By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots had a bye week last weekend, and their opponent the New York Jets went on the road and upset the Indianapolis Colts 17-16. With this victory by the Jets, it sets up a third match-up this season between these two AFC East rivals. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live Sunday on CBS at 4:30 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Jets on Wild Card Weekend controlled the second half with their running game, and kept Peyton Manning on the sidelines. Mark Sanchez led the Jets down the field in the final minute of the game. This led to a 32 yard field goal by Nick Folk which now sends the Jets to Foxboro on Sunday. The Patriots embarrassed the Jets on December 6th 45-3. I expect a much closer and tougher game in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
On defense, the Jets best player is cornerback Darrelle Revis. It will be interesting to see who he covers in this match-up. The other Jets cornerback is Antonio Cromartie, and his play on Sunday could be key for the Jets. He was good in the first match-up between the two teams, but in the second match the Pats got the better of him. The Jets have a solid defense, but if they do not get pressure on Brady to help out the defensive backs it could be a long day for this unit.
On offense, the Jets running game will be very important. In the last match-up the Jets ran for a total of 152 yards. Shonn Greene had 64 yards and Ladainian Tomlinson ran for 47 yards. The wildcard in this unit has to be Sanchez. He will have to play much better than the last time he faced the Patriots which saw him throw 3 interceptions.
This game is going to be a battle, and could be decided sometime in the fourth quarter. I do look for the Patriots to pull away late in this game but I don’t think it will be easy.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats. Some of these keys are fairly obvious, but I feel are important points to watch in the course of the game.
1. The Patriots need to stop the run. This key is a “no brainer” in this match-up. The Jets against the Colts really controlled the game with their ability to run the ball and kept Peyton Manning off the field. The Patriots will need to stop the run and force Mark Sanchez to beat them.
2. The Patriots need to get off the field on third down defense. As we know, the Patriots were the worst team in the league on third down defense this season. They cannot afford to let the Jets convert at a high level on Sunday. If the Jets do convert often they will be extending drives and keeping Brady off the field. We saw the effect this almost had in the Green Bay game – so hopefully we won’t see them have the same success.
3. Tom Brady needs to expose a weakness of the Jets defense which is covering the tight ends. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are match-up nightmares for the Jets as we saw in their last meeting. If Brady can find them as often in the middle of the field as he did during the Monday night blowout, the Jets will be in serious trouble.
4. In the redzone the Patriots need to score touchdowns. This sounds like a basic key, but a very important one. I don’t think the Jets can afford to get into a shootout with the Patriots, and scoring 7 points in each trip will help them get up on New York and force them to play from behind. However, if the Jets force the Patriots to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, they will keep themselves in the game.
5. Shayne Graham needs to be solid in his kick-offs and converting field goals. Graham had a meltdown in last year’s playoff game against the Jets when he played for the Bengals. He missed 2 crucial kicks, and the Patriots cannot afford for him to be off on his game against the Jets. His kick-offs will be crucial as well on Sunday as field position will be very important in this game.
The Patriots should win this playoff game, but by no means will the Jets make it easy for them. In the playoffs, the quarterbacks are so important in these games and the difference in this match-up could be the play of Brady and Sanchez. As I mentioned in the last match-up, if it comes down to the quarterbacks the Patriots have a major edge, and could be headed to a victory. It will be a struggle but I am predicting a 27-17 Patriots playoff victory.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.