Jets vs. Patriots: Familiar Foes Fight for Trip to AFC Championship
Rex Ryan. Bill Belichick. Mark Sanchez. Tom Brady. Darrelle Revis. Devin McCourty. For those of you that said "Who?" to the last name, we'll get to him in a second. Jets-Patriots: The Threequel is upon us.
The top-seeded Patriots are everyone's favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl (and likely to win the big game as well). It's hard to argue against the sentiment -- Brady's bunch has won eight straight while remaining undefeated at home, and New England leads the league with 518 points scored this season. How high is that number? The second-best scoring team in football (the Chargers) have 441 points, a difference of 77 points.
The Jets have a different formula, centered more around preventing points. In seven of their 16 regular-season games this year, their opponents have failed to top 14 points. That defensive excellence carried over to their wild-card game against the Colts, as New York stymied the Colts offense all night long, holding them to 16 points. How many teams have held the Colts under 17 points in the regular season? Just one.
Does offense trump defense? Will New England's home-field advantage carry over to the playoffs? One thing is for sure -- this a marquee matchup in the playoff's second round.
Sunday, Jan. 16, 4:30 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. It will be televised by CBS. The Jets-Patriots game will be the final game of the divisional round.
As they do every season, these two teams battled twice during the 2010 regular season. Most recently, the Patriots dismantled the Jets in Foxborough in Week 13, scoring 17 points in the first quarter and piling it on in the second half to win, 45-3. However, the Jets delivered one of New England's two losses way back in Week 2, scoring two touchdowns and a field goal in the second half, while shutting the Patriots out in the final 30 minutes, to win 28-14.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead vs. the Jets' front seven.
The casual fan will assume the key to a Jets win is stopping Tom Brady. Not so. The MVP candidate is going to put up numbers no matter how well the Jets play -- back in Week 2, Brady managed 248 yards, two TDs and two interceptions while completing 55 percent of his passes. Those numbers aren't great, but the 72.5 passer rating Brady posted in the game was just a shade shy of Mark Sanchez's season mark of 75.3.
Nor can the Jets hope to keep up with Brady and Belichick in a shootout. If the Patriots reach 35 points in this game -- their season average is 32.4 points per game -- the Jets have next to no shot at competing.
The Jets' ability to stop the Patriots' offense will likely fall to their defense of the running game. In Week 2's win, the Jets only surrendered 52 yards on 20 carries. With Green-Ellis (10 carries, 19 yards) and the other members of New England's rushing attack a non-factor, Brady was forced to attempt shorter passes in order to sustain drives.
Fast forward to Week 13. Green-Ellis rushed for 72 yards and two TDs on 18 carries, as the Patriots rushing attack averaged a healthier 3.9 yards per carry. Furthermore, dual-threat Danny Woodhead had two pass receptions of more than 35 yards, finishing the day with 104 yards on four receptions. With the Jets more worried about the Patriots' running backs, Brady was able to pass for 326 yards and four TDs. Despite adding an additional 78 yards to his Week 2 total, Brady completed just one more pass in Week 13 than he did in Week 2, while throwing no interceptions.
First and foremost, the Jets must strive to keep the New England offense off the field. The more chances you give Brady and Belichick, the more likely this game will turn into an offensive show and a Patriots blowout. The Jets must focus on getting a couple first downs every time they have the ball, whether the drive ultimately leads to points or not. A shorter game (i.e., fewer drives for both teams) favors the Jets. The New York offense is third in the league in terms of time of possession, so this may not be as hard to accomplish as one might think.
Other than that, the key is to play mistake-free football. In their Week 2 win over the pats, the Jets didn't turn the ball over once. They hit both their field goals, including a 49-yarder. They won the field-position game, averaging 51.3 yards per punt. Of the Patriots' nine drives, the best starting position they had was their own 34-yard line. Shorten the field for the New England offense, and you've done a great job of beating yourself.
In New England's win over the Jets this season, New York turned the ball over three times; averaged only 30.7 yards per punt; and went 1 of 2 in field-goal attempts, missing from 53 yards. In the first quarter of the game, New England had three drives, starting on its own 25-yard line, 43-yard line and the Jets' 32-yard line. After 15 minutes, the score was 17-0 and the game was essentially over.
Last week, the Jets actually forced the Colts to rush the ball more than they passed it. This despite the fact that Indianapolis had averaged 42.4 pass attempts and 24.6 rush attempts per game this season. Manning constantly checked to the run on third down, perhaps fearful that Revis' presence severely limited his options in the passing game. The Patriots may have more weapons than the Colts, but New England's passing attack flows through two rookie tight ends and two slot-type receivers. The Jets defense can be burned -- Pierre Garcon showed that -- but the Patriots aren't exactly ripe with big-play potential. Will success come from sustained drives and short passes or from finding the big play against the Jets?
On defense, the Patriots are going to have to take advantage of mistakes. Odds are Sanchez will force some passes into areas he shouldn't, and it'll be on the Patriots to pick him off as they did in Week 13. McCourty has turned into a Pro Bowl-caliber player in a hurry, finally giving the Patriots a competent replacement for Asante Samuel. McCourty's seven interceptions actually tied Samuel and Troy Polamalu for second in the NFL behind Ed Reed. Unlike Samuel, he can make the sure tackle if he doesn't get the pick -- his 82 total tackles easily dwarfed the totals of those other three defensive backs. Sanchez will definitely throw the ball his way, and if McCourty can come up with a big play or two, the Jets' fate could be sealed.
The Patriots have been on a roll since dropping that Week 2 game to the Jets, winning 13 of their last 14 games and playing exactly one competitive game in their last six victories. That run included three playoff teams: the Packers, Bears and these Jets.
The Jets certainly have gained momentum by dispatching of the team that eliminated them in last season's playoffs, but will momentum and familiarity be enough to counteract the Patriots? Expect the Jets to rise to the occasion, but the Patriots are just too good to beat at home. Patriots 31, Jets 24.