Standing Room Only: Patriots - Jets Preview

Standing Room Only: Patriots - Jets Preview
September 12, 2013, 2:15 pm
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Tonight at Gillette Stadium, AFC East supremacy is on the line, as the upstart, undefeated New York Jets visit the undefeated New England Patriots!

Or something like that.

Let’s do some previewing . . .

History: Tonight marks the 106th regular season meeting between the Jets and Patriots.

The first ever game in the rivalry went down back in 1960 at the storied Polo Grounds in Manhattan. It was the second week of the AFL’s inaugural season. The second game of either team’s existence. Trailing 24-7 in the third quarter, the Pats mounted a furious comeback and beat the Jets (then the Titans) 28-24 for the first win in franchise history!

Not to be out done, the most recent game in the rivalry is best remembered for a butt fumble.

The Patriots have won four straight and 16 of their last 20 regular season games against the Jets. New England leads the all-time series (including playoffs), 55-52-1.

Weather: They’re calling for isolated thunderstorms at Gillette, which is good news for Stevan Ridley because there’s nothing more comforting for a running back with butter fingers than the prospect of a wet football.

I kid.

In reality, the only thing more terrifying about a potentially rainy night is what might happen if Rex Ryan’s wearing a white t-shirt.

TV: NFL Network is the place to be, although the game will also be broadcast locally on Channel 5. Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock have the call, and if you enjoy football then this should make you happy. Nessler’s solid, of course, but Mayock (with apologies to Shannon Sharpe) is the best analyst in the game. Once he gets rolling, you’ll be shocked by how much you never knew about the Jets third string nose tackle.

Bonus: Tune in for the NFL Network pregame show to hear Marshall Faulk take subtle shots at the Patriots!

Just kidding, you should watch our Patriots Pre-Game Show on CSN (to hear Mike Felger take subtle shots at the Patriots.)

Spread: The Pats are favored by 12, and everyone thinks that this is too high. There’s no way New England can cover with all their issues on offense! Honestly, it’s amazing how Vegas stays in business despite continually throwing out such obvious lines.

For what it’s worth, the Pats have been double-digit favorites twice in their last 10 games against the Jets. They won both, but only covered once. Also, in their last 10 games as a double digit favorite the Pats are 9-1 overall and 5-5 against spread. The only outright loss came last year . . . in Week 2 . . . at home (against the Cardinals).

OK, time for a quick run down of the match-ups.

Quarterback:

PATS: This is the sixth Thursday game of Tom Brady’s career, and in the previous five, he's undefeated, while throwing for 303 yards a game, 12 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. However, this is the first Thursday that he’ll take the field with a receiving corps comprised of a former college QB, a handful of rookies and something called the HooMan.

Of course, Brady will be fine. There are plenty of things to worry about before you get to No. 12. Although if you’re one of those rookie receivers, you should definitely worry about No. 12. He’s coming for you.

(With a touchdown pass, Brady will become only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for a TD in 50 straight games, and will be five short of breaking Drew Brees’ record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass.)

JETS: Geno Smith looks to become the first rookie quarterback to ever beat Bill Belichick’s Patriots at Gillette. And if that happens, he’ll also become only the fifth rookie (along with Mark Sanchez (who?), Russell Wilson, Colt McCoy and Ben Roethlisberger) to beat Belichick’s Pats, period.

But the short week couldn’t have helped. In fact, if you had to pick the one player in this game to be most affected by the quick turnaround, it has to be Geno. Giving a rookie QB (with one game under his belt) three days to prepare for a Belichick defense is like giving a blind guy three hours to complete a Rubik’s cube.

Then again, we all thought the same thing last week about E.J. Manuel, and he got along fine.

Running back:

PATS: The Stevan Ridley situation is reminiscent of last year, when Belichick tried to bury Wes Welker, but an injury to Aaron Hernandez forced Wes back into action. With Shane Vereen out for a while, hopefully Ridley can makes as much out of his second life as Welker did, but it may not come easy against the Jets D.

They held Doug Martin to only 65 yards on 24 carries last week.

All that said, even though Ridley is probably the best option, don’t put it passed Bill Belichick to stick to his guns and roll out LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington instead. Why? Because Bill Belichick.

JETS: Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell split carries for the Jets, and while neither is all that great, they both present an upgrade over Shonn Greene.

If the Patriots defense somehow struggles against the Jets ground game it’s more likely to be Geno Smith doing the damage. Containing Geno will be key, and that’s one thing the defense did pretty well last week against Manuel.

Receiver:

PATS: Let’s explain the Patriots receiving situation in three easy steps:

1. Danny Amendola’s doubtful. Rob Gronkowski’s out. Wes Welker’s in Denver. Aaron Hernandez probably won’t make it. So, that leaves Julian Edelman as the only active receiver with whom Brady has any kind of relationship.

2. As result, the Jets will focus on Edelman. He’ll probably be wearing Antonio Cromartie for four quarters, which both decreases the likelihood of Edelman matching last week’s 7/77/2 output and increases the chances that he’ll somehow end up pregnant.

3. As a result, someone other than Edelman — meaning, one of the rookies; preferably Kenbrell Thompkins — needs to step up.

Brady was 24-33 with two TDs on Sunday when targeting either Edelman, Amendola and also-injured Vereen. When throwing to anyone but those three, Brady was 5-19 with an interception.

JETS: While Amendola would be a huge loss for the Pats, the loss of Jeremy Kerley — out with a concussion — also looms large for the Jets. Kerley’s not only New York’s most dangerous receiver (obviously, that’s a relative term), but he also returns punts and has a history of absolutely killing the Patriots. In two games against New England last season, Kerley had 14 catches for 206 yards.

Other than that, figure Santonio Holmes will have at least one big catch, because he always has one against the Pats. But short of Wayne Chrebet heroically breaking out of retirement, the Jets receivers don’t pose much of a threat.

Tight End:

PATS: Michael Hoomanawanui will be the only legitimate tight end in uniform, but keep an eye on Nate Solder. The left tackle played 11 snaps at tight end on Sunday, and there’s no doubt he’ll see some more reps tonight. Knowing Belichick, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 6-8 Solder (who was recruited as a tight end out of high school) catch a touchdown. The coach loves pulling out the shenanigans on national TV.

The only downside to Solder playing tight end is that there’s an NFL rule that states that a player can’t be an eligible receiver on one play, and then hop back on to the offensive line on the next. He either has to stay at tight end, or take a play off.

You don’t want Nate Solder taking plays off.

JETS: Kellen Winslow II is suddenly 30 years old, but he’s healthier than he’s been in a long time and proved in Week 1 that he can still make plays. In catching seven balls for 79 yards and touchdown, Winslow’s developed into an early security blanket for Geno.

You can bet that the Pats will be committed to stealing that blanket and burying it in the same ditch where they keep the lost SpyGate film and the scattered remains of Chad Jackson’s career.

Defense:

PATS: New England would like to get more pressure on Smith than they did on EJ Manuel. Not that it would take much. But that’s the challenge when you’re facing a mobile coordinator. You commit too much to the rush, and he beats you with his legs.

Regardless, the match-up between the Pats defense and the Jets offense is one that New England should win. It’s that simple.

JETS: Say what you will about Rex Ryan, but the man can still coach up a defense. Even last year, as the Jets crawled their way to 6-10, the defense still ranked eighth in yards and second against the pass. They were at least OK.

Last week, led by an imposing front seven that was most responsible for handling Martin, they got off to a great start against a Tampa offense that ranked in the top 10 in yards last season.

The key for New England is to establish some semblance of a running game early and then torture the Jets with play action the rest of the way.

Coaches:

PATS: Call it a hunch, but my guess is that Bill Belichick’s strategy for tonight is to make the decisions that he thinks are best for his football team.

JETS: Rex Ryan has toned down his act a little this year, which is unfortunate because there are few things more entertaining than Ryan when he revs the buffoonery up to ludicrous speed. Still, once the national spotlight opens up tonight, he won’t be able to resist. Devil Rex will make an appearance. And the bigger the blowout, the more entertaining it will be.

Fans:

PATS: Patriots fans are in a bit of a lull heading into tonight. After all, it was sad and stressful offseason. Sunday’s win against the Bills wasn’t all that inspirational. At this point, the season is grounded in being cautiously optimistic about the defense, eternally grateful for Tom Brady and utterly confused by the pronunciation of Hoomanawanui.

But it’s always great to have the Jets in town. Throw in the fact that it’s the home opener and it’s on national TV and by the time they line up for the kick off, we’ll all be high on football. (And that’s almost as powerful as angel dust.)

JETS: For a Jets fan perspective on this rivalry, I reached out the only person I know who’s still willing to publicly admit that he’s a Jets fan. My friend Justin, who’s been living and mostly dying with the team for 30 something years. (To thank him for his help and for baring his tortured soul for all of us to laugh at it, give him a follow on twitter (@justin_kanew) and check out his weekly radio show.)

How would you categorize Jets fans’ relationship with the Belichick era Pats? I mean, it hasn't been all bad for you guys. Just mostly bad. Same number of AFC championships appearances over the last five years! Also, do you look at Brady in the same light as Bill? Or do his ravishing good looks give him an edge?

The problem is it's impossible to shake the feeling that these games matter way more to us than they do to you guys, so even on the rare occasions that we do come out on top it feels like you guys barely notice because you guys actually go to real Super Bowls while to us Pats weeks are our Super Bowls. So even when we win we barely win. It's like arguing with a friend-- whoever cares more automatically loses. Not that we're friends. We're not. Even right now I'm getting angry as I write this. The point is, we totally and completely hate you guys with every fiber of our beings. If I must choose between Belichick and Brady for the purposes of this exercise I'll let Brady live because he's undeniably handsome and he wears Ugg Boots, which has to embarrass you guys on some level. So he can stay.

Which would you rather see the rest of the way: Jets finish 3-14 with the only two wins coming against Pats, or 8-8 and they get destroyed by New England both times?

This is a tough one. If 8-8 gets us into the playoffs, it's 8-8. We're used to the beatings at this point. You almost can't even hurt us anymore-- we're like the Toxic Avenger. And playoffs would be pretty sweet this year after being left for dead in the gutter before the first snap. Plus it would save Rex, and I still have love for him even after all the weirdness. So we may suck often, but we're never ever boring... not like you guys. Sorry, I'm very bitter.

But if 8-8 means missing the playoffs anyway, and 3-14 means humiliating you twice and getting a better pick so we can take the next Vernon Gholston, it's 3-14 all day long.

Can Jets fans still appreciate Rex for his comedic value, or has the collapse of his regime sapped out all the fun?

Oh absolutely-- Rex is hilarious. Since we're bad so often the least we can do is have fun with it. The foot fetish videos were at least of his wife, the tattoo of Sanchez is ridiculous but at least it's thinking positive, and the guarantees and bizarre pressers are entertaining as hell. I'd much rather have a coach who makes news and entertains me than that Mangini character that came off Belichick's ass like a hemmerhoid. Imagine if you had Belichick but you sucked all the time... total nightmare, right? Belichick is only tolerable because you win. You would HATE him if you didn't. So I'm glad Rex is Rex, even if he has chilled out a bit. He may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but he can coach up a defense and as long as he stops making clock-management mistakes I'm in his corner. Until I'm not.

Prediction for tonight?

You guys are so beat up, and we're so angry, I'm tempted to say we have a chance to keep things close here. Once again we care much much more than you guys. Winning this game would literally be one of the biggest wins in the last 5 years-- right up there with the playoff win a few years ago. I'm not exaggerating either. It would potentially save Rex, it would anoint Geno and leave Sanchez eating hot dogs on the sidelines where he belongs for good-- far away from Geno hopefully... I truly hate that they even let him talk to Geno.

ESPN had us ranked dead last in the preseason. This would be a huge middle finger to so many people on so many levels... And to you guys it's just another game.... So I want to say we're gonna shock the world... but I certainly wouldn't bet my Ugg Boots on it. Can't wait, though. CAN'T WAIT.

SRO Final Prediction

The Jets might have the emotional edge, but the Jets also needed a miracle just to beat a pretty bad Bucs team. Tonight, I think the bright lights and his generally talentless offense will get to Geno Smith almost as badly as Belichick does. The Pats defense scores a touchdown. Blount scores one on the ground. And Brady throws for three (Solder/Edelman/Thompkins). It does rain, but fortunately Ridley doesn't fumble. And more fortunately, Rex isn't wearing a white T.

Final Score: Pats 35, Jets 13.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine