New England has clinched both the AFC East and a first round bye, while the Jets are fighting for a wild card spot. But don’t expect the Patriots to prepare any less for what could be one of the games of the week. The Patriots have won their seventh consecutive AFC East title, their 13th in 15 years. They have clinched their sixth consecutive first round bye with another 12 win season. Tom Brady has had another MVP calibre season despite injuries on offense. The defense has been one of the best in the Belichick era, and the Patriots are ready to contend for a fifth Lombardi Trophy. The Jets have had a good season and will finish above .500 for the first time since 2010, but are hungry for more. New York are one of three contenders for the AFC’s two wild card spots, and need a win over the Patriots to stay in touch. Ryan Fitzpatrick has proved to be an upgrade over Geno Smith and leads a strong offense. The defense is also strong under new head coach Todd Bowles, and could cause problems for the injured Pats.
Three Keys to the Game:
1. Pressuring Tom Brady
The Patriots have struggled once again with a make-shift offensive line and a constantly changing backfield, neither of which is great at taking pressure off Tom Brady. The Jets have a strong defensive front for both a pass rush and against the run. Muhammad Wilkerson is 5th in the league with 12 sacks, while the Jets rank 2nd against the run, allowing just 82.8 yards per game. Recent signings Steven Jackson and Joey Iosefa will have to make an impact in order to protect Brady.
2. How healthy is the Patriots offense?
With all the injuries to the Patriots offense, every game over the past few weeks has somehow been affected by the injuries. This week, tight end Rob Gronkowski did not practice. Receivers Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell were all limited. Edelman will likely not play due to his foot injury, while Amendola and LaFell will likely take to the field. Against a physical Jets defense, it’s likely there could be more injuries ahead for the Patriots.
3. Can the Patriots stop New York’s offense?
The Jets’ offense has been playing well for much of the last few weeks. Chris Ivory has rekindled some of his early season form, while the offense has shifted to focus more on the passing game. Ryan Fitzpatrick has one of the best receiving tandems in the league with Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. And he will need them against New England’s defense. The Patriots are tied with Denver for first in the league with 47 sacks. Malcolm Butler anchors a strong secondary that should be good enough to limit Marshall and Decker. Fitzmagic may have to dig deep to find a way through.
Match-up to watch: Malcolm Butler vs Brandon Marshall
In their first match-up in Week 7, Butler limited Marshall to just four catches for 67 yards and no touchdowns; one of only four times this season when Marshall has not been the Jets’ leading receiver. Butler has faced seven of the league’s best receivers across eight games, and has allowed an average of five catches for 70.6 yards and has allowed just four touchdowns. The battle between the two will decide New York’s playoff fate.
Prediction: New England Patriots
The Patriots have a better defense across the board, and seem to be getting healthier on offense. They have a better quarterback and coach, and should win a close game unless they are resting their starters.