Around the AFC East: Jets Are Good, But Pats Are Better
By John MacKenna, Patriots Insider
Only five NFL teams are either undefeated or winless, and four of them comprise the AFC East. There is no middle ground in the East, where the New England Patriots and the New York Jets are both 4-0, and the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins are a combined 0-9.
Something will give at the bottom this Sunday when the Dolphins visit Buffalo in the battle of the NFL's only winless teams. The Bills ought to win. Owner Ralph Wilson is meddling already, but the defense is stout and the offense showed some life last week, scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the Jets. The question is: Will anyone notice?
A week later, all eyes will be on Gillette Stadium when the Patriots and the Jets stoke the fires of the Boston vs. New York rivalry that will still be raging from the just-ended Red Sox-Yankees series.
The Oct. 24 Patriots-Jets showdown will be the most publicized game of the season if both teams win this week. The Patriots have the tougher task, playing host to the highly regarded Seattle Seahawks, who lead the NFC West at 3-1. Also at home, the Jets take on the 1-4 49ers, who have already allowed 137 points.
The undefeated records are both very soft. The collective record of the Patriots' opponents is 5-14. The Jets' victims are a combined 4-14.
Neither team has been as dominant as the records would suggest. In the NFL, the Patriots are fifth in scoring (26.3 points per game) and sixth in points allowed (15.8). The Jets are sixth in scoring (24.5), but only 15th in points allowed (18.8).
Performance against common opponents suggests the Patriots are stronger. The Jets beat the Bills and Dolphins by a combined 33-23 score, while the Patriots were 55-27 against those teams.
The Patriots' 19-game winning streak makes them the darlings of the NFL, but with some bad breaks they might have their hands full trying to win their division. The Jets look like a team on the rise, and their remaining schedule is on the soft side too. Not counting their two games against the Patriots, the Jets' remaining opponents are a combined 19-29.
The rival teams have a lot in common. Like the Pats, the Jets have good balance on offense. The miraculous Curtis Martin has rushed for 502 yards (4.7 yards per carry), while QB Chad Pennington is completing 71.3 percent of his passes.
Like Tom Brady, Pennington throws to a deep receiving corps, featuring Santana Moss, Justin McCareins and Wayne Chrebet. Five Jets receivers have 10 or more receptions, including RB Jerald Sowell with 18. The Jets use a high-percentage, short-gain passing game.
The teams also play a similar run game. Patriots RB Corey Dillon is bulkier than Martin, but Martin has always played bigger than his size. Both are threats up the middle and outside tackle.
The Jets' offensive line is stronger this year, benefiting from the addition of left guard Pete Kendall. The ninth-year man, signed as a free agent from Seahawks, has added skill and toughness. The line is nicked up now after Kendall broke a toe and Brandon Moore pulled a hamstring.
On defense, the Jets have made a commitment to youth that reminds one of the Patriots. The Jets traded up to No. 4 in the first round of the 2003 draft to take Kentucky defensive tackle DeWayne Robertson. This year, they used the No. 12 pick on Miami ILB Jonathan Vilma.
Robertson starts up front, where the Jets mix 3-4 and 4-3 fronts. While Robertson continues to get mixed reviews, John Abraham is a proven star. Playing a mix of end and outside linebacker, Abraham already has six sacks.
The Jets have moved decisively to youth at linebacker. Victor Hobson, a second-round pick in 2003 out of Michigan, is starting opposite sixth-year man Eric Barton, and Vilma has been starting since Week 4, following an injury to Sam Cowart.
The results have been mixed so far, as the Jets have surrendered an average of 359 yards per game, but performance could improve dramatically in the weeks ahead as the unit comes together. Pass defense remains a concern, though, as safeties Reggie Tongue and Erik Coleman can be had.
The Jets have positive things happening on both sides of the ball and should establish themselves as a consistent threat over the length of the season. The four-game losing streaks that marred their 2002 and 2003 seasons should be a thing of the past.
Despite the improvements in New York, the Patriots must be favored to win the division. A position-by-position examination drives home the point.
Quarterback: Pennington is as accurate as Brady in the short game, but he has yet to prove he is that kind of winner. When the Patriots came hard after Pennington last year, the Jets QB threw 5 interceptions and the Jets lost, 21-16. When Miami came hard after Brady last Sunday, he threw only one pick (in the first quarter) and his team won 24-10. Advantage: Patriots.
Running back: It's tough to argue against Martin, who has improved at age 31. Advantage: Jets.
Offensive Line: The Jets' line is nothing special. The Patriots' line gets no respect; but Brady has been sacked only five times and the team is rushing for 122 yards a game. That's called getting the job done. Advantage: Patriots.
Receivers: The Jets' leaders in receptions are Sowell and Martin. The Pats have health concerns, but Branch, Givens and Patten are a far more dangerous group than Moss, McCareins and Chrebet. And then there's Daniel Graham. Advantage: Patriots.
Linebacker: Hobson, Vilma and Barton have a brighter future, but the Patriots' deep, cohesive corps is far superior in 2004. Advantage: Patriots.
Defensive Secondary: The Jets do not have a dominating defensive back.
The Patriots have All-Pros in Rodney Harrison and Ty Law, and Eugene Wilson
is emerging as one of the NFL's top free safeties. Advantage: Patriots.
John has agreed to become one of our regular contributors to the Patriots Insider. You can find him in the forums under the name: oldnslow. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John MacKenna"
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