Monday’s matchup between the 9-2 New England Patriots and the 9-2 New York Jets may be the most anticipated and hyped regular season game in quite some time. Both teams are considered to be among the elite AFC teams, as well as the top teams in the entire NFL. Both have Super Bowl aspirations, but know that winning a division title is a big step in that direction. Much has been made of the contrast in coaching styles between Bill Belichick, the comments out of New York about the Patriots, and even comparisons between Michelle Ryan and Gisele Bundchen. But, when it Monday night finally rolls around, here is what to look for…
-In the first matchup between the Patriots and Jets all the way back in week 2, there were two things that stuck out to me that were essential parts of a New York victory. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined to rush for 128 yards and Dustin Keller racked up seven receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown. The Jets formula is pretty simple, pound the ball until the defense can’t take it anymore, and then use the play action pass to seal the deal. Although the Jets run game has slowed down a bit as of late, they are still a run first team, and that is scary to think about when they have weapons like Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller in the passing game. New England is 18th in the NFL, allowing just over 110 yards per game on the ground. Since the Jets game, the Patriots are allowing an average 110 yards per game on the ground, and since their bye week they are allowing 110 yards per game on the ground. So, the Patriots defense has consistently shown that they will let up yards on the ground…or have they? Over New England’s last 3 games, they have let up over 100 yards once (129 in a Detroit blowout), and held Indy and Pittsburgh both under 76 yards rushing. In their matchup against Minnesota and Adrian Peterson, the Pats allowed a total of 125 rushing yards, 33 of which came on one Tavaris Jackson scramble. They allowed less than 100 yards against both Baltimore and Miami, two teams that rely on the run game to produce. What to look for: How the Patriots defense works to contain the Jets run game, and limit the effectiveness of Dustin Keller.
-The New York Jets possess the third best run defense in the entire NFL, allowing just over 86 yards per contest. Seeing those stats, one may be inclined to think that the Pats will abandon the run all together and rely heavily on Tom Brady’s effectiveness, but history tells us otherwise. The Pats have had the luxury of playing against six teams that are in the top ten in the NFL in terms of rushing yards per game against (NYJ, PIT, MIN, SD, BAL, MIA). Against those six teams, the Pats are averaging a respectable 96 yards per game on the ground. I am not calling for 35 carries and 150 yards out of the Pats rushing attack (although it would be nice), but at least being productive on the ground will force the Jets to consider the run up front, opening up some more throwing lanes for Brady. What to look for: How effectively the Patriots run game is/ is used against one of the league’s best run defenses.
-There are two huge differences that I see in this game compared to their week 2 matchup, Santonio Holmes and Danny Woodhead. Holmes has been the Jets’ most effective receiver since coming off of his suspension after the Jets’ fourth game. Holmes has put up over 100 yards in two out of his last four games, and has found the end zone four times in his last three contests, not to mention the late-game heroics that he has pulled over the last couple of weeks. Danny Woodhead has proven to be one of the Patriots most dangerous offensive weapons since joining the team right before the week 2 loss to the Jets. He has filled in for Kevin Faulk seamlessly, and in my opinion, has even been a more dynamic player than Faulk. Both players will have an impact on Monday night’s contest, and the amount that each impacts the game may very well be a key determinant in the outcome. What to look for: What impact Danny Woodhead and Santonio Holmes have on the game.
-What might turn out to be the biggest battle in this game is if Darrelle Revis gets shifted inside across from slot wide receiver Wes Welker. Welker’s played has improved as of late. After getting off to a great start at the beginning of the season (26 receptions, 217 yards, 3 touchdowns) through the first four games, his played faded after the departure of Randy Moss. Since the Pittsburgh game, Welker has seemingly regained his old form and has been the best receiving threat on the field for the Pats over the last three games (21 catches, 237 yards, 3 touchdowns). We all know the legend of Darrelle Revis. Just 11 games into his fourth year in the NFL, Revis is considered by many to be the greatest corner to ever play the game. No wide receiver has ever caught a pass with Revis covering him. Randy Moss will not make the Hall of Fame because he faced off against Revis seven times…Alright ESPN, we get it. The guy is a good cornerback. I’m not arguing those facts. He is a top three corner in the NFL, and has to be in the argument for number one. Is he unbeatable? No. Will Darrelle Revis have a harder time covering Wes Welker than Randy Moss? If both are healthy, yes. Welker is shifty and tough to jam. He doesn’t run deep routes and loves making quick cuts. Revis excels at jamming receivers and then running with them down the field. What to look for: If Welker and Revis are matched up against each other, how each performs out of their element.
-THIS WEEK’S PREDICTION: Patriots 20 – Jets 10