Final thoughts and questions before Patriots/Jets

The New England Patriots (10-5) host the New York Jets (4-11) today at Gillette Stadium, with AFC playoff seeding and a first-round bye still on the line.

Tom Brady’s New England Patriots will take the field today for their final game of the 2018 regular season.

If they beat the New York Jets – or if the Houston Texans lose at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars – then the Patriots will lock up a first-round bye, and can spend next weekend getting healthy, rested, and ready by watching Wild Card Weekend rather than by participating in it.

If Todd Bowles’ Jets can somehow pull off the massive upset (New England is a two-touchdown favorite as of Sunday morning), then the Patriots stand a very real chance of tumbling all the way down to the No. 3 or even No. 4 seed. In that scenario, they would most likely host either the Titans, Colts, or the Chargers next weekend in Foxborough.

Belichick’s Patriots have never advanced to the Super Bowl after starting their postseason playing on Wild Card Weekend. It’s a somewhat surprising statistic that doesn’t instill confidence in this team should they find themselves listed in next weekend’s schedule of games; though if anyone can buck a trend like that, it’s Belichick and Brady.

Still, the most surefire route to an eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game appearance (and potentially their fourth Super Bowl appearance in five years) is through a first-round bye, so the Patriots have everything in the world to play for today.

The Jets, on the other hand, are playing more for pride and development of their young talent than anything else at this point. Long since eliminated from playoff contention, reports are already coming out that today could be Bowles’ final game as head coach of the team. The Jets figure to try and send him out in style if that’s the case, and dispatching their longtime rival on the road would certainly be a fitting way to do so.

Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold also has another opportunity to impress members of the media as he jockeys with Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley for Rookie of the Year honors. Darnold is just one of a number of young Jets players under the age of 30 that GM Mike Maccagnan should be monitoring with a close eye today as New York continues its lengthy rebuild.

From an injury perspective, the Patriots and the Jets stand at opposite ends of the spectrum.

New England has five players listed on their final injury report, only one of whom has been downgraded to ‘out:’ tight end Jacob Hollister. Fellow tight end Dwayne Allen, receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, tackle LaAdrian Waddle, and linebacker Brandon King are all listed as ‘questionable.’ Of that group, Patterson is the most significant loss if he can’t go today, as he brings an element of unpredictability and versatility to Josh McDaniels’ offense.

New York also has five players listed on their injury report, but four of those five are already ‘out:’ receivers Jermaine Kearse and Quincy Enunwa, cornerback Morris Claiborne, and linebacker Kevin Pierre Louis. High-priced free agent addition Trumaine Johnson is also listed as a healthy scratch today, after being disciplined earlier in the week by Bowles for an in-house matter.

Figuring in all the injuries and incentives for both teams in today’s clash, it would be a minor miracle if the Jets come out on top over the Patriots. Expect New England to come out highly-motivated, and to put together one of their strongest showings of the season as they turn the page to postseason football in Foxborough.