In this game, the best offense in the NFL squares off against the best defense in the NFL. After being the league's laughing stock from 2012-2014, the Jets have rebounded early in 2015 and have already matched their win total from last year. Bolstering the best defense (93) in the NFL and an offense (49) that is about average, the Jets rank 8th on my Power Rankings board with an overall of 61. This will be the Patriots' toughest challenge of the season so far, so it's time for the Patriots to rise to the occasion and assert themselves as the AFC East's dominant power once again. Here's what the Patriots need to do in order to defeat the Jets.
Generate Space for the Offense: Instead of condensing and attacking the Jets on the edge in the run game, the Patriots should instead go with screens, sweeps, draws, and slants to attack the Jets defense. The Patriots top 3 receivers have 3-cone times of 6.62 (Julian Edelman), 6.85 (Keshawn Martin), and 6.81 (Danny Amendola). The Patriots should use the screen game to negate the obvious advantage the Jets have inside in the trenches. With Edelman, Amendola, and Dion Lewis in space, that puts the onus on the Jets linebackers and defensive backs to make open field tackles against some of the best open field runners in the game.
Load Up the Box, Take Away the Power Run Game: The Jets have journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB, who is arguably the most streaky QB in the NFL. Fitzpatrick has done a decent enough job to make the Jets offense not horrible, but the strength of the Jets offense is in the ground game. Chris Ivory is having a fantastic season running the ball, which is what the Patriots need to eliminate in this game. That means Dominique Easley, Sealver Siliga, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, and Akiem Hicks will play large roles on the defensive front for the Patriots, who I expect to go heavy base with 5 defensive linemen on the field. The goal here is to make Ryan Fitzpatrick, who averages 2 interceptions a game against the Patriots, to beat you. That will occasionally lead to single coverage against Brandon Marshall on the outside against Malcolm Butler, which doesn't bode well for the Patriots if Fitzpatrick has a clean pocket.
Make Fitzpatrick Throw From a Condensed Pocket: As I said before, Fitzpatrick is a streaky passer but like most QBs he needs a clean pocket to be effective. Dominique Easley will be key here again, because no one collapses the pocket on the Patriots better than he can. In obvious passing situations, line up Easley over the center if the Jets go to Shotgun formations where his amazing first step is a huge advantage. In addition to Easley, Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins need to have a big day at rushing the passer with Marshall likely getting single coverage. If Fitzpatrick is throwing with linemen in his face, that gives the Patriots patchwork but still effective secondary some potential interceptions. The one area the Jets offense struggles in is with turnovers, with 10 turnovers in 64 drives. If the Patriots can get their hands on a couple Fitzpatrick passes, that swings the game from a dogfight to a decisive victory.
Exploit the Jets Awful Special Teams Unit: The Jets rank dead last in Special Teams on my rankings spreadsheet with a grade of 24. The Jets got destroyed on Special Teams by a Top 10 unit in Philly in their only loss of the season. The Jets kickoff and punt coverage have struggled covering kicks, which could be a decisive advantage for the Patriots. If the Patriots can avoid committing penalties on punt returns, Edelman should have a very good day returning punts. This seems like the perfect storm for Edelman to record his yearly punt return touchdown.
This game is going to be a dogfight, but the Jets ball security problems will play a big role in their Week 7 defeat. If the Patriots limit the ground game against the Jets, that puts the ball into a turnover prone QB's hands. Patriots will record 2 interceptions in the game and win by 3 points on a Gostkowski game-winner. My score prediction is Patriots 27, Jets 24.