The 9-5 New York Jets host the 12-2 New England Patriots Sunday, with the Jets currently sitting on the outside of the playoffs looking in. The Jets have been surging in recent weeks; having won four games in row, but are still losing the AFC wild card tiebreaker to the Chiefs and Steelers. With just two games left, the Jets' postseason fate is hanging by a string and they'll need to beat their longtime rival at home to keep hope alive.
The Patriots sewed up a first-round playoff bye last week and need just one win in their final two games to clinch the top overall seed in the conference. New England figures to be once again undermanned with injuries to Danny Amendola, Patrick Chung, Devin McCourty and Dont'a Hightower in the last two weeks that should keep the Patriots from being at maximum strength. The most interesting Patriot to watch will be the newest – running back Steven Jackson was signed this week and should see immediate carries for the depleted Pats.
Regardless of playoff position or personnel, these two teams always have close games that go down to the wire and this one should be no exception.
New England at New York
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Patriots -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Fitz Keep the Magic Going?
Ryan Fitzpatrick has been the quarterback the Jets have been looking for, and his chemistry with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker has been the biggest key to the Jets' resurgence this season. The biggest key for the Jets and Fitzpatrick will be to play safe with the ball in this one. The Patriots prey on turnovers, but have also turned a corner on defense this year, putting up some of their best overall numbers since the 2007 season. If the Jets hold on to the ball, they'll have a very good chance to win.
2. Brady and Weapons
With Danny Amendola re-injuring his knee, it's likely the Patriots' top targets in this one will be Rob Gronkowski, Brandon LaFell and Keshawn Martin. The critical problem area is on third down, where Tom Brady has had to get by without Julian Edelman, his most reliable receiver. The Jets can now key on Gronk, forcing Brady to beat them with Martin. Martin has certainly made strides this season, but is he ready to be Brady's go-to security blanket? Then there's new addition Steven Jackson. The Jets’ run defense is stout and the Pats avoided it the first time around by sticking with a pass-heavy attack. But if Jackson can bust some plays, or even just pick up a third-and-short, he could be an interesting unknown commodity that future opponents won't quite be sure of.
3. Playoff Preview?
This might not be the last time these two rivals meet, as the Jets should match up well with any potential first-round wild card opponent, even on the road. However the Patriots could ease off the gas this week with the bye already secured. The Pats will most certainly be a different team by the time they reach the divisional round with players like Edelman, Amendola, Dont’a Hightower and Devin McCourty all expected to return at that point.
Things are pointing favorably to the Jets in this one. Most often the team that needs a win more is the team that wins, and the Jets definitely need this one more than the Patriots. With the constant rash of injuries this year, the Patriots could just choose to play it safe, rest some guys and focus on clinching the top seed next week against a Dolphins team with nothing to play for. Still, a win over the Patriots at this point in the season would be a huge boost, both in the standings and for the morale of their team, and possibly propel them into being one of the most dangerous teams in the AFC playoff field.