Well, Monday night will be the Game of the Year in the NFL as the Patriots’ AFC East rivals come to Foxborough with the division, as well as potential home field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs, on the line. Now, I am a New Yorker myself, so this game means more to me than any game on the regular season schedule, with the Colts as maybe the lone exception.
In Week two, New England played a great first half in the Meadowlands against a Jets team that was looking to find itself offensively. The Patriots had a 14-10 lead at the half, throwing to Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez effectively. However, in the second half, I still think the "non-team" mentality of Randy Moss came into play. When watching the tape, I thought Brady had the worst second half he has had in a long time because he was trying to force balls to Moss in double coverage, rather than go to the short passes with star cornerback Darrelle Revis banged up with a hamstring injury. Sanchez then took over the second half in a 28-17 win for New York.
There are many new faces in round two of this matchup on both sides. There is wide receiver Santonio Holmes and linebacker Calvin Pace for New York, as well as wide receiver Deion Branch and offensive lineman Logan Mankins for the Pats. But, two major injuries on both sides can play an impact as well.
Big hitter, Jim Leonhard, is out for the season with a broken tibia. The safety suffered the injury in a collision in practice on Friday. Eric Smith and Brodney Pool, who had an INT in Week two against Brady should see more playing time.
As for the Pats, right guard Stephen Neal is out for the year with a shoulder injury. This makes Mankins’ return huge for the Pats as Dan Connolly, who filled in for Mankins, will take Neal’s place in the starting lineup.
Here are my keys to the epic showdown:
1. Keller and Cotchery: With Mark Sanchez establishing a connection with Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, Belichick will need to have a good gameplan to defend. Due to the rise of rookie cornerback, Belichick has a decent chance of accomplishing this goal. However, the complementary role receivers hurt the Pats in Week Two. In that game, tight end Dustin Keller had seven catches for 115 yards and a touchdown, while Jerricho Cotchery had four catches for 26 yards and a touchdown and has burned the Pats for years.
However, ever since Week Three, Keller has not played a big role due to Holmes’ return from a substance abuse suspension. If McCourty can cover Holmes effectively, look for Sanchez to seek out Dustin Keller more often, as well as Cotchery, who is returning from a groin injury he suffered three weeks ago in Cleveland.
2. Red Zone Defense: With both of these teams, I expect an offensive shootout despite the cold weather, which I will get to in the prediction segment. I believe this game is going to come down who can turn touchdowns into field goals. Let me throw a couple of stats at you:Red Zone Opponents’ Scoring: New York (56.67%, 22nd in league), New England (63.16%, 27th in the league)
Red Zone Scoring for the offense: New England (61.36%, 6th in NFL), New York (40%, tied for 29th in the NFL)
This stat speaks to me because the Jets also have tried the most field goals from 40 yards or lower in the league. If New England can "bend but not break" in the red zone like they seem to do each week, the Patriots’ defense can have the upper hand in this matchup. Yes, they will give up yards, but that’s okay as long as they don’t give up seven points.
3. Nick Folk: Yes, I know a lot of people will criticize me for this one, because, as usual, my keys involve special teams. This time, in cold weather, the kicking game plays a major role, especially for Folk. In New York, Jets’ fans want Folk out for his constant missed field goals and they even tried out Kris Brown this week. Brown, if you recall, missed the game tying field goal for the Chargers earlier this year against the Pats.
The stats on Folk are that he is 22/30 in the league on field goals, but there is one stat that struck me. Since Week six at Denver, Folk has not made a field goal beyond 37 yards! So, with the winds in Foxboro, does Ryan trust his kicker to give it a shot or does he take more chances with the young quarterback? Look for one or two missed kicks from Folk or Pats’ kicker Shayne Graham to play a difference in this game.
Prediction: Before I get to my score for this game, let me give you the weather for the game:
Monday Night in Foxboro: 37 degrees, 13 mph winds, 10% chance of precipitation. There are reports that the weather can be as low as 27 degrees by gametime.
This game will be close, one way or the other. These two teams are evenly matched with talent on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. For New York, they have to rush Tom Brady for 60 minutes in order for him not to take advantage of the Leonhard injury by throwing to Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski down the field. Also, Mark Sanchez is playing in the cold, so look for him to be a little rusty early, but he will get his yards during the game.
For New England, they have to get a great defensive game from Devin McCourty, who will be covering Santonio Holmes down the field. McCourty has five INT’s this year, which is 3rd in the league, while Holmes would be a MVP candidate without the suspension. Look for Danny Woodhead to be in the factor for the Pats in both the run and pass game.
As far as the score, I believe this will be high scoring, but it will come down to one missed kick, and I think that guy is Jets’ kicker Nick Folk. Rex might be looking for a new kicker (and as usual, some snacks) come midnight on Tuesday.
Patriots 30 Jets 27