The Patriots didn't blow out the Colts last week like many might've expected, but their offense continues to operate at an extremely high level despite mounting injuries that have hit the team in the last two weeks. Still, what seems to matter most is the dangerous trio of Tom Brady, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. As long as those three are on the field, the Patriots will find a way to move the ball and score. But that will be put to its biggest test yet against a hungry Jets defense that ranks first in points allowed and second in passing yards-per-game.
The Jets' talented defensive front now has support on the backend with the re-acquisitions of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. There might not be a team that can match New England man-for-man better than the Jets can, and new head coach Todd Bowles should have some special defensive schemes to unleash on the vaunted Patriots' offense. The Jets' offense has been surprisingly efficient, led by a potent ground game that has kept the pressure off of Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets should give the Patriots their hardest test of the year on both sides of the ball.
It doesn't get any better than two divisional foes who don't like each other with first place on the line!
New York at New England
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Line: Patriots -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Fitzpatrick Protect the Football?
The Patriots are well familiar with Ryan Fitzpatrick from his days with the Bills and it might surprise some people to know Fitzpatrick had thrown for over 300 yards in four of the six games he played the Pats. Moving the ball against New England has never been a problem for him, it's been the turnovers — in those six games Fitzpatrick has 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. If he can be safe with the football, even if it means taking sacks and check downs, the Jets should stick in this game until the end. Their receivers are bigger than New England's corners and that should help protect Fitzpatrick should he get the urge to throw up a jump ball. There might not be a more important element of this game than the Jets not turning the ball over.
2. New England's Run Defense
Of course the best way to protect Fitzpatrick is to run the ball and the Jets have more rushing yards-per-game than anyone else in the league. Couple that with New England's run defense that is ranked 28th in DVOA and there's no question the Jets will try to pound the ball down the Patriots' mouth. If the Pats are again without Dont'a Hightower, their most physical linebacker against the run, it could be a big blow. New England hasn't faced the combination of threats that the Jets have and it should give us a true barometer of how balanced their defense can be. Usually they'll concede one element or the other, but the Jets have advantages both with their receivers and their running game. It all starts with New England stopping the run though. If they can do that and force long third down yardage, Fitzpatrick will be more likely to make a mistake.
3. Brady Deciphering the Jets' Defense
The Patriots' offense against the Jets' defense is the most fascinating NFL matchup of the weekend. The Jets have just the kind of personnel to derail Tom Brady's offense. With the blitz-heavy scheme of Todd Bowles, decoding what the Jets are doing before the snap will be critical for Brady. Aside from their dominant front seven, the Jets also have Revis and Cromartie, who have plenty of experience against Brady, including Revis' time in New England last year. There will be plenty of games-within-the-game going on in this one, a chess match between two all-time great players and two great schemes. Whoever doesn't flinch in the final quarter will likely be the winner.
The Patriots haven't lost a meaningful divisional game at home since 2008's "Wildcat" game. Yes, the Jets ended the Patriots' season in 2010, and that game is the model for an upset that they must repeat — don't turn the ball over, never let Brady get comfortable, and make the clutch plays in the second half. That's easier said than done of course, but the Jets have more than enough pieces to take the mighty Patriots juggernaut head on. Despite the Patriots' win-loss dominance over the Jets recently, almost every game has been close and two have even gone to overtime. This one should be no different, despite what the gambling line says. Expect it to go down to the fourth quarter, if not the final drive.