The New England Patriots travel to face the New York Jets in week 16. Here’s a few thoughts leading up to this contest. —
– The Patriots enter this contest 12-2, after crushing to a 27-16 win against the Tennessee Titans last week.
– The Jets stand at 9-5, retuning home after defeating the Dallas Cowboys 19-16 on the road in week 15.
– The Patriots can lock up the the AFC no.1 seed for the playoffs (already guaranteed a bye-week on Wildcard Weekend) by winning this week. The Jets are in a must-win situation, still fighting for a spot in the AFC wildcard race.
– New York Jets Head Coach, Todd Bowles, had some very complimentary thoughts on Pats’ cornerback Malcolm Butler.
“Malcolm is probably one of the best in the league… He studies the game. He’s not just a man corner, he’s a zone corner too. He’s feisty,” Bowles added. “He has very good technique, which is rare. He has great hand-eye coordination, he reads the ball, and he accepts all challenges and works at it. I enjoy watching him play.”
Butler was one of seven Patriots players named to the ProBowl on Tuesday.
– A big storyline from Sunday’s game will be roster management from New England’s perspective. How Bill Belichick and the coaching staff balance their current players as they approach a key juncture of the season. Yes, a win is important, but so is the health of key players in January.
Danny Amendola, Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Sebastian Vollmer, Devin McCourty and Rob Gronkowski are all players to watch. I expect some of these guys to play on a limited basis, but don’t be surprised to see their snap count monitors with a bigger picture in mind.
Three Keys to Victory:
Stop the Run: New England’s defense has been good against the run this season, but could be without Hightower — the team’s best run defender — in Sunday’s contest. New York has become more balanced offensively under Bowles, trusting Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw the ball with three and four receiver sets.
With that being said, the run game needs to be the focus for New England. Containing Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell will limit New York’s offense, putting more pressure on them to throw and allow the Patriots’ front seven to pin their ears back.
Win on Third Down: There’s only two teams in the NFL better than the New York Jets on third down (33%). The Jets have been able to get off the field and give their offense more opportunities throughout this season. New England must be able to extend drives, maximize oppurtunites and spread out New York’s defense.
Tighten Up Special Teams Play: Over the last month the Pats have suffered several blunders on special teams, costing them arguably two games during that stretch. Special teams can often be the deciding factor in close games and it should be a tight contest Sunday afternoon.
With the Jets possessing a good unit in this area, New England must return to form and gain an edge for them to have success. Three of the last four weeks they’ve fumbled a punt return and if that trend continues, they’ll likely head home with their third loss of the season.
Patriots 23, Jets 20
This should be a tight game that goes deep into the fourth quarter. The Patriots will likely be short-handed, resting some guys that are banged up. Adding to that, they’re on the road against a division opponent which needs to win. It’s a tough situation, but I expect New England to make enough plays down the stretch to escape the Meadowlands with a victory. We’ll find out Sunday.
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