When the NFL schedule was revealed, this was a primetime matchup: The Patriots, the long-standing kings of the AFC East, against the (apparently) rising Jets, who had just missed the playoffs last season despite winning 10 games.
Not even two-thirds of the way through the season, the matchup is no longer worthy of the coveted Sunday night time slot. With the Jets struggling along in last place at 3-7, the NFL bumped it in favor of an AFC West showdown between two 7-3 teams, the Chiefs and Broncos.
So what’s at stake here? Plenty for the Patriots, who are tied with the Raiders for the top seed in the AFC. If they want to make sure the road to the Super Bowl goes through Foxborough, they can’t slip up against a struggling division rival just looking to play spoiler.
The Jets should probably be looking to the future and giving Bryce Petty another start at quarterback. But the 2015 fourth-round pick struggled in a 9-6 loss to the Rams, and head coach Todd Bowles is going back to veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is recovered from a sprained MCL.
New England at New York
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 27 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Patriots -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Perhaps the last chance for some Fitz-magic
Todd Bowles decided to turn back to with Ryan Fitzpatrick because he says jobs are earned, not given, and Bryce Petty certainly didn’t earn it with his performance two weeks ago against the Rams (19-of-32, 163 yards and one touchdown on a trick play). But with Fitzpatrick a lame duck playing on a one-year deal and the season going nowhere, one would think that Bowles’ bosses will eventually want to see what they have in Petty or Christian Hackenberg. Fitzpatrick has had some big games against the Patriots, although they haven’t often translated into wins. Four of Fitzpatrick’s 13 career 300-yard games have come against New England, and he threw for 296 yards and three scores without an interception the last time they met in Week 16 last season. But that was just Fitzpatrick’s second win in nine career starts against Bill Belichick and company. While his 18 touchdowns against the Pats are a career high for any opponent, so too are his 17 interceptions.
2. A healthy Gronk matters
Rob Gronkowski missed last week’s game in San Francisco with a chest injury and was limited in practice this week. If he can’t play, it’s a blow to the Pats. Without Gronkowski, Tom Brady completes 66.1 percent of his passes and averages 6.8 yards per attempt. With Gronk, Brady hits 72.1 percent of his passes and averages a whopping 10.3 yards per attempt. When the Jets beat the Pats last season, they held Gronkowski to four catches and kept him out of the end zone. When the Patriots beat New York earlier in the season, Gronkowski caught 11 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Even if Gronkowski is out, Martellus Bennett is still a receiving threat few teams possess at tight end. The only comparable tight end the Jets have faced this season, Seattle’s Jimmy Graham, caught six passes for 113 yards.
3. The Patriots’ sneaky-good running game
While Brady throwing the ball remains their bread and butter, the Patriots have quietly run the ball well this season. Granted, their high rankings (second in rush attempts, sixth in yards) are skewed a bit by Brady missing the season’s first four games. But even since his return, New England is averaging about 107 rushing yards per game, which would put it in the top half of the NFL. LeGarrette Blount ranks sixth in the NFL with 802 rushing yards, and he leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns — eight of which have come since Brady returned. Blount may find the going tough against the Jets, however. New York ranks third in rushing yards allowed per game (85.4) and second in yards per carry against (3.5).
If you look hard, you can find some reasons to consider the Jets in an upset: Ryan Fitzpatrick’s moderate success against the Patriots; Tom Brady's injury (questionable, knee); Rob Gronkowski’s injury; New York’s run defense forcing New England to be one-dimensional. But we had to look really hard. And even then we arrive at a game (most likely) on the shoulders of Brady against a team with an average pass defense (14th in the NFL) that doesn’t get much pressure on the quarterback (19 sacks, tied for 22nd). How many of those has Brady won in his career? So many that one more will be his 200th career win (including postseason) — tied for the most in history with Peyton Manning.