New England Patriots-New York Jets preview
When they take the field at Gillette Stadium Sunday at 1 p.m., the Jets players will be three hours from the offseason. They will be three hours from making it through the 2018 NFL season with their bodies mostly intact. The next time they take the field as a team, about 30 percent of the 45-man active roster will be turned over. So how hard will the Jets fight to secure their fifth win of the year? This is a game that matters to the Patriots for both playoff seeding and for feel-good vibes as they attempt their upstream swim back to a third straight Super Bowl appearance. Does it matter to the Jets like it matters to New England?
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
The Jets are 110 rushing yards away from allowing a 2,000-yard season on the ground for opponents. They are 23rd in the league against the run. The Patriots, meanwhile, ran for 273 against a capable Bills defense last week. Even if a significant amount of those yards weren’t meat-and-potatoes, between-the-tackles carries, it demonstrated the team’s ability to -- when conditions are right -- take over the game on the ground. The Jets’ best front-seven defender is linebacker Avery Williamson, the team’s leading tackler. Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson are the defensive ends in the 3-4. The Jets could be at a crossroads with Williams, the sixth overall pick in 2015. He’ll make $14.2 million next year but his production hasn’t been off the charts. Stopping the run requires spirited engagement. Are the home-for-the-playoffs Jets ready to engage?
WHEN THE JETS RUN
The Patriots aren’t great at stopping opposing running games. But the Jets’ running game is really bad. We’ve mentioned this before and then seen teams leave cleat marks all over the Patriots front-seven, but this time we mean it. Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell are both out so that leaves Elijah McGuire as the starting running back. He’s got 235 yards on 74 carries. The Jets haven’t run for more than 100 yards as a team since December 2. And that’s the only time they did it since October 14. The Patriots last week suited up Danny Shelton to bolster their run defense. He was among the reasons they helped hold down Buffalo. It will be interesting to see if he’s out there again this week.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
The Jets have done a terrific job getting pressure the past few weeks. They have 16 sacks in their past four games. I don’t know what the deal is with the Patriots passing attack. Even though they ran the hell out of it last week, their first game post-Gordon was eye-openingly inefficient. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Patriots went empty and tried through sheer force of will to get back to looking somewhat like themselves when they throw. There’s no getting around the fact that, in the postseason, teams will not be nearly as scared of Tom Brady and the Patriots offense if the only guy he’s throwing to effectively is Julian Edelman. And that’s what it is right now. Someone’s gotta put the paddles to Rob Gronkowski’s chest and bring him back to football life. This week, against Jets safety Jamal Adams, represents a real challenge for him.
WHEN THE JETS PASS
Sam Darnold is closing his rookie season on a high note. He’s coming off two very efficient games against Houston and Green Bay and he’s thrown six touchdowns and one pick since coming back from a foot injury three games ago. It seems like things have settled down for him. With the Jets' ineptitude running the football, the Patriots could go light defensively, flood the field with defensive backs and make Darnold think it all through. If he hits a few throws and the Jets move the ball, the Patriots might not care as long as they bow up in the red zone. The concern there, though, should be tight end Chris Herndon, who had a season-high seven receptions against the Patriots the first time these teams met. The Patriots will also have to account for wideout Robby Anderson. Darnold loves to go to him (24 targets, 16 catches in the past two games). Look for Stephon Gilmore to draw Anderson duty.
The Jets have a truly outstanding return man in Andre Roberts (29.3 on kickoff returns, 14.7 on punt returns) and a Pro Bowl kicker in Jason Myers (three misses all season). The Patriots have improved in kick coverage since their early season travails but have been just OK most of the year, especially compared to what we’re accustomed to.
OUT: CB Mo Claiborne (shoulder/ankle), WR Quincy Enunwa (ankle), WR Jermaine Kearse (Achilles), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Jordan Jenkins (ankle)
OUT: TE Jacob Hollister (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Dwayne Allen (knee), LB Brandon King (knee), WR Cordarelle Patterson (knee)
It’s a Walt Coleman game. He’s one of the league’s most veteran officials, having been in the role since 1999. The last time his crew had a Patriots game was last season when they played Denver. The Patriots drew one flag for 5 yards that day. Coleman’s crew has been light on the flags this year. Yay!!
The Patriots are favored by 13.5 and the total is 44.5. The Jets are 4-11 and have lost three of their last four but the margins in those losses were four, seven and six. They hang around. And they also let up points.
Real nice day for late December. Real nice. We’re looking at sunny and mid-40s. The only impact the weather will have is on the eyes of any player looking into the sun, which is positioned above the closed end of the stadium and can play havoc with punts and long passes sent toward the lighthouse.
Patriots 31, Jets 23