New York Jets vs. New England Patriots
Foxborough, MA, Gillette Stadium
Sunday, January 16, 2011 4:30 PM ET, CBS
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Laying the scene
The first time these two teams met this season was a 28-14 victory for the Jets, but the Patriots responded by blowing them out of the water 45 to 3 the next time they played against each other. Because that game came right after the Jets lost safety Jim Leonhard, who was responsible for making all the on-field defensive adjustments, this game isn't likely to be a blowout of that scale, as the Jets have now had time to adjust to the loss of Leonhard. One thing this game is likely to be, though, is nasty. The Jets have declared loudly and clearly that they hate the Patriots, and although the Patriots have kept it classy and refused to engage in any trash-talking, you can be sure that the feelings of hatred are mutual.
What New England has to do to win
One lesson learned from the Colts' loss to the Jets last week is that if you never throw to Darrelle Revis's side of the field, it pretty much takes your top receiver out of the entire game. Tom Brady has to know where to draw the line between not being afraid of Revis, and not forcing the play. In general, though, Wes Welker against Antonio Cromartie is a favorable matchup, and Brady should enjoy particular success if he throws to tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski across the middle of the field, because the Jets' linebacking corps is their biggest weakness in coverage.
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On defense, the Patriots have to shut down the run, but they have to be especially careful not to over-commit to it and allow a big pass play downfield. If the Patriots allow big plays through the air, it could turn the momentum in the Jets' favor. Therefore, the Patriots need to force the Jets to sustain long, mistake-free drives in order to really earn their points. Of course, it wouldn't hurt if Devin McCourty, who's had an incredibly impressive rookie campaign, picked off a pass or two from Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, because the Patriots' offense is excellent at turning turnovers into points.
What New York has to do to win
On defense, the biggest priority is going to be to avoid penalties. Linebacker Bart Scott made the mistake of saying that Wes Welker's "days in uniform are numbered", so the referees are going to be extra-cautious to make sure the Jets aren't playing dirty. For a physical, aggressive defense such as the Jets', that means they need to pay close attention to technique to make sure they don't accidentally do anything illegal. One player who needs to step up for the Jets in this game is cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Darrelle Revis can lock down his side of the field, but if Cromartie isn't playing well, Brady and Welker will tear him apart.
Last week the Jets won by running the ball down the throat of the Colts' beat-up defense. Against the Patriots, the Jets aren't going to be able to get away with that, so they'll have to open the defense up with some intermediate passes. One thing the Jets' receivers do well, that they should do a lot of in this game, is running slant routes. Both Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards do an excellent job of getting upfield after catching the ball on a slant, and if they can do that once or twice against the Patriots, it will cause them to back off of the run. One really versatile player who the Jets have under-utilized is Brad Smith. Smith hurt his groin against the Colts last week, but he should be able to play this week, since he was able to come back in the game against the Colts. In order to get the most out of Smith, Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer should Try This!
- Click HERE to listen to NFL Scout Jayson Braddock break down both AFC games on the Dylan Gwinn Show, Sports Radio 790 AM, Houston.
Warning to gamblers: I picked all four Wild Card games incorrectly last year and quit picking for the rest of the postseason, so don't bet your life savings on my predictions. With that being said, I'm going to go with the theme of picking teams with the least off-field distractions to win. When your head coach, who's supposed to keep the team focused on winning, is your biggest distraction, that's a major problem. History shows that under Belichick, the Patriots tend to make opponents regret their words when they trash-talk the Pats. Look for this trend to continue, and for Rex "Happy Feet" Ryan's bravado to fall short of carrying the Jets to their goal of a Super Bowl. - Hank Koebler, IV
Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.
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