Leave it to Jets head coach Rex Ryan to get the ball rolling on what New England fans traditionally refer to as "Jets week" around the Foxborough area.
On Monday, Ryan put all the pressure on himself, claiming the reason the Jets got plastered, 45-3, on Dec. 6 was because Bill Belichick "out-coached" him, not because the players didn't execute (or whatever other reasoning coaches come up with for lopsided losses). Furthermore, he said Sunday's rematch in the divisional playoffs will hinge on which coach can outmaneuver the other, and that if Belichick "slips up," the Jets will win.
Belichick, as expected, had a much different take on the issue. Asked if this week's matchup is all about he and Ryan matching wits, Belichick quipped, "I might have a little quickness on him, he might have a little more strength and power on me," before adding, "I don't think you will see either one of us out there making any blocks or tackles."
The bottom line, despite what Ryan suggests, is the Jets must find a way to do what few teams have done since 2007, which is beat the Patriots at home with Tom Brady at quarterback. The Ravens did it last year in the postseason, but Brady hasn't lost a regular-season game at Gillette Stadium since 2006, so his track record at home is solid, to say the least. The Jets also need to erase the bad taste from their mouths stemming from that lopsided loss in December and find a way to be more competitive, similar to their effort in Week 2 when they beat the Patriots in New York.
Apparently, Ryan's plan is to take the pressure off his players and put the target directly on his back, as evident by his comments Monday, but he's also doing his best to send a few jabs in Brady's direction. Before last week's game against the Colts, Ryan -- in his own unique way -- suggested Manning is the more studious quarterback of the two, and when told Monday that Brady attended a Broadway play instead of watching Saturday's divisional playoff game, Ryan quipped, "Peyton Manning would've been watching our game."
What may seem like good-natured fun right now could turn ugly on Sunday afternoon. As for Ryan's insinuation that Brady benefits from the help of his coaches, Brady said, "I get a ton of help from our coaches. Of course we do. I think we have the best coach in the history of football. We have a great offensive staff, a great defensive staff that get all the players prepared."
The fun is just beginning, and we're not even halfway through the week yet. Just imagine what both sides will be saying as the game gets even closer.
"We're all at the point this year where we're motivated by much more than what someone may say about us," Brady said. "We're motivated by the fact that we have a great opportunity to be playing a division rival at home in the most important game of the year. That's plenty of motivation for us.
"We're going to let our play do the talking as we always do. There's going to be a lot of hype and buildup and people saying things. The reality is none of it matters. What matters is that whistle is going to blow at 4:30 on Sunday night and the team that executes the best and is the most prepared is the team that's going to win."
--The Patriots have compiled an 8-5 all-time record in divisional playoff games, including 5-1 at home and 3-0 at Gillette Stadium. Their only home loss was in 1978, the first home playoff game in franchise history.
--New England and New York will meet in the playoffs Sunday for the third time. The Patriots won a first-round game, 26-14, at Giants Stadium in 1985 to begin their run to the AFC championship. The Patriots' 2006 team also beat the Jets, 37-16, at Gillette Stadium in a first-round game in January of 2007.
--The Patriots are 11-2 at home in the playoffs in their history. Twelve of the franchise's 13 home playoff games have taken place since Robert Kraft purchased the team 17 years ago. After Kraft bought the team, the Patriots won 11 consecutive home playoff games before experiencing a home loss last year against Baltimore.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--QB Tom Brady said he's not aggravated or motivated by Rex Ryan's comments suggesting Brady doesn't study as much as Peyton Manning does. "I don't think anything people say bothers me over the years," Brady said. "People have had their opinion over the years and I feel really confident with our team and the way our team prepares each week and I'm sure we'll be prepared going into this game on Sunday.
Brady won his 100th game as a starter on Monday Night Football at Miami in October. He is the 11th NFL quarterback to register 100 wins as a starting quarterback. Brady reached the milestone in the fewest number of starts (131) among quarterbacks who began their careers in the Super Bowl era (since 1966).
--RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished the 2010 season with 1,008 rushing yards, becoming the first Patriots player to top the 1,000-yard rushing mark since Corey Dillon had a team-record 1,635 rushing yards in 2004.
--TE Rob Gronkowski finished first among all rookie tight ends with 10 touchdown catches, while Aaron Hernandez ranked second with six. Gronkowski and Hernandez are the first pair of rookie tight-end teammates with at least five TD receptions in the same season in NFL history.
--QB Brian Hoyer recorded his first career touchdown pass on a 44-yard pass to Brandon Tate in the season finale against Miami. The completion to Tate was his second NFL touchdown; he had his first NFL touchdown on a 1-yard rush last year against Tennessee.
REPORT CARD ENTERING PLAYOFFS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-plus -- You can't argue with Tom Brady's numbers. This might've been his greatest season ever, even better than his performance in 2007 when he threw 50 touchdown passes. The difference this year is Brady was more efficient and made fewer mistakes. The emergence of rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez played a factor, as did the return of Deion Branch.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- When Kevin Faulk suffered a season-ending injury shortly after the Patriots traded Laurence Maroney, the run game appeared to be in trouble, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis recorded his first career 1,000-yard season and Danny Woodhead provided a spark as a change-of-pace back to keep the Patriots among the best in the league in rushing. Coupled with tremendous production from their offensive line, the Patriots never missed a beat despite the injuries.
PASS DEFENSE: B-minus -- The Patriots had serious problems defending the pass at the beginning of the season, but they made progress as the weeks went by, specifically in terms of forcing turnovers. Rookie CB Devin McCourty led the team in interceptions and the Patriots eventually developed into one of the best ball-hawking defenses in the league. They still give up a lot of yards from time to time, but they've limited the number of points they've allowed by coming up with timely takeaways.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The front seven has been up and down all year. Injuries to Ty Warren and Mike Wright have left the team thin at times, and NT Vince Wilfork has had to play different roles. Through it all, they've been relatively consistent at stopping the run, though there have been weeks in which they've been unable to prevent the opponent from controlling the clock. This, along with the pass defense, could be the team's only weakness heading into the postseason.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Even without kicker Stephen Gostkowski, the Patriots tend to have the edge in special teams each week. Shayne Graham has filled in nicely and the coverage units have been solid. More important, the Patriots have a not-so-secret weapon in WR Julian Edelman, who could play a factor with a big punt or kick return in the postseason.
COACHING: A-plus -- No one makes the right call more often than Bill Belichick, and no one has gotten more out of his talent either. Even with injuries on both sides of the ball, and some question marks in the secondary, the Patriots won 14 games this season. That is a remarkable feat regardless of the circumstances. In any matchup, Belichick has the clear edge, and that could be enough to push the Patriots over the top in an otherwise hotly-contested playoff showdown.