It looks like New England could be without three wide receivers this week. Deion Branch continues to battle a knee injury, and he is listed as doubtful. Branch led the Patriots in receptions last year. Troy Brown, who has always given the Jets fits, is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. Both Branch and Brown have missed the last three games, and neither player practiced on Wednesday. It's unlikely either one will play this Sunday. This week the Patriots put promising rookie wideout P.K. Sam on injured reserve. While he has no catches on the year, he gave the team quality depth.
With those three likely out this week, the Patriots will rely mainly on David Givens, David Patten and Bethel Johnson. Givens has emerged as the favorite receiver of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady this season, but he's not particularly fast, so he shouldn't be a big problem for the Jets cornerbacks, who aren't blessed with great speed. The speedy Patten could give the Jets cornerbacks the biggest problem, but he's more of a journeyman type. While Johnson had a big game last week, he was in the doghouse of Patriots coach Bill Belichick two weeks ago, and was inactive for the Miami game. Johnson has world class speed, as he displayed on his 48-yard reception against Seattle last week, but he has very inconsistent hands and doesn't run great routes.
Also banged up on the Patriots offense is RT Tom Ashworth, who is questionable with a back injury. He didn't practice on Wednesday. If Ashworth doesn't play, this would benefit the Jets because he did a great job against Jets DE Shaun Ellis last year. If he can't go, inexperienced Brandon Gorin would have to play, and the Jets should be able to exploit him.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots RCB Tyrone Poole is nursing a bad knee, and is listed as questionable. He didn't practice on Wednesday. Poole missed the Bills-Patriots game two weeks ago due to this injury. He came back last week against Seattle, but clearly wasn't 100 percent and was torched by Seahawks WR Koren Robinson for nine catches. If Poole plays, look for the Jets to pick on him. If the Jets can get 6-2 Justin McCareins on Poole, they could exploit the 5-8 cornerback. That is what Seattle did last week with the 6-2 Robinson.
The Jets enter this game fairly healthy. They will be without two rookie defensive backs, CB Derrick Strait and S Rashad Washington, but there shouldn't be a big dropoff with their replacements. Veteran Terrell Buckley replaces Strait as the team's nickel back, and Derek Pagel takes on Washington special teams role.
It's possible the Jets may have MLB Sam Cowart back for this game. He missed the last three games with a knee injury, but he's listed as questionable for the Patriots game, and did practice on Wednesday. If he does play, he likely won't start since Jonathan Vilma has done such a good job in his place. Plus the Jets would likely look to ease him back into the action.
The Jets will get back three key offensive starters who missed last week's game. Starting guards Pete Kendall (toe) and Brandon Moore (hamstring), along with WR/PR Santana Moss are listed as probable and should play. Getting Kendall and Moore back should help the Jets deal with the Patriots talented front seven. Moss will help the Jets stretch the New England defense. His speed was missed last week.
It is illegal to reprint this story on any message board or website.