an impact on the Patriots lineup when they travel to the Meadowlands to take on the New York Jets.


It would be a bit of a surprise if the Patriots have a productive day on the ground, since they're deep into their depth chart with regard to the running back position — Dion Lewis (knee) and LeGarrette Blount (hip) are both on injured reserve — and the Jets have had the league's best run defense for much of the season. New England didn't give its running game much of a chance during its 30-23 victory over the Jets when the teams met this year in Foxborough. It's never a good thing when Tom Brady is the team's leading rusher, as was the case in that game, when Brady gained 15 yards on four carries. As a team, the Patriots prevailed despite rushing for 16 yards on nine attempts on the day. Look for newcomer Steven Jackson to get some work in an effort to knock off the rest of a season's worth of inactivity. Advantage: Jets


Few backs have been as productive this season as New York's Chris Ivory, who is second in the AFC in rushing. Ivory has run for at least 100 yards in three games this season but had a difficult time last week, when he was held to 37 yards on 13 carries against the Cowboys. Ivory enters Sunday's matchup against New England with a career-high 951 yards rushing and seven touchdowns this year. He was bothered by a sore hamstring when the Patriots beat the Jets 30-23 earlier this season, finishing that game with 41 yards on 17 carries. The New England defense has spent much of the season ranked among the top 10 teams in the league against the run, and lately it has been downright nasty against opposing running backs. This will be a tougher test, however. Advantage: Patriots


New England had the league's No. 1 passing offense through Week 14, and this is the area where the Patriots will likely have to do most of its damage. New England quarterback Tom Brady has passed for at least 300 yards in a game seven times this season, and he completed 34 of 54 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns in the first meeting against the Jets. Tight end Rob Gronkowski caught 11 passes for 108 yards and a TD in that game. Brady has thrown 35 touchdown passes and has had six passes intercepted. The Jets have recorded 13 sacks during their four-game winning streak, and New York has four players with multiple interceptions this season: Marcus Williams, six; Darrelle Revis, four; Marcus Gilchrist, three; and Calvin Pryor, two. The problem here is trying to figure out which potential targets Brady might have at his disposal. If Gronkowski is healthy enough to be effective that should tip the scales in New England's favor. Advantage: Patriots


Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has been the driving force behind New York's four-game winning streak. He's thrown for 10 touchdowns and one interception during that span. Fitzpatrick has passed for a career-high 26 touchdowns this season but will be facing a New England team that ranks among the top 10 in pass defense. Statistically, New York's wide receiver tandem of Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall is one of the best in the league. Marshall has hauled in 11 touchdown passes this season, and Decker has 10 TD receptions. Running back Bilal Powell has also become a key element when the Jets elect to throw. Powell caught seven passes for 54 yards in last Saturday's victory over the Cowboys. He's caught at least five passes in four of New York's last five games. The Patriots could be without Devin McCourty (ankle) and Patrick Chung (hip), and that doesn't bode well considering the secondary has allowed too many big plays recently. Advantage: Jets


Special teams have been a season-long struggle for the Jets, who have had a particularly difficult time covering punts. New York ranked 30th among NFL teams in punt coverage through Week 14 and has surrendered two touchdowns on punt returns. Placekicker Randy Bullock began the year with Houston but was cut after he missed two point-after attempts and a field goal try in the season's first three weeks. The Jets signed Bullock after Nick Folk was placed on injured reserve. Bullock missed a field goal (45 yards) and an extra-point attempt last weekend against Dallas. After a strong start to the season, special teams have been an adventure for the Patriots since over the last month. New England turned the ball over on punt returns against Denver, Houston and Tennessee, and allowed Philadelphia's Darren Sproles to return a punt for a TD while having another blocked for a touchdown. Advantage: Patriots


The Jets have the advantage of playing at home, where they are 5-2 this season. New York is the healthier team and also has more at stake. While the Patriots have their eye on the No. 1 seed for the AFC playoffs, the Jets may need a victory just to remain in the hunt for a postseason berth. New York is among the teams hoping to qualify as a wild card team. Although the Patriots have won eight of the last 10 meetings between the teams, the Jets currently have more momentum. New York's 19-16 victory over Dallas on Saturday night stretched the team's winning streak to four games. New England is coming off a 33-16 victory over Tennessee but is 2-2 in its last four outings. Advantage: Jets

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