Matchup: Jets (11-5) @ Patriots (14-2)
Kickoff: 4:30PM ET, Sunday
1. Can the combination of Sanchez and Schottenheimer top Belichick?
Earlier this week, Jets’ coach Rex Ryan essentially told the media that this game will come down to whether or not he can raise his level of coaching to match that of Bill Belichick. I understand what he was saying, but I disagree with him. This game won’t come down to Ryan – it’ll come down to whether or not Brian Schottenheimer can raise his game. While Ryan certainly has his hands full trying to figure out a way to slow the Patriots’ offense, Schottenheimer must design a game plan that will top Belichick’s defense. Outside of a couple of throws, Mark Sanchez did not play well last weekend in Indianapolis. It was the Jets’ running game and defense that propelled them to victory. So first off, can Sanchez play better? If he can, will his offensive coordinator put together an intelligent game plan so that he can exploit the very few weaknesses that the Patriots have?
2. Will the Pats overlook the Jets?
There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Patriots are the better football team in this matchup. They have a tremendous coaching staff, they’re always prepared and they have the best quarterback in the league in Tom Brady. But in Week 9, the Pats were beaten by the Browns because they started reading their own press clippings. They did it again in Week 15 after rattling off five in a row and were set to face an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers team at home. Matt Flynn nearly beat them that night, as New England’s defense looked flummoxed in a narrow 31-27 victory. With all the trash talk the Jets have been doing this week, it’s highly unlikely that the Patriots will overlook their most hated rivals. But they also beat this team 45-3 just over a month ago and it’s human nature to think that things will play out the same way. Belichick needs to remind his team that the Jets have already beaten them once this season and they’re not going to be caught unprepared like in the last meeting.
3. Can the Jets get their running game going again?
The Jets beat the Colts last week because they were able to run the football in the second half and leave Peyton Manning on the sidelines. They have to do that again if they’re going to pull off another upset. It’s a pipedream to think Sanchez will out-duel Brady, so the Jets need their defense and running game to be as good, if not better than they were against the Colts. A couple of costly turnovers by Sanchez hurt the Jets in their 45-3 loss to the Patriots in December. He must protect the football so the Jets don’t fall behind early and are forced to throw in order to get back into the game. New England has given up 108.0 yards per game this year and an average of 104.0 YPG over the past three weeks. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene won’t be able to run all over the Pats this weekend, but they might be able to control the tempo again like last Saturday.
4. How will Woody’s injury affect the Jets?
Damien Woody was arguably the Jets’ best run-blocker, so losing him for the season could be catastrophic. New York needs to be able to run the ball on Sunday if it’s going to pull off an upset and without Woody that could be difficult. Plus, you have to figure that Belichick will figure out a way to exploit the injury and cause some havoc for Sanchez. There’s no other way to put it: Wayne Hunter (Woody’s replacement) must step up this weekend.
5. Can the Pats stop Keller again?
I the Jets’ 28-14 victory over the Patriots in Week 2, Dustin Keller caught seven passes for 115 yards and two touchdowns. In the teams’ second meeting, he caught just three passes for 27 yards and was only targeted four times. You can probably bet that Sanchez will look his tight end’s way more this weekend in effort to spread the ball around and keep New England’s defense guessing. Keller has long been a hidden weapon in the Jets’ passing game and he’s killed teams over the middle this season. New England can’t fall asleep on this guy because he can hurt defenses.
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