Florham Park, N.J. - The New York Jets and the New England Patriots renew their rivalry on Sunday in the first matchup of the year between the two teams. One of the most fierce rivalries in the NFL, the Jets won the last game between the two, a 26-20 overtime victory that saw heroics by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Eric Decker at home. That was two days after Christmas last year, in which the Jets were in the playoff hunt. Now, the Jets sit at 3-7 and at the bottom of the division. On the other side, the Patriots are coasting at 8-2 and are the favorites to win the AFC East for another year. With the playoff light looking dimmer and dimmer, the Jets are starting to play for pride. If they want a win against the Patriots, the Jets need to play flawless in every aspect of the game.
Head coach Todd Bowles announced Monday that Fitzpatrick will be the starting quarterback on Sunday, going toe-to-toe with Tom Brady. "[Fitzpatrick has] been playing all year. He knows more of the system, we can do more things with him," said Bowles on Monday. "I don't give jobs away. You have to take a job."
Bryce Petty didn't play awful against Los Angeles the week before the BYE, but he didn't stand out to be given the job. Fitzpatrick last played in a game in Week Nine, in which he got hurt and threw two interceptions. The last time he threw more than one touchdown was Week One against the Bengals in which he threw two in the loss. Fitzpatrick has had a quarterback rating above 90 three times this season, two being in wins. The Jets have one of the worst passing offenses in the league, ranking 26th with 219.3 yards per game. The Patriots are ranked in the middle of the pack, allowing opponents to throw for 252.1 yards per game. With a completion percentage of 56.4 and a league-leading 13 interceptions, Fitzpatrick needs to be more on point with his throws.
With being more on point with his throws, Fitzpatrick also needs some help from his receivers. Brandon Marshall is not nearly having the year he had last year. This is in part of the quarterback struggles, but at the same time he is not playing at the same level he was last year. He is being heavily covered by opposing secondaries and is getting no help from other receivers to relieve some of the pressure. After catching fire in the beginning of the season and during the Jets two-game win streak, Quincy Enunwa has since been quite. Two catches for 32 yards in two games is something Enunwa would like to move on from. One of the more reliable receivers, he needs to breakout in order for Marshall to get chances. On the bright side, Robby Anderson has had a much larger role in the offense lately. Also, Devin Smith is back on the active roster. He didn't see any action against the Rams, but the BYE week has given him a chance to get back into the playbook and possibly play a large role on Sunday.
The ground game is where the Jets are going to hurt the Patriots. They rank 11th in the league, running for 116 yards per game. On the opposite side, the Patriots allow opponents to run for 103.1 yards per game, ranking 17th in the NFL. Matt Forte is 8th in the league with 732 yards and t-7th with seven rushing touchdowns. What makes his rushing game so dangerous is also the fact that he can catch out the backfield. Forte is fourth on the team with 23 catches adding 179 yards and one touchdown. Throw in Bilal Powell, who is averaging 6.8 yards per carry and 240 receiving yards, and C.J. Spiller, who can do real damage if given the chance, and the Jets have something going if they keep it within the backfield.
Now looking defensively, the Jets can get absolutely burned if they aren't careful. After being suspended for the first four games of the season, Tom Brady is playing unreal. He's thrown for 1,915 yards and a completion percentage of 70.4. Throw in a TD-INT ratio of 16-1, Brady is tearing apart opponents secondaries. With that being said, the Jets don't have a great secondary, ranking 19th in the NFL allowing opponents to throw for 260.5 yards per game. There are seven different players on the roster with receiving touchdowns for the Patriots, so New England has options. They have options out wide with Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, but the Patriots do a good chunk of their damage running a two tight end system with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett. The Jets need to be in full communication with each other in the secondary and need to play out of their minds to contain Brady.
The front seven not only need to bring pressure to Brady, but they need to stop the run. The Jets have been one of the best in stopping the run this season, only allowing 85.4 yards per game. The Patriots, however, run for 118.3 yards per game thanks to a running back named LeGarrette Blount. Blount leads the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns this season and t-6th in yards with 802. Blount is a power runner who will out-muscle opponents. What also benefits the Patriots is that they have Dion Lewis back. Fortunately, the Jets have Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, and Steve McLendon upfront to stop them both. And if he's somehow able to get past them, David Harris and Darron Lee are there to welcome him. They also need to be extremely careful with James White coming out of the back field, as he has 39 receptions and four receiving touchdowns.
The main thing that the Jets need to focus on is capitalizing on every opportunity they get. If they get in the red zone, they need to cross the pylon and not kick field goals. The Jets rank dead-last in red zone scoring, getting 40% of their attempts. This stat is even more alarming when the Jets ranked 3rd last year, converting on 66% of their attempts. If the Jets are able to limit the mistakes while capitalizing on their opportunities, then they have a legitimate shot at beating the Patriots.