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NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (9-2) at New England (9-2)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - As one of the NFL's best rivalries in recent years, a game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots doesn't need any additional hype to pique the interest of the general public. But with both teams presently co-holding the league's best record and getting the platform of a stand-alone Monday night stage, this week's showdown between the AFC powerhouses may be the most highly-anticipated matchup of the 2010 season.
The Jets and Patriots each enter this titanic clash boasting glossy 9-2 ledgers that place the two AFC East foes at the top of the conference heap and put them alongside NFC front-runner Atlanta for the most victories in the NFL after the season's first 12 weeks. With the winner gaining the inside track to the AFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the upcoming playoffs, it's quite easy to justify all the buildup that will surround Foxborough's Gillette Stadium on Monday.
There's also the simple fact that these two combatants simply don't like one another, with the bad blood dating back to when Patriots head coach Bill Belichick -- then the Jets' defensive coordinator -- abruptly resigned upon being tabbed to replace Bill Parcells as New York's sideline boss following the 1999 season to accept the same post in New England.
Plenty of subsequent incidents have helped maintain the animosity, from the contentious feud between Belichick and one-time disciple Eric Mangini during the latter's tenure as the Jets head coach, New York's whistle-blowing on the Pats in the infamous "Spygate" episode of 2007, and Mangini's successor Rex Ryan's boisterous claims this past summer that the Jets, who placed second to New England in the division last season but reached the conference title game as a Wild Card entry, were the AFC's team to beat heading into the 2010 campaign.
The Jets helped back Ryan's claims with a 28-14 home victory over the Patriots back in Week 2, in which New York scored 18 unanswered points in the second half and pressured New England quarterback Tom Brady into his worst showing of the season. The Patriots mustered a paltry 80 total yards after intermission, with Brady misfiring on nine of his 16 pass attempts and throwing two interceptions over the final two quarters.
The superstar signal-caller has been much better as of late, however. Brady brings a career-best streak of 199 straight passes without an interception into Monday's encounter, and he was brilliant in New England's 45-24 Thanksgiving Day triumph over Detroit, completing 21-of-27 throws for 341 yards and four touchdowns for a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating.
Brady's been almost as flawless on his home field over the past few years, having won his last 25 regular-season starts at Gillette Stadium to match an NFL record initially set by Brett Favre from 1997-99. The 2007 league MVP hasn't lost in a non-playoff setting in Foxborough since the Mangini-led Jets posted a 17-14 decision on Nov. 21, 2006.
New York, which also won at New England in 2008 with Brady sidelined with a torn ACL, has an impressive run of its own going on right now. The Jets have won a franchise-record eight straight contests on the road and are 5-0 as the visitor thus far this season.
The Jets extended their overall winning streak to four in a row with a 26-10 home verdict over Cincinnati on Thanksgiving, netting all but three of those points in the second half to prevail.
The Jets hold a 51-48-1 edge in their all-time regular season series with the Patriots following the previously-noted Week 2 verdict. The teams had a conventional split of last year's home-and-home set, with New England claiming a 31-14 decision at Gillette Stadium, while New York earned a hard-fought 34-31 overtime victory on the road back in 2008. That win was only the Jets' second in their last seven non-playoff stops in Foxborough.
The teams have also met twice in the postseason, including a 26-14 road win for New England in a 1985 AFC First-Round Playoff and a 37-16 triumph for the Pats in a 2006 opening-round tilt.
Belichick has a career mark of 15-9 against the Jets, for whom he served as defensive coordinator from 1997 through 1999, including a 14-8 during his tenure with the Patriots. Ryan is 2-1 against both Belichick and the Pats since becoming New York's head coach in 2009.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
New York's usual offensive mindset is to employ a ball-control approach centered around the running-back tandem of revitalized veteran LaDainian Tomlinson (741 rushing yards, 5 TD, 45 receptions) and second-year bruiser Shonn Greene (575 rushing yards, 1 TD, 9 receptions). It's an approach that has bred success, as the Jets stand second in the NFL in rushing yards (148.1 ypg) and fourth in time of possession (32:49) and have turned the ball over a total of only 13 times. Though quarterback Mark Sanchez (2472 passing yards, 16 TD, 8 INT) is often utilized as more of a game-manager in the system, the 2009 first-round pick is capable of doing some damage with his arm, as evidenced by his excellent September performance against the Patriots in which he threw for 220 yards and three scores on 21-of-30 passing. Tight end Dustin Keller (39 receptions, 5 TD) was Sanchez's preferred target that day, compiling a career-best 115 yards and a touchdown on seven catches, but he's taken a back seat to wide receivers Santonio Holmes (32 receptions, 4 TD) and Braylon Edwards (35 receptions, 6 TD) in the pecking order as of late. New York's 11th-ranked offense (361.6 ypg) also has another dangerous weapon in versatile wideout Brad Smith (216 rushing yards, 1 TD), who sparked the comeback win over the Bengals with a 55-yard touchdown run and an 89-yard kick return for a score.
The Jets will have opportunities to make plays on a New England defense that's given up the second-highest yardage total (399.1 ypg) in the league and rates dead last in passing yards allowed (288.1 ypg), first downs surrendered (23.6/gm.) and opposing completion percentage (68.3 pct.). The Patriots have been adept at forcing turnovers, though, having snared 15 interceptions for the year and five in wins over New England and Detroit leading up to this game. Rookie cornerback Devin McCourty (61 tackles, 5 INT, 12 PD) has been especially opportunistic lately, having picked off three passes during that time frame, while free safety Brandon Meriweather (50 tackles, 2 INT) has racked up 11 interceptions over the past two-plus seasons. New England has been pretty solid against the run for the most part, although the Jets did gain 136 rushing yards in the Week 2 meeting, but generating a consistent pass rush has been a problem, one compounded by the possibility of leading sacker Mike Wright (14 tackles, 5.5 sacks) missing a second straight week with a concussion. The Patriots did take down Sanchez three times earlier this season, with end Gerard Warren (20 tackles, 2.5 sacks) recording two of those sacks, while a front seven headed by active inside linebacker Jerod Mayo (132 tackles, 1 sack) and two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork (41 tackles) will be in charge of keeping the Jets' stout running game in check.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL
There's little question that the Patriots wouldn't be in their present position without the marvelous play of Brady (2703 passing yards, 23 TD, 4 INT), who's been turnover-free in all but three games this season and continues to excel despite an ever-changing cast of supporting parts. Though he still has his go-to guy in always-reliable wide receiver Wes Welker (65 receptions, 6 TD), who's fresh off a season-high 90-yard, two-touchdown display against the Lions, Brady's been able to make do in spite of the team's trade of playmaker Randy Moss in October and a pair of talented rookies, tight ends Rob Gronkowski (25 receptions, 6 TD) and Aaron Hernandez (36 receptions, 3 TD), having to step into important roles. The midseason acquisition of veteran wideout Deion Branch (46 receptions, 4 TD) has helped the cause, however, with the ex-Seahawk ably stepping into Moss' old position and making a key contribution to the league's highest-scoring offense (30.4 ppg). New England's also gotten good production out of the backfield duo of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (627 rushing yards, 9 TD) and Danny Woodhead (344 rushing yards, 24 receptions, 4 TD), a former Jet who's averaging 5.4 yards per carry and been an impact receiver in passing situations. The Patriots have been one of the league's most efficient teams, having committed just nine giveaways on the year and ranking third in third-down conversion percentage (45.2 pct.).
The Jets will try to combat New England's potent attack with an aggressive defense that's yielded the third-fewest yards in the NFL (296.9 ypg) and is fourth overall in both points allowed (17.0 ppg) and against the run (86.3 ypg). Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis (18 tackles, 8 PD) and Antonio Cromartie (33 tackles, 3 INT, 15 PD) are both outstanding in press coverage, which enables Ryan to dial up a steady diet of blitz packages that were able to frustrate Brady into an off day in the earlier matchup. Though New York lacks an elite pass rusher, outside linebacker Calvin Pace (33 tackles, 3.5 sacks) is a good one and 14-year veteran Jason Taylor (28 tackles, 4 sacks) has shown he can still be effective in a situational role. Don't anticipate the Patriots doing much on the ground against a sturdy front seven that's held the opposition to 3.4 yards per carry, the second-lowest figure in the league, and stifled Cincinnati for 46 rushing yards on 20 attempts on Thanksgiving. Inside linebacker David Harris (74 tackles, 2 sacks) tops the team in tackles, and he and counterpart Bart Scott (57 tackles, 1 sack) are helped out by a couple of quality space-eaters up front in nose tackle Sione Pouha (37 tackles, 1 sack) and end Mike Devito (42 tackles). The Jets have managed just seven interceptions on the year, however, and face a quarterback that hasn't thrown one in six straight games this week.
Brady owners have certainly benefited from his tremendous roll, and in a game where the Patriots may be forced to throw often, he's once again a recommended choice. Since Branch may draw the unfortunate assignment of Revis here, it may be best to explore other avenues, but that could in turn open up space for players such as Welker and Gronkowski to enjoy productive days. Don't discount Woodhead, a key element of New England's passing game, at the running back position, while Green-Ellis has scored three touchdowns over the past two weeks and has some value as well. Holmes is New York's best receiver and should be started against a defense that's permitted a ton of passing yards, and Edwards is also a decent choice due to the same logic. Sanchez remains a risky play, however, especially if the Jets go to a run-oriented game plan, and Keller's numbers have really dropped off in recent weeks. Tomlinson is safe to use, however, and Smith's a sleeper pick in leagues that count return yards. The New York defense is customarily a mainstay in weekly lineups, but keep in mind that the Pats are the league's highest-scoring team and rarely turn the ball over. Avoid slumping Jets kicker Nick Folk, and there are better options than New England's Shayne Graham at that position as well.
In reality, the Jets are the more talented of these two teams from top-to- bottom, and their success on the road helps counteract the Patriots' usual prowess at home. New England has the ultimate equalizer in Brady, however, and you can bet he'll come up with a way to find some soft spots in a New York defense that's given up yards to lesser quarterbacks over the course of this season. Look for the Jets to dictate the pace by going conservative on offense and controlling the clock, and for the crafty Patriots to adapt and induce at least one critical mistake out of the sometimes erratic Sanchez. New York will win the majority of the statistical battles, but New England could come on top in the two that matter most -- turnovers and points.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Patriots 17, Jets 10
12/03 16:26:56 ET