The Week 6 contest between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots could be a defining moment for the host team.
The Jets have already exceeded low expectations by stringing together three consecutive victories against confounding and/or lousy AFC foes. The Jets, Patriots and Bills all share the same record in the AFC. With the Bills on bye, New York could be all alone in first place if they can knock off the Patriots Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Who would’ve thought that was a possibility just a month ago?
The Patriots enter East Rutherford, N.J., as a 10-point favorite, but the betting line has been overrated in the past between these teams when the Jets are at home. Since the infamous “Butt Fumble,” massacre on Thanksgiving, the last four games between these two teams have been decided by six points or fewer and two of them went to overtime.
The Jets will be plenty motivated entering this statement game. A win over the defending Super Bowl champions will have fans forgetting about tank talk entirely and shifting the conversation to… the playoffs.
Much has been made about New England’s alarmingly bad defense. Bill Belichick’s unit is ranked 32nd in total defense and passing defense and 24th in rushing defense. The Patriots held an explosive Tampa Bay offense to only 14 points last week, but Nick Folk missed three field goals for the Buccaneers and the Patriots dumbed down their defense to an extraordinary degree on a short week. The miscommunications that plagued New England through Weeks 1-4 weren’t evident in Week 5 because the defense took fewer chances.
The Patriots have faced a few talented quarterbacks; namely Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston. But Alex Smith and rookie Deshaun Watson have also shred New England’s secondary apart. Josh McCown is by far the most pedestrian quarterback New England has faced. The Jets have also been unwilling to take many downfield shots with their 38-year-old quarterback.
McCown’s 6.94 yards per attempt average ranks 18th among quarterbacks. New York’s West Coast system is predicated on the short passing game, but offensive coordinator John Morton must show a willingness to take chances to keep up with New England’s offense.
New York’s running game also could be in disarray, as both Matt Forte (toe) and Bilal Powell (calf) are nursing injuries entering the showdown. Powell hasn’t practiced all week, while Forte was a limited participant Wednesday and Thursday. If both players can’t play, rookie Elijah McGuire will see the majority of the work. The sixth-round pick out of UL-Lafayette has been up to the task thus far, accruing 176 rushing yards on 34 carries.
New England’s offense follows the same formula it has for many years. Tom Brady will extract the weakness in an opposing secondary to perfection. He’ll diversify the target share among a strong supporting cast featuring Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and James White out of the backfield. Gronkowski missed last week’s game with a thigh injury and he was limited in practice Thursday. Brady took a beating last week and suffered an AC joint sprain in his non-throwing shoulder. But surely, he’ll be fine come game day.
New York’s secondary entered the season as one of the most concerning units on the team, but it’s held up through five weeks. The Jets rank 15th in passing defense, but have faced only one great quarterback this season. New York has played against Tyrod Taylor, Derek Carr, Jay Cutler, Blake Bortles and DeShone Kizer/Kevin Hogan. Morris Claiborne, Juston Burris, Darryl Roberts and Buster Skrine will get all they can handle against New England’s high-powered attack.
New York’s dormant pass rush will need to wake up Sunday afternoon. The Jets rank 31st in the league with only seven sacks. Defensive anchors Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams haven’t recorded any of them and that’s simply inexcusable five games into the season. Both players must show up against the Pats, who allowed Tampa Bay to record three of its four sacks on the season last Thursday night, or else face the taboo of being deemed overrated.
The Jets have a puncher’s chance Sunday afternoon, especially if they can get off to a strong start. But this game likely represents an opportunity for the upstart Jets to get exposed. This feels more like a fall back to earth than an ascension into legitimacy.