The Patriots and Jets renew their rivalry in Foxboro this Sunday, but this time the game isn't just about the hatred between the two organizations. The Jets have been one of the surprise teams in the league, starting 4-1 and giving the Patriots a legitimate threat to their long hold on the AFC East. Darrelle Revis, who has played like an MVP to date, returns to the place he played for only one season but accomplished more than anything he's ever done in another uniform. It will be interesting to see how Patriots fans treat him. Let's take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the two teams and decide who will win the game.
When the Patriots Run: The Patriots are ranked 21st in the league in rushing, averaging just over 97 yards per game. One of the reasons for the lower ranking is the design of the offense- the short passing game is, in the coaching staff's eyes, the modern running game, and it is something they are excellent at. As far as just straight up running, New England's ranking is a bit deceiving because they have had success. The problem the Patriots have this week is they are facing the number two ranked rush defense in the Jets, a defense that allows just 82.6 rushing yards per game. New York has an excellent defensive line, smart veteran linebackers, and a secondary that isn't afraid to come up and tackle ball carriers. The Patriots will run the ball at times, but if they are going to win this game, they'll have to do it through the air. Advantage, Jets
When the Patriots Pass: This is where things will be very interesting; the Patriots boast the number two rated passing game in football, averaging 325 yards per game through the air. The Jets pass defense is also rated number two in the NFL, allowing just over 186 yards per contest. Something has to give, and this matchup is going to decide who wins the ballgame. Revis should be matched up on Julian Edelman all night, and Antonio Cromartie will most likely be covering Brandon LaFell, who appears to be ready to go after being removed from the PUP list this week. Can the Jets slow down Rob Gronkowski using man to man coverage? It's a valid question because nobody else has been able to. When the Colts shut Gronk down in the first half last week, they were playing a zone designed specifically to stop him. It worked for awhile, but the Jets don't use the same coverages. Look for Gronkowski to be a big part of the gameplan, along with scatback Dion Lewis. Lewis is going to have a big game because Brady isn't afraid to take the checkdown and the Jets linebackers tend to struggle in pass coverage. Revis and Cromartie will slow down the outside guys, but New England just has too many options to completely stop them. Advantage, Patriots, by a small margin.
When the Jets Run: Huge advantage for the Jets; New York has the best running game in football, averaging 146 yards rushing per game. Chris Ivory leads the AFC in rushing and has proven to not only be a strong runner, he's also excellent catching the ball out of the backfield. New England is ranked 22nd against the run, allowing 114 yards per game, but they've improved as the season has gone on. Dont'a Hightower is most likely going to return from injury this week, which is a huge boost for not only the run defense, but the defense as a whole. The Jets are going to stick to their game plan and run even if the Patriots stop it, so it's imperative to play strong run defense for the full 60 minutes. If the Jets do have success running the ball, they have a legitimate chance to come into Foxboro and pick up a win. I expect to see New England load up to stop the run and dare Ryan Fitzpatrick to beat them throwing the ball. Advantage, Jets.
When the Jets Pass: The Jets are ranked 21st in passing, averaging just under 234 yards per game. With weapons like Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, and tight end Jace Amaro, one would think that the Jets have the makings of an excellent passing game, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is a journeyman quarterback for a reason. The Patriots are ranked 16th against the pass, right in the middle of the pack. They allow just over 241 passing yards per game and have played pretty well considering they let Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner go in the offseason. One reason the Patriots pass defense has been good is the pass rush, something this defense has been missing for years. New England has 19 sacks in five games, tying them for third in the NFL. If the Jets offensive line can't protect Ryan Fitzpatrick, it will be a long day for the New York passing game. Although the Jets are getting all the publicity for the turnovers they've caused, New England has also made six interceptions in five games, so they know how to make big plays too. Advantage, Patriots.
Special Teams: We went to Football Outsiders to get an idea of where these two special teams units stack up, and it is pretty clear that the Patriots have a huge advantage on Sunday. The Patriots are ranked third overall in the NFL, which makes sense when you consider how much the Patriots coaching staff focuses on this crucial part of the game. With Stephen Gostkowski kicking and Ryan Allen punting, the Patriots hold a huge advantage over most teams in the NFL because they are two of the top players in the NFL at their positions. Special teams ace Matt Slater will most likely be out this week, which will have an effect on coverage, but New England has enough strong special teamers to make up for the loss of their captain. When it comes to special teams in New York, they just aren't very special, ranked 31st in the NFL. They've struggled in coverage and they don't have a very strong kicking game either. With the Jets needing to run to beat New England, having poor field position could become a major problem for the Jets on Sunday. Advantage Patriots, by a large margin.
Coaching Matchup: Bill Belichick vs. Todd Bowles, the savvy veteran versus the energized rookie; Bowles was an excellent defensive coordinator and his grounded style is going to make him an excellent head coach as he gains experience, but this is as big a mismatch as the special teams units. Bowles will most likely put together a defensive game plan that will give the Patriots some trouble out of the gate, but Belichick, as he always does, will adjust to what Bowles is trying to do and start to take advantage of some of the holes in the Jets defense. Having Revis back helps Bowles because he can attain some inside info that should help the coaching staff, but typically it comes down to preparation and execution, and nobody prepares his players better than Coach Belichick. Advantage Patriots, at least until Todd Bowles gains some more experience.
Prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 16
The Jets will keep the Patriots under 30 points, which is a victory in itself, but the underrated Patriots defense will slow down the Jets and force field goals instead of allowing touchdowns. The gameplan defensively is all about stopping Chris Ivory, which makes sense because if you stop the Jets from running, you typically win the game. Tom Brady should have another excellent game and will find the open receivers, no matter who that may be.
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