Ah, one of the most joyous times of the year, in which everyone can come together and get along with a common goal. Yes, it’s time for the Patriots to play the Jets. The last time these two teams met ended in a nail biter, with New England disappointing many fans. Will this be a close game? Time to take a gander at the matchups!
1. The New England receivers vs the New York defensive backs
Darrelle Revis is still out, so that’s the best cornerback in football that the Patriots need not concern themselves with. Antonio Cromartie has been having a great year, but last time out he had trouble covering Brandon Lloyd; Lloyd simply dropped some of the passes aimed toward him. Kyle Wilson should continue to be targeted, and we might (hopefully) see Aaron Berry. Laron Landry hasn’t had a strong year, but he’s a force in run defense. Yeremiah Bell plays in the box more often, so going deep is absolutely an option.
Yes, Rob Gronkowski is out. This is not in the slightest something that can be discounted. The Patriots barely beat the Jets last time out, and they relied heavily upon the contributions of Gronkowski. Him being out makes this game very difficult to win. Aaron Hernandez needs to step up, Lloyd needs to cut out his drops, Wes Welker needs to run strong and Julian Edelman needs to continue to impact the game. One thing worth mentioning though: on one of Gronkowski’s touchdowns against Indianapolis, he was open because the defensive back had to choose between covering him and covering Visanthe Shiancoe. He chose Shiancoe, leaving Gronk wide open. This is Brady’s game: he finds the open receiver, whether it’s Welker or Michael Hoomanawanui. Gronk being out hurts the Patriots, but they still have the superior talent as long as they play like it.
Edge: New England
2. The New England offensive line vs the New York defensive line
This one is harder. Muhammad Wilkerson has been having an excellent year and will give Dan Connolly trouble. Sione Pouha has yet to return to the dominance of his 2011 campaign but is still a force in the run game. Mike DeVito has been disappointing, but he’s frequently spelled by Quinton Coples, who’s better.
I don’t expect Logan Mankins to play, which means we get to see more Donald Thomas, who’s having a fantastic year for a third string guard. Nate Solder wasn’t atrocious last time out, Ryan Wendell can run block very well, and Sebastian Vollmer is one of the best right tackles in the league. A question arises at right guard – will Connolly or Nick McDonald get the start? Neither is spectacular.
Edge: New England
3. The New England runningbacks vs the New York linebackers
The Jets linebackers have been disappointing this year. There was a time when Bart Scott and David Harris formed one of the strongest inside linebacker duos in the league. Now both have had difficulties in run stopping and pass coverage. Calvin Pace was laughably bad against the Patriots last time out and Garrett McIntyre is starting over Bryan Thomas for some reason.
Ridley’s slowed up a bit after his very impressive start, but he can still run against this team. Shane Vereen plays differently than Brandon Bolden but he plays almost as well. A player that absolutely needs to be focused on is Danny Woodhead – I think he’s one who’ll have a great game today.
Edge: New England
4. The New York receivers vs the New England defensive backs
It’s hard to think of a worse receiving corps than the Jets. Stephen Hill is really raw. Jeremy Kerley is a very good slot receiver, but not incredible. Chaz Schilens is no one to write home about. Clyde Gates is practically an after thought. Dustin Keller will probably get targets based more on the defense he’s facing than his own talent.
Unfortunately, I think the rest of the defense will also disappoint. What do you want from me? Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard had sick-nasty pick-sixes against the Colts, and they form a great cornerback duo, Talib also gave up more than 100 yards and two touchdowns. He’s still adjusting to a new a system and shaking the rust off from his suspension. Devin McCourty ought to start at free safety, where he’s been good. I hope Pat Chung plays strong safety; anyone but Steve Gregory, please. I have a feeling whether it’s Chung, Gregory or even Tavon Wilson who plays strong safety, we’ll be a little disappointed. I still don’t have confidence in Kyle Arrington. Until this group can prove to me that they can stop even a terrible receiving corps with a worse quarterback, I refuse to give them the advantage in any game.
Edge: New York
5. The New York offensive line vs the New England defensive line
I’ve been a fan of the New York offensive line for awhile now. Nick Mangold is arguably the best center of this generation, D’Brickashaw Ferguson is still playing at a high level, Matt Slauson is having the best year of his life (i.e. playing about average), Brandon Moore is still doing fine, and Austin Howard is average.
The key to beating this line is with matchups. Rob Ninkovich feasted on Howard last time out. Unfortunately, Chandler Jones is out, meaning Jermaine Cunningham will be forced to play more on the outside. Worse yet, Trevor Scott may spell him at LDE. Ninkovich is the one you want on Austin Howard. The most important thing here is for the Patriots to blitz in the absence of Jones. Mark Sanchez is exposed when he’s pressured, and losing the best pass rusher means dialing up the blitz.
Edge: New York if the Patriots don’t blitz; New England if the Patriots do blitz
6. The New York runningbacks vs the New England linebackers
Shonn Greene hasn’t shown me anything in his career, although he certainly ran over Craig Dahl against St. Louis in violent fashion. He’s a runningback who needs to be taken out around the legs. Bilal Powell doesn’t impress me, but Joe McKnight can be used in a variety of ways a la Edelman.
The linebackers for the Patriots have been excellent at stuffing the run all season, with Brandon Spikes being especially adept at runs up the middle. It’ll be nice to see Dont’a Hightower with more playing time, while Jerod Mayo needs to step it up. The only thing that concerns me about this group is their pass coverage ability – which is very, very concerning.
Edge: New England
Even though I gave the edge primarily to New England, it’s tough for me to pick them here. The Jets have home field advantage and would have beaten New England if not for a Stephen Hill drop. The Patriots got abused by the Buffalo offense, and worse, they’ve been abused by Mark Sanchez already. Kerley against Arrington still gives me chills. This is one of those games that I really do not have a lot of confidence. In the end, I’ll make things very simple – I’m going to pick the better team. I just hope Hernandez and Shiancoe step up.
Final score: New England 28, New York 27
You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.