The second game of the playoffs this week that pits teams who split the season series against each other will take place at Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon (4:30 PM, CBS) when the New England Patriots (14-2) face the New York Jets (11-5). While the Patriots went into lock down mode for the rest of the season after losing to the Cleveland Browns (after dropping their only other game of the year against the Jets a few weeks earlier 28-14), the Jets had a rough finish to their season after a 45-3 loss against the Patriots in the rematch the last time they went to Foxboro, Massachusetts in unlucky week 13. The Jets went 2-2 in the wake of that disgraceful loss to the Pats, who are nearly perfect on offense despite a weaker than usual defensive squad.
The Patriots have not scored less than 30 points on offense since that beating they put on the Jets at home in week 13. The last time they scored less than 30 points against any team this season was that week 9 loss (34-14) to the Cleveland Browns. They continue to show the ability to adjust in every game, and the bend but don't break defense is becoming more and more potent with each passing game. They led the league in points scored on the season and also ranked in the top 10 in total yards of offense per game (8th) and rushing yards per game (9th).
Home field advantage is a huge factor since Tom Brady (324-492, 3,900 yards, 36 TDs, 4 Int.) is riding a phenomenal home win streak (28 games) and has not thrown an interception in 11 straight games. He now holds the record for most pass attempts without an interception. Everyone on the offense is healthy other than new addition and old favorite Deion Branch (48 receptions, 706 yards, 5 TDs), who is listed as questionable with a nagging knee injury.
Mark "The Sanchise" Sanchez (278-507, 3,291 yards, 17 TDs, 13 Int.) relies on his greatest offensive strength to find open receivers. That strength happens to be the addition of all-star Running Back LaDainian Tomlinson (219 touches, 914 yards, 6 TDs, 52 Rec., 368 yards) and his understudy Shonn Greene (185 touches, 766 yards, 2 TDs). The Jets are 4th in the league in rushing yards per game. Braylon Edwards (53 receptions, 904 yards, 7 TDs) and Santonio Holmes (52 receptions, 746 yards, 6 TDs) can also break a game open with their deep route running and have more touchdowns and yards than New England's top two receivers: Branch and Wes Welker (86 receptions, 848 yards, 7 TDs).
Brady, even without a completely healthy Branch, has a ton of offensive options. The running backs on this amazing offense include Benjarvus Green-Ellis (229 touches, 1,008 yards, 13 TDs, 12 rec., 85 yards), Danny Woodhead (97 touches, 547 yards, 5 TDs, 34 rec., 379 yards, TD), and Fred Taylor (43 touches, 155 yards). Tight Ends Rob Gronkowski (42 receptions, 546 yards, 10 TDs) and Alge Crumpler (6 rec., 52 yards, 2 TDs) are the perfect mix of experience (Crumpler) and rookie talent (Gronkowski). Aaron Hernandez (45 rec., 563 yards, 6 TDs) can often be the equalizer in important games, and he'll come to play, too.
Other than the rushing game's dominant threat, the Jets also have a daunting defense when they are at their best. Cornerback Drew Coleman had 5 forced fumbles on the year and an interception. Inside Linebacker David Harris led the team in tackles with 99 on the season. Harris also had one forced fumble and three sacks. The team's sack leaders are OLBs Bryan Thomas (6) and Calvin Pace (5.5), and they'll be hunting for Brady. The Jets defense ranks 3rd in the league for rushing and total yards allowed per game and 6th in passing yards allowed per game.
The New England Defense is not as celebrated, but the superstars on this team are coming out of the shadows. Rookie Cornerback Devin McCourty (7 Interceptions, 110 yards) was the first pick for the Patriots in the 2010 draft. He's already paying dividends. This team has 25 interceptions and 4 touchdowns with 11 forced fumbles on defense. Bill Belichick is also one of the absolute best coaches in the league. He will not let his team lose this game.
The Patriots may not trounce the Jets as bad as they did the last time out, but they will win on Sunday to close out the playoff week. Two touchdowns or more will be the final margin, and the Jets will have no answers or adjustments to bring to bear this time. Their close game against the Colts was due to the offense taking off late in the game and suddenly becoming unstoppable. The Patriots and their secondary and linebacking crew will not be so lenient. Look for the Patriots to cruise into the next stage of the playoffs easily with a marquee battle against the Steelers or Ravens next week.