The Patriots will face the Jets on Sunday with both teams fighting tooth and nail for a win. The Patriots need to win this game to clinch Home Field Advantage so they can rest their key players against the Miami Dolphins next week. The Jets need this game to stay on pace with the Chiefs and Steelers so they have a shot to make the playoffs in case one of the two slips up in the final two weeks. A Jets loss coupled with a Steelers and Chiefs win will end the Jets playoff asiprations this week.The Patriots must be ready for anything and everything as the Jets empty their playbook to save their season. For the Patriots, the plan shouldn't deviate too much from Week 7.
Prepare for Overload Blitzes: The Jets typically don't do a great job of generating pressure with a standard rush, but have some monsters inside the tackles. Facing a Todd Bowles-coached defense, the Patriots should know that when in doubt that Bowles will send pressure. That means that Rob Gronkowski, James White, Steven Jackson, and Michael Williams should be prepared to stay in to block in case the Jets do blitz. The Patriots can also use Bowles' blitzing tendencies against him with misdirection and screen passes into the flat or off the edge with the blocking TE. If the Patriots prepare for the blitz and the Jets wind up not blitzing, that's extra time for Tom Brady to find someone downfield. The offensive line has been shaky lately, but this week presents a great opportunity for them to get better and start rolling for the playoffs.
Match Up James White Against the Jets Inside Linebackers: If there is one obvious mismatch in the game, it's James White in space against a linebacker. White isn't a polished route runner for a RB and is more useful when flanking the QB from the shotgun than as a pass receiver, but the Patriots may be able to take advantage of the Jets linebackers in coverage. The Jets aren't necessarily fast on the perimeter and if they do go ILB vs. White, there's opportunities for White to use his elusiveness to break tackles in the open field. White isn't going to blow past the linebackers like Danny Woodhead or Shane Vereen, but you can use Brandon Bolden for that type of play. If the Patriots can get David Harris and Demario Davis covering in space, they've won the pre-snap battle.
Contain Brandon Marshall: Once again, it's limit Brandon Marshall. The Patriots did a solid job of dealing with Marshall in the Week 7 game, even though Marshall dropped a sure TD in that game. Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty limited him to 4 catches for 67 yards and no TDs. Once again, Logan Ryan will be tasked with the underneath coverage with Duron Harmon playing over the top. Last week, Logan Ryan didn't trust his help and turned into Kyle Arrington against Dorial Green-Beckham. Ryan won't be the last CB to give up 100+ to DGB, but you want him playing like he did against Deandre Hopkins. If the Ryan-Harmon tandem can limit Brandon Marshall, hopefully Malcolm Butler learned his lesson from getting beat by Eric Decker in Week 7. Butler is playing better now than he was back then, although the matchup favors Decker right now.
Stop the Jets Rushing Attack: The Jets primarily use Chris Ivory to run between the tackles. When the Jets are able to run the ball effectively, their offense is able to operate at maximum efficiency, which the Patriots cannot allow. The Patriots do have some big bodies upfront to handle the Jets interior lineman and great play on the edges between Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, and Jabaal Sheard, who the Patriots have utilized near perfectly. Going into this game, the Patriots Front 7 has the edge on the Jets and their blocking. However, Dont'a Hightower's reaggravation of the left knee injury suffered in Denver could be a factor here as Jamie Collins sometimes will try to knock people down in the open field instead of tackling them. Stop Ivory and the Jets offense will sputter, which could lead to turnovers.
For a final score prediction, I have the Patriots winning 26-21. The Patriots should have no problem moving the ball, but could struggle in the red zone, where the Jets defense ranks #1 in the NFL in red zone stops. Brady throws 2 TD and the Patriots pass 80% of the time, using a perimeter screen game to James White instead of handing him the ball in the backfield. The Jets will make this tough because it's really hard to slow down both Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker while leaving capable cover guys for the Jets other 3 eligible receivers, even though their TEs aren't premier receiving threats. The Jets will fight their way back into this game, but a late Harmon INT ices it.