After sitting out watching Wild Card Weekend, the Patriots now know their AFC Divisional Playoff matchup on Sunday will be against the New York Jets. The trash talk has been more prevalent in this matchup than in either of the previous two contests this year. Whether it is Rex Ryan criticizing Tom Brady for seeing a Broadway play or Antonio Cromartie saying how he truly feels about Brady, this game is New York’s Super Bowl. All the finger pointing and trash talking will have a result come Sunday when one team advances to the AFC Championship Game and gets the last laugh.
The Jets are coming off of a 17-16 win over Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts where they needed a last second field goal from Nick Folk to advance. In the second half, NY went back to the ground and pound offense and ran all over the Colts with LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, while taking pressure off of their young quarterback Mark Sanchez. Now, Sanchez heads to an environment where he has struggled in his career. In his two games at Gillette Stadium, Mark Sanchez has one touchdown and seven interceptions.
What’s At Stake:
NY Jets: 2nd straight AFC Championship appearance. First win in Foxboro since 2008 when Brett Favre was quarterback.
New England: 6th AFC title game appearance in the last 10 years!
Let’s take a look at some keys that will decide the winner on Sunday:
Ground and Pound: It is no secret. We all know the Jets are going to run the football with Tomlinson and Greene. But, can they have the same success Sunday against New England like they did against the Colts? The Pats are 11th in the league in stopping the run, giving up 108 total rushing yards per game. When you have guys like Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo who are very good against the run, there won’t be many holes for 15-20 yard runs and ten minute drives that can eat the clock and keep Brady on the sideline.
Plus, a huge injury hit the Jets on Wednesday as right tackle and former Patriot, Damien Woody, was put on injured reserve for an Achilles’ injury he suffered against the Colts. Wayne Hunter will get the start. Hunter is a serviceable backup and has played well this year, but look for Gerard Warren and Brandon Deaderick to have a big impact both stopping the run and rushing the passer.
Early Wake-Up Call: This key ties into the ground and pound mentality because if the Patriots’ offense can get out to an early 10 point lead it will likely cause New York to get away from their offensive mindset. New York’s offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer has been known to take the training wheels off of Sanchez and allow him to take shots down the field to Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. Enter in Devin McCourty, who, in my opinion, is the NFL defensive rookie of the year and was one of the best at intercepting passes in 2010. If Woodhead, Branch, Welker, and company get up 10+ points early, Sanchez can make mistakes and you could be looking at another 45-3 kind of game.
Might need more Nickels? No, these teams will not have to go to a bank to find a nickel corner, but New York could have a huge problem at the cornerback position this week. In the last series of practice on Thursday, cornerback Drew Coleman suffered a knee injury. He will have a precautionary MRI on Friday. If Coleman can’t go, rookie cornerback Kyle Wilson will be the nickel corner. If he’s the answer, I want to know the question. The last time I saw Wilson was when he looked lost in Week 1 against the Ravens. He hasn’t seen the field much this year, so Brady could have two players to go after in Wilson and the always talkative Antonio Cromartie.
Under Pressure: We all know the main key for the New York Jets to pull the upset. They have to get after the QB and make Tom Brady force his throws like the Browns did on November 7th. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. The Jets only got one sack on Peyton Manning last week. This team is 8th in the league in sacks, but struggled late in the year with sacking Jay Cutler no less. Also, NY has a -1 turnover ratio and is 25th in the league in interceptions. You have to force turnovers to have any chance to beat the Patriots.
Prediction: For the Jets, they have to score points to have any chance in this game. New England is averaging 32 points per game this season and they have no signs of slowing down. Everyone mentions the Jets won the first meeting in NY back in Week 2 28-14, but NE dominated the first half. How did they do that? Brady threw the quick passes to Welker and Hernandez, but a certain #81 was sad he was not involved. The Jets are thin in terms of depth at the CB position and I think Brady will exploit that. I have seen it so many times, including with Anthony Smith back in 2007. I think the Jets will score points and make it a close game, but I also said this before the 45-3 blowout. Brady vs. Sanchez is the key storyline and you have to trust Brady to win the game in the 4th or at least not to lose it like Sanchez.
Rex gets the “foot” put in his mouth. Come on, you know I couldn’t go a whole Jets’ preview without mentioning the scandal. Even Wes Welker couldn’t.
Patriots 31 Jets 24