Juggernaut Collision Course
By Joe Levit, Patriots Insider
This weekend the NFL will feature a truly tasty matchup. The undefeated New York Jets will travel to Gillette Stadium to clash with the Super Bowl New England Patriots. At stake is more than the normal team rivalry, as both franchises enter the contest with a cool 5-0 record. They are competing not only for the division lead, but also the early advantage toward securing a likely spot in the playoffs, a possible first-round bye, and maybe home field advantage in the AFC, though the bet is on the Colts to have something to say about that race.
The Pats of course came into the season riding a 15-game winning streak, and have rolled the red carpet right over the Colts and Seahawks, and other easier ball clubs, to continue their magic ride. The Jets certainly weren't expected to be here. In fact, this is the first time the Jets have started out 5-0.
Visiting at this point will be a tough chore for the Jets, as the Patriots defense will be plenty pumped up at home with the crowd clearly on their side. Both clubs have the weapons to mount a solid passing attack, and the ability to complete a blitzkrieg by running the ball. Aggressive defenses are also characteristic of these squads.
As two of only three teams in the league who have not yet suffered a loss, both squads know what it takes to win games, and it would be surprising if either team established an untenable lead. The loser must face the end of some powerful forward thrust. In any sport, momentum shifts can cause vast vacillations in league standings, but in football, where so much rides on big plays, emotion and successful bursts of energy can truly create an upwelling of overall passionate play.
So how did these two teams get to this point? Let's review the first six weeks of the season to see what the teams did to earn this divisional tilt.
Week 1: New England generated turnovers to win, and New York turned to Martin.
Patriots - New England got a rematch against the Colts at home, and had a rough time stopping Mr. Manning in the second half. Turnovers, including a key fumble by Edgerrin James, are the real reason the Pats won, as they have a good offense and a great defense while the Colts have a great offense but below-average defense. Brady throws for over 300 yards and three touchdowns, yet it is Willie McGinest's big sack that pushes Mike Vanderjagt just far enough back to miss the attempted game-tying kick, his first whiff after 42 straight field goals.
Jets - Curtis Martin nearly breaks 200 yards rushing against a Cincinnati defense that is dying for playmakers. His two touchdowns confirm that he is still a threat.
Week 2: Both teams ran into squads that were more stout than many thought possible.
Patriots - The players traveled to Arizona, and had a tougher-than-expected time against the rowdy Cardinals. Arizona's defense played hard the whole game, but despite the effort it is Brady's two first-half touchdowns to Daniel Graham, and the two passes that safety Eugene Wilson took from Josh McCown, that decided this contest.
Jets - Martin had another big game, rushing for more than 100 yards with another two touchdowns. But, Drew Brees made a game of it with a big scoring strike to Reche Caldwell. The Chargers have since proven that their effort is not a fluke. At 3-3, the team is capable of beating anyone on a given Sunday. The Jets defense caused Brees to throw two picks and fumble the ball.
Week 3: Both teams were on the bye, which kept them with the same record (2-0) simultaneously.
Week 4: Big defensive plays brought road victories for both teams.
Patriots - Against the Bills on the road, the Patriots got a big play from a big player. Richard Seymour returned a fumble forced by Teddy Bruschi 68 yards just as the Bills were driving for the potentially game-tying touchdown. The sudden swing in points -seven away from what looked like an inevitability for the Bills, and seven for the Patriots, who capitalized on the fumble return, made a blowout of what had been a tight contest.
Jets - The Jets traveled to Miami, and generated four turnovers against Jay Fiedler after halftime to win comfortably 17-9. Donnie Abraham returned an interception 66 yards for a score, and Curtis Martin topped 100 yards again.
Week 5: Each team worked through mistakes to stake an important win.
Patriots - Tom Brady passed for two scores but has his worst statistical day ever while New England showed no hospitality in a 14-point victory over winless Miami. This win gave the club a new NFL record of 19 straight wins.
Jets - Chad Pennington took his team down the field in a calm and collected manner when it most mattered. The Jets beat the game Bills by two points. Both the Patriots and Jets should be wary of the Bills the next time they meet.
Week 6: Jets rallied to win and the Patriots killed the Seahawks' attempted rally to win.
Patriots - The Seahawks shot themselves in the foot, as Hasselbeck was intercepted two times and Koren Robinson dropped a few big passes. Another big defensive return by the Patriots, this time a 27-yard return off an interception, was enough to remain perfect on the year.
Jets - Defense did it again for the Jets. Rookie Jonathan Vilma picked off Tim Rattay at the end of the game to stifle any chance to tie the game. In the second half, Curtis Martin ran in another two scores.
The Patriots have beaten two winning teams - Colts and Seahawks - to get to 5-0. The Jets have not beaten a team above .500 yet. There won't be another game this season featuring two undefeated teams. These are the games that have the potential to be classics. All signs point to a gritty game, where the push from the Jets offensive line, or the penetration of the Patriots young players on the defensive line will make all the difference.
Joe Levit, based in Boston, writes fantasy football columns for SI.com, thehuddle.com, and fantasysportsjunkies.com. He has published articles in Grogan's, Fantasy Index, Fantasy Sports and Fantasy Football Pro Forecast magazines. He is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Fantasy Sports Writers of America, and a devoted Detroit Lions fan who can be reached in the Insiders forums.
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