Something To Watch When The Pats Are On Offense –
How the Jets' pass rush effects the use of rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez: If New York consistently brings a heavy rush, will the Patriots use more of the blocking-savvy Gronkowski, or will New England try to neutralize the rush by getting Hernandez in space with its little wideouts blanketed by secondary guys? Look for Gronkowski, who will be in tight formations with tight end Alge Crumpler, to break off of blocks in play-action.
Something To Watch When The Pats Are On Defense –
New England has given up the fewest 40-plus-yard pass plays in the NFL (just one), yet the Patriots are 25th in 20-plus-yard plays through the air. It seems like teams aren't bothering to go deep because the underneath stuff is working. Plus, the Patriots are fourth in the league in interceptions (15), so the chance of turning the ball over on a deep play is very likely against New England. Mark Sanchez likes to throw it deep a few times a game, so we'll see how that plays out.
A Patriots Strength –
New England has given up the third-fewest quarterback hits in the NFL (35). Yes, Tom Brady gets the ball off quick and has a plethora of quick receivers that get into space. But while he may be the best in the league at taking what is given to him, his front guys also allow him enough time to find the best option for production so he doesn't always have to check to the first open man. Brady has great cohesion with his front guys. The Patriots were without Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins for over half the season and Stephen Neal has been out due to injury, yet New England has held its ground up front.
A Pats Weakness –
New England gives up first downs on 25 percent of rushing plays. The Patriots' crunch-time (or lack thereof) run defense does not match up well against the No. 2 rushing team in the league in the Jets. With Shonn Greene seeing an expanded role as of late, this might be the key to the Jets keeping New England's offense off of the field… Pound the ball on second- and third-and short.
Matchup to Watch: Dustin Keller against New England's linebackers:
Simply put, Keller is poised for a big game. The Patriots young corners will be keyed in on Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes, and New York can expect some safety help on Edwards so he doesn't beat them deep. That should open up some stuff in the middle for Keller, who has been due for a big game.
Matchup You Should Watch When You're Not Watching The ‘Matchup To Watch' –
New York's safeties on the Patriots tight ends and slot receivers will be something to keep an eye on. The loss of Jim Leonhard means Eric Smith will need to step up, and players and coaches seem to think Smith's "smarts" will go a long way in taking over the main safety position. He will need to have a big game helping the linebackers contain Danny Woodhead and company.
Final Thoughts & Nick's Picking:
It seems that New York will run the ball a lot early to keep the Patriots from getting into a fast groove on offense. It will be a passing affair in the second half, and the Jets' defense makes the difference. Jets win, 24-21.
Follow Nick St. Denis, author of the blog www.OffTheLineFootball.com, at Twitter.com/NickStDenis