At about the time when most families on the East Coast will be finishing dessert and loosening up their belt buckles, the New England Patriots and the New York Jets will be getting ready to go to battle in a primetime game at the Meadowlands. At 4-6, a loss to the division leading Patriots would all but assure that the Jets watch this year’s playoffs from their couches. If Rex and company, however, can cook up a Thanksgiving upset, Gang Green will be right back in the wild card hunt.
As with any divisional game, there is no love lost between these two teams. The fact that they have such a unique off-the-field history makes the rivalry that much more intense, and also guarantees us two (at least) great Jets-Patriots games every season. The first time these two teams met this year, the Patriots pulled off a 29-26 overtime victory at home. What should we expect to see tonight? Below are some key storylines to keep an eye out for in the clash of the beasts from the AFC East.
No Gronk, No Cry
When word leaked of the Patriots record setting tight end Rob Gronkowski’s broken arm Sunday night, the immediate reaction from players and fans was disappointment, not panic. Gronk has been the most dominant tight end in the league in each of his three professional seasons. He already owns the NFL record for most touchdown receptions and receiving yards in a season by a tight end, and before breaking his arm Sunday, he became the first player in NFL history to record 10 touchdowns in each of his first three seasons. So, naturally, you would think that the loss of a player of his caliber would be detrimental to a team in the playoff hunt. Ordinarily it would be. But the Patriots are far from your ordinary team.
With the exception of a healthy Saints team, no other organization possesses the amount of offensive fire power that the New England do. And although they function best when they’re able to run a duel tight end set with Aaron Hernandez and Gronk, either one of those two alone are more than capable of handling the load and causing severe mismatches for opposing defenses. With Hernandez set to return from his nagging ankle injury this week, the timing of their two stars injuries couldn’t have coincided at a better time.
Of course, the Pats are going to miss their favorite 6-6 target, but with a comfortable lead in the division, and the return Aaron Hernandez, this team shouldn’t skip a beat en route to the playoffs.
Despite underachieving this season, the Jets should have won round one of this matchup back in October. In that game the Pats needed overtime to eke out a 29-26 victory, and Mark Sanchez actually out played Tom Brady in what was by far his best performance of the season (28- 41, 328 yards 1 TD). Sure, some adjustments will need to be made with the addition of Aqib Talib to the Patriots secondary, but based off of the first meeting, New York should head into this game with some added confidence on the offensive side of the ball. Despite leading the AFC in takeaways with 27, the Patriots haven’t held an opponent to under 20 points in a game since Week 1, so there are definitely flaws in New England’s defense that can be exploited. If Sanchez and running back Shonn Green are able to eat clock and move the ball as effectively as they did in round one, there’s a good chance we could see a different outcome this time around.
Though you would never be able to tell by watching ESPN, Tim Tebow has pretty much been a non-factor so far this year for the Jets. Some rumors, however, came out last week that the reason New York hasn’t given him a fair shot under center is because they can’tafford the incentives in his contract. Sure, that could be the reason, but it also may be because, well, he’s not good at throwing a football. Regardless, the former Heisman winner has been more or less rusting away on Gang Green’s sidelines, and you’ve got to figure Big Rexy has some kind of trick up his sleeve for his famed decoy in his team’s biggest game of the season. Basically, if there was ever a time to unleash the wrath of Tebow, a nationally televised prime time game against your biggest rival is the time to do it. Look for Tebow to run the Wild Turkey to perfection, and finally reach the end zone for the first time as a New York Jet.
You Can’t Find a Betterman (Than Edelman)
My apologies for the forced Pearl Jam pun, but the fourth-year quarterback turned wide receiver turned defensive back turned punt returner has been pretty dominant of late. Edelman scored on a punt return and touchdown pass from Tom Brady last Sunday in New England’s 59-24 crushing of the Colts. He also forced a fumble on special teams. Edelman lined up for more than 85 percent of New England’s offensive snaps in Week 11, and with Gronk sidelined and Deion Branch unemployed, it’s clear that Belichick has confidence in his not-so-secret weapon. Edelman and Welker are the small ball equivalent to attacking with Gronk and Hernandez, but there’s no reason to believe that the former won’t be equally as effective.
Prediction: Patriots 27-Jets 16
Brady and the boys go back for seconds and walk away unscathed and in hold of a 3.5 game lead in the AFC East with just a quarter of the regular season remaining.