November 28, 2010
Patriots, Jets To Battle For Top AFC Spot
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
In the days and weeks to come, many of you will find out that you hate the Jets more than the Yankees.
At the beginning of the season, this column explored whom the biggest Patriot rival is. Over the years, the Patriots have been pitted against several teams in "rivalry" situations, without a clear winner emerging. We selected the Colts as the biggest Patriot rival by a razor's edge. That could change within the next few weeks.
The Colts were the choice over the Jets because of history, and how lopsided it is in favor of the Patriots. Only in the Bill Parcells era did the Jets really hold the clear cut edge over the Patriots in terms of on-field performance and off-field perception. Both Parcells and Curtis Martin pulled a Benedict Arnold on the Patriots in ways which required intervention by the commissioner. But the Patriots overcame that by prying Bill Belichick from the Jets, again with commissioner intervention. The Jets proved better at drafting while the Patriots proved better at winning Super Bowls. So there went that brief era of Jet domination.
Under Rex Ryan, the Jets have emerged rather suddenly as an elite NFL team, and are a solid contender to reach their first Super Bowl since the 1968 season. With a top tier quarterback in Mark Sanchez getting better and better right in front of our very eyes, to a stout defense built from some of the best bloodlines in the NFL, the Jets have a 9-2 record and currently own the tiebreaker against the Patriots thanks to a 28-14 win during Week 2 matchup at New Meadowlands Stadium. If the playoffs began today, the Jets would be the one seed and the Patriots a Wild Card at the five seed.
When we mention Ryan and bloodlines, we aren't kidding. Ryan's father, Buddy, was the architect of the Chicago Bears 46 defense which brutalized the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Ryan has a twin brother, Rob, who won two Super Bowl rings as Patriot linebacker coach before becoming defensive coordinator at Oakland and currently Cleveland. Rex himself helped win a Super Bowl with Baltimore in 2000 as their defensive line coach before being promoted to Ravens defensive coordinator. He held that job until joining the Jets last season.
Ryan is known mostly for buffoon-like press conferences, but he is crazy like a fox. Ryan's teams have been good enough to allow his coach to run off his mouth and not worry about it, because the Jets have basically been able to back him up. Rarely does his defensive unit play stupidly, and if the offense ever loses its penchant for key turnovers, this Jet team will be supremely tough to beat.
The nice feelings everyone around Patriot Nation got from watching their team dismantle the Detroit Lions 45-24 on Thanksgiving Day were tempered somewhat when the Jets prevailed that night against a bumbling Cincinnati Bengals team, 26-10. Both the Jets and Patriots are 9-2, and face a huge showdown next Monday night at Gillette Stadium with a ton at stake. At the very least, the winner of the game wins the division. Down the road, the winner of the game could wind up with the top seed in the conference. Both teams have the same amount of time to prepare for the game, so both will be well rested and ready to knock the hell out of each other in front of a national cable audience.
ESPN could not be happier. Teams from Boston and New York are always delicious from a TV ratings point of view. This game could very well contend for the most watched football game in the history of cable television. The only way this becomes better theater for television is to wind the clock back some 30 years and put the late Howard Cosell in the booth, who was infamous for his dislike of the Boston area and his slanted commentary against the Red Sox and Patriots. Cosell would pile it on towards Boston and wax poetic over his hometown of New York, and fans in both cities would either eat it up or spit it out accordingly.
But at some point, these teams have to play.
You would have to balance the home field for the Patriots against the defensive edge for the Jets. But you would have to make Tom Brady as the key to a Patriot win. Right now Brady is at the helm of the most efficient and productive offense in the league. The numbers say that the Patriots are 12th in total offense and 14th in passing. But the Patriots are 9-2 with the 30th ranked defense in the league. People are wondering how the Patriots are able to do it, but all you have to do is remember who is slinging the ball out there for the Patriots, and you begin to understand.
Brady had a perfect passer rating on Thursday at Detroit, but the Lions are 18th against the pass. Still, Brady was able to guide the team back from a 14-3 deficit with a near flawless second half to win in a blowout. Add to that the fact that Brady led the Patriots to masterful wins over Indianapolis and at Pittsburgh over the last few weeks, and you begin to respect Brady more and more and are reminded once again what a five-diamond jewel the Patriots have enjoyed over the last decade.
If the Patriots are to prevail over the Jets Monday night, Brady has to continue his streak of mistake-free football and flawless leadership. He has to play even better than the last three weeks. His offense has been rejuvenated with the return of Deion Branch and the jettisoning of Randy Moss. He will have an unlikely weapon in ex-Jet Danny Woodhead, who will be hell bent on sticking it to his old team. He will be protected by an offensive line which is obviously enjoying the return of Logan Mankins.
If the Patriots win, it will give the Patriots the inside track to both the division and the one seed. After this game, the Jets have two winnable games (Miami, Buffalo) and two losable games (at Pittsburgh, at Chicago). The Patriots have three opponents in common, as they also visit Chicago and host Miami. They have to travel to Buffalo, and also host Green Bay on a Sunday night. The rest of the schedule slightly favors the Patriots, but it is mandatory that both teams win their remaining division tilts against Miami and Buffalo.
But this game is much more important to the Patriots than it is to the Jets. If the Patriots lose, winning the division will be near impossible in that it will give the Jets a two-game lead with four to play. The Jets would win any tiebreaker against the Patriots thanks to a head-to-head sweep. The Patriots would most likely get in the playoffs, but as a Wild Card team and would then have to go on the road to get back to the Super Bowl. The Jets could still come back and win the division if they lose to the Patriots, as lower level tiebreakers could still come in to play should the teams be tied at season's end. The last thing the Patriots want to do is to have to go to Indianapolis or San Diego to try and get to the Super Bowl.
So these teams have a week and a day left to prepare. The fans will have it out this week, Ryan will shoot off his mouth, and Belichick will work his magic at speaking lots and saying nothing.
All the while, Brady will be good and ready for his biggest game since losing the Super Bowl in 2007. Make that very good and very ready.
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