Making my list. Checking it twice. It’s an NFL postseason weekend, so nice. And the headliner for folks in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states, is the third go ’round of one of the NFL’s nastier rivalries. The Patriots and the Jets tee it up in Foxboro Sunday afternoon. Position by position let’s look at the game.
|Tom Brady||Advantage Pats||Chad Pennington|
The Patriots heralded quarterback is still the king of the NFL post season. His three Super Bowl victories are tops among active quarterbacks. His playoff resume suffered a ding last year, and as with all things Patriots that means he’s got a chip on his shoulder. And when the Patriots have a chip on their shoulder, look out. Chad Pennington earned his Comeback Player of the year. But his high percentage, dink and dump offense will be exploited this weekend. Welcome back Chad, can you gun it? Deep? The Patriots are going to make him find out. Pennington’s twice surgically repaired shoulder is a liability that Brady does not have to worry about.
|Advantage Pats||Leon Washington
Both Faulk and Barlow are questionable, and worse for the Jets, Houston is probable with a calf injury. All three will play, but for the Jets the lion’s share of the work in the backfield will go to Washington. In comparison to the healthy and rested two headed running back monster in the Patriots backfield, the Jets have issues. Dillon and Maroney combined for 1,557 yards and a 4.2 avg per attempt. Washington has gained 650 yards splitting the work with Barlow and Houston, but how will he do on his own?
|Advantage Jets||Laverneus Coles
The Patriots are doing with their wideouts what they normally do with their secondary. Baling wire? Check. Bubble gum? Check. Duct tape? Check. Reche Caldwell is playing above his head. Troy Brown is defying his age and Chad Jackson is a rookie, and it shows. The Jets on the other hand have solid players at each wideout slot. Coles, who is questionable, will likely play. It’s playoff football. Cotchery and McCareins are capable threats and all three work hard to gain those important yards after the catch.
|Advantage Pats||Chris Baker
Add Ben Watson tot he list of walking wounded in Patriot country. If he was definite for Sunday’s game, this advantage would be blown open. Watson can block, catch and run well. The downside is his health and his status as second most prolific fumbler on the team after Tom Brady. In his stead the Patriots will use Graham and Thomas. Both are solid if unspectacular players. Baker is okay, but he is on par with Thomas. Unspectacular. In that environment New England benefits from Watson’s return, but is not crippled if he remains sidelined.
|Advantage Pats||Bryan Thomas
The Jets have a nice defense. It is effective at keeping points off the board. But they give up a lot of yards in a bend, don’t break style D. New England’s defense is hampered by the absence of emotional Rodney Harrison. Samuel’s ten picks are a plus, but the competence and talents of New England’s defense far out classes that of the Jets. The Jets linebackers are probably superior to New England’s largely because of the playmaking difference that Jonathan Vilma makes, as opposed to the slower Patriots linebackers. The secondaries both have holes, and it comes down to which quarterback can better exploit those holes. New England’s holes are deep. New York is weak at corner.
|Advantage Jets||Mike Nugent
The Jets advantage here is pronounced. The Patriots rookie kicker has struggled. Sauerbrun is the third punter the Patriots have used this year and Hobbs is not the equal of Maroney or Justin Miller returning kicks. Nugent and Graham have been solid in the kicking game. And Miller is going to the Pro Bowl. Game. Set. Match.
|Bill Belichick||Advantage Pats||Eric Mangini|
Mangini got the better of his former boss, partially because of personnel problems for the Patriots, but also because of his aggressive game plan in the most recent meeting. Belichick knows the Jets well, but not as well as Mangini knows the Patriots. His understanding of New England’s defense and its schemes and its plan of attack against Pennington gives him a wealth of knowledge. But Bill has been here before. He has the personnel advantage he need. He has seen this team and knows where to exploit their weaknesses.
This is by no means a lock for New England. Mangini is crafty, and his team has gotten this far. Anything is possible. The weather is expected to be warm and rainy in Foxboro. But this is the environment that Brady, Belichick and the Patriots have thrived in. They got beat last year by the Broncos in a game where New England hurt themselves often. This year to advance into the second round, they need to topple a familiar friend. Familiarity breeds contempt and there is a fair bit of animosity, especially between Belichick and Mangini. Expect both teams to be aggressive and to test each other often. New England has the better defense and that is the edge.
Patriots 34 Jets 17
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