NFL: Monday Night Madness

It’s that time of the season. It’s Week 13 and the playoff picture is starting to shape up. There are plenty of great games this weekend, but I’m only going to focus on one. This will be perhaps the best game of the entire season. The 9-2 New York Jets are travelling to Foxboro, Mass., to take on the 9-2 in-division rival New England Patriots.

The Storyline
The Jets come into this game having won four games in a row, including two overtime wins against the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. The Patriots have won three in a row against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts and the Lions. Tom Brady is having one of the best seasons of his career, having thrown for 2,703 yards with 23 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez has improved remarkably upon his rookie season, having thrown for 2,472 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. However, half of Sanchez’s interceptions have come in the last four weeks. But probably the biggest storyline of all is this: the Jets are 5-0 on the road while the Patriots are 5-0 at home. Something’s gotta give.

Matchups to Watch
1) Jets nickel and dime corners vs. Patriots wide receivers. The Jets had a busy offseason ramping up last year’s #1-ranked defense by trading for cornerback Antonio Cromartie and drafting highly-touted Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson. Cromartie has stepped up in a big way, while Wilson has flopped in his rookie season, falling as far back as fifth on the Jets’ depth chart. The Patriots have returned to the short passing game that was so successful for them in the early 2000s and it is working again now. Deion Branch looks as though he never left and Wes Welker is as solid as ever. With compliments such as Brandon Tate, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, this receiving corps is extremely deep. Cromartie and all-pro corner Darrelle Revis will handle the Patriots’ top receivers, but how will the likes of Drew Coleman, Dwight Lowery and Kyle Wilson match up against all of the Patriots’ weapons?
2) Mark Sanchez vs. the Patriots’ 32nd-ranked pass defense. The first time these teams met this season, Sanchez turned in his best performance to date. He was efficient, completing 21 of 30 passes for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns en route to a 28-14 victory. When Sanchez went up against the Houston Texans’ 31st-ranked pass defense only two weeks ago, he turned in another great performance, throwing for 315 yards (only the second 300-yard passing game of his career) with 3 touchdowns and 1 interception in a 30-27 Jets win. The Jets’ offense has become much more balanced in recent weeks, thanks mainly to the return of Santonio Holmes, who missed the first meeting between the two teams due to suspension.
3) Patriots running backs vs. Jets run defense. The Jets are only giving up 86.3 yards per game on the ground, while the Patriots average 112.5 yards per game rushing. Jets castoff Danny Woodhead will certainly look to get revenge on his old team both on the ground and as a pass-catching option out of the backfield for Tom Brady. If the Patriots are to win this game, they have to establish the ground game early and not become one-dimensional by only passing the ball. The Jets will do their best to force Brady to have to beat them with his arm.
4) Nick Folk vs. himself. Folk was automatic for the first half of the season, but ever since the Jets’ Week 7 bye, he has been a different kicker. He’s only made 9 the 15 field goals he’s attempted and many of his kickoffs haven’t even made it past the 10-yard line. This has gotten to be such a problem that the Jets auditioned Kris Brown this week just in case they decide to cut Folk before Monday. If the Jets are going to win, they’re going to need Folk to return to early-season form. A missed field goal could cost them in this game.

This is a tough one to call. In Week 2, the Jets absolutely dominated the Patriots in New Meadowlands Stadium. But that was 11 weeks ago and now the weather is cold and the game is being played at Gillette Stadium. In a “what have you done for me lately?” league, the Patriots certainly look like the better of the two teams. The Patriots are the highest-scoring team in the league, while the Jets have given up the fourth fewest points. The Patriots have won their last three games handily, while the Jets have struggled to get past some of the NFL’s worst. Nevertheless, both teams are 9-2 and this game will almost certainly decide who wins the AFC East. Recent history says the Jets have won three of the past four matchups and I like the Jets in this game in a close one, 27-24.

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