The NFL is truly saving the best for last this week. The New England Patriots (9-2) and the New York Jets (9-2) sit atop the AFC East right now poised for a rematch of Week 2.
The Patriots endured a second-half collapse in that game after going up 14-0 to start the game, but if the Patriots and Bill Belichick are known for anything, it's for their ability to make adjustments and adapt to changing conditions. Bill will be reviewing countless hours of film leading up to this game, and he's had some extra time to adjust since the Pats last played on Thanksgiving.
This is a must-win game for Tom Brady (2,703 yards, 23 TDS, 4 INTs) and company at Gillette Stadium where Brady is riding a 25-game win streak and has a chance to break another legend's home-field-advantage record. Brett Favre, who Brady certainly wouldn't want to emulate this year, accomplished the same home streak while he was with Green Bay. A victory for Brady against the Jets will make history for the franchise quarterback and solidify the Patriots in first place at the top of a division where no other teams look anywhere near as talented as these two squads.
The extra rest could pay huge dividends for the Patriots, but the Jets are more than a formidable foe. Mark Sanchez (2,472 yards, 16 TDs, 8 INTs) and LaDainian Tomlinson (741 yards, 5 TDs rushing, 45 receptions, 329 yards) are having superb years so far and working extremely well together. The defensive unit for the Jets features even more big threats like cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie (3 INTs). OLB Jason Taylor's 5 sacks so far leads the team in that category. Taylor spent much of his career with the Dolphins, also in the same division as the Pats and perennial rivals of New England.
Back when these two teams first met both Randy Moss and Kevin Faulk were key cogs on the Patriots offense that Brady no longer has at his disposal. Unfortunately for the Jets, these losses have done nothing but force the Patriots to develop their depth further and create a monster out of Danny Woodhead (64 carries, 344 yards, 3 TDs, 24 receptions, 230 yards, 1 TD). Moss' loss was Brady's gain as a new #84 came to town in the form of an old favorite: Deion Branch (33 receptions, 433 yards, 3 TDs). Branch is already the team's third leading receiver and is responsible for the longest pass play for the Pats so far this year (79 yards).
The Patriots certainly don't have the kind of seasoned running back corps the Jets do in Tomlinson and Shonn Greene (140 carries, 575 yards, 1 TD), but they do have "The Law Firm" BenJarvus Green-Ellis (145 carries, 627 yards, 9 TDs). Green-Ellis has more scores than both Greene and Tomlinson combined. Also, if Fred Taylor is healthy enough to join in the mix again, the rushing attack could be much more dangerous and unpredictable.
The Patriots defense has not been the signature, ironclad key to the team it's been in past years, but this young crew is learning and putting the pieces together. With everyone healthy on the defensive side of the ball for the Pats, this could be a bad game for Sanchez, who has twice as many interceptions as Brady does coming into this battle of titans.
Sanchez and the Jets even resorted to going back to one of their own old favorites by re-acquiring wide receiver Laveranues Coles just in time to play Monday night. He'll be a nice addition to a receiving group that includes leader Braylon Edwards (618 yards, 6 TDs) and Dustin Keller (528 yards, 5 TDs). Edwards has more yards than the Patriots leading pass-catcher Wes Welker (592 yards, 6 TDs) on about half as many grabs.
This is a game that might just come down to a field goal to win it, but either squad could run away with it if they get a good start. The Patriots are very dangerous going in due to their potent offensive explosion of late (115 points in their past three games) and their extra rest. The Jets come in having lost twice by a total margin of just 10 points with Green Bay beating them by three field goals in week 8 and Baltimore beating them by a single point in the season opener.
The equalizer could also be something unexpected like special teams or coaching tactics. Receiver Brandon Tate has nearly 1,000 return yards (956) on 36 returns so far this year with two touchdowns. Also, Jets Coach Rex Ryan can be just as crafty as Belichick at times and respects his counterpart enough to know how dangerous he can be when it comes to game control strategy.
In the end, though, it's really tough to bet against a streak like Brady's and even tougher to doubt the Patriots chances on what will likely be a very chilly home field at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. My prediction is Patriots win 24-21.