10 QUESTIONS: Jets vs Patriots Wildcard Round - Part 2
Dan Leberfeld is an insider for JetsConfidential.com and host on Sirius Radio's show "Press Coverage" which can be heard 11-2 Eastern on Saturday's on SIRIUS NFL Radio.
Q) Who is the biggest contributor to the Jets who wasn't with the team last season?
Leberfeld: Well Eric Mangini would have to be number one. He has done an outstanding job, and looks like he is going to be one of the NFL's top coaches for a long time. He's extremely bright and organized. As for players, two guys that come to mind are rookie center Nick Mangold and rookie running back Leon Washington. Mangold has played like a veteran center most of this season. And he's displayed top shelf toughness, playing through a number of injuries. He's actually real banged up now, but will play on Sunday. There was a lot of concern about replacing mainstay Curtis Martin at tailback, and Washington has helped fill the void. He is an terrific open field player who usually makes the first defender miss.
Q) In our earlier Behind Enemy Lines discussion in November, we asked what your prediction was for the Jets season, and you had them at 8-8 (so did we). Are you surprised they ended up 10-6 and made it to the playoffs?
Leberfeld: I'm not surprised. They are very well coached, and have a very good quarterback. That combination in the NFL should get you into the playoffs. If you don't have a quarterback in this league, you are toast. Just look at Miami and Oakland.
When healthy, in my opinion, Pennington is a one of the league's best quarterbacks. People get so caught up in his arm strength, but there are plenty of quarterbacks out there with howitzer's who don't know what they are doing. Pennington is one of the brightest quarterbacks in the league, who does a great job reading defenses, and consistently makes good decisions. In so many games this year, the Jets were playing teams with inferior quarterbacks, and Pennington was the biggest reason the Jets won. He made key plays, with the opponents quarterback didn't.
Q)The schedule makers decided to have teams in the AFC East play the teams in the AFC South this season. Both the Jets and the Patriots played all four AFC South members with The Patriots winning 3 of the 4 games and the Jets splitting 2-2 with that division. After what you've seen from the AFC South, how would you rate that among the other AFC divisions?
Leberfeld: Aside from the Colts, this is an average division. The Texans were obviously rebuilding this year. The Titans handled their quarterback situation so poorly at the beginning of the year, they dug a hole so deep, they couldn't get out of it. And people are getting a little ahead of themselves with Vince Young. How can a guy with a 66.7 quarterback rating win "Rookie of the Year?" Granted he had several amazing runs, but there was a lot of poor plays in between. He still has a long way to go.
The inconsistent play the Jaguars received from their quarterbacks this year made them a mediocre team. On top of that, their lack of a #1 receiver was a problem. Also losing three of their best defensive players for the season, LB Mike Peterson, S Don Darius and DE Reggie Hayward really hurt them.
This division could be excellent in the future, but it certainly wasn't this year.
Q) New York was 4-4 at the time and coming off a bye week when they faced the Patriots for the second time in the season. New England won the first game 24-17, but the rematch was won by the Jets 17-14 in Foxborough. Do you think this will be another game decided by a touchdown or less?
Leberfeld: I think it will be a close game between really good teams with excellent quarterbacks. There are so many mediocre games in this league now, but I think this game will be special.
I think a huge factor in this game will be the availability of Patriots tight end Ben Watson and nose tackle Vince Wilfork. They are both questionable, and the Patriots injury report is so hard to figure out, it's anybody's guess if they are going to play. If they both play, I think this will be a huge boost to the Patriots. Watson is clearly Tom Brady's favorite target, and Wilfork makes a huge impact on their run defense. While he's been out over the last month, they have struggled stopping the run.
Q) Obviously having worked so closely with Bill Belichick over the years, Eric Mangini knows how to defend the Patriots offense. The New England gameplans have changed markedly over the course of this season. Do you think Mangini's knowledge of the New England Patriots players and tendencies will be enough to compensate for any wrinkles the Patriots may try to work into the game this week?
Leberfeld: Mangini's knowledge of the Patriots is a huge factor. He knows a lot about how to deal with Tom Brady, more than most coaches. But no matter how much these coaches know about each other, they are both so innovative, there will be plenty of wrinkles from both team that will come as a surprise.
The advantage the Jets have is that Mangini didn't install the Patriots offense in New York. He brought in Brian Schottenheimer to put in the San Diego offense, and this is a system the Patriots have struggled with over the last few years.
Q: Game Prediction
Leberfeld: If Watson and Wilfork both play, the Patriots will win. If both of them are out, the Jets will win. If one is in, and one is out, it's a toss up.
Toughest opponent in the AFC Playoffs?
Leberfeld: San Diego. LT is the best player in football, and their Front Seven is a beast.