Never has an NFL head coach who has accomplished so little run his mouth so much like Rex Ryan of the New York Jets has in the past year or so. And all you can do is just chuckle.
From proclaiming he wouldn’t kiss AFC East rival Bill Belichick’s rings, to saying his team should be favorites to win last season’s Super Bowl (which the Jets didn’t appear in), and that all the “experts” say the Patriots are the NFL’s best team, “except me,” Ryan is full of the type of tough talk and bravado that is more fun than disrespectful of the opposition.
He could brag that he owns a career 2-1 record against Belichick (including a 28-14 win at the New Meadowlands in Week 2 this year that the Pats are looking to avenge come Monday) and that the Jets, going back to the Eric Mangini era have beaten the Pats three of the last four times. Ryan, however, still has the utmost respect for them and therefore won’t provide too much bulletin board material for the Pats to use against him.
New England hosts the Jets on the December 6, 2010, edition of Monday Night Football for what is going to be the biggest regular season matchup of the season with a lot riding on it. The winner not only claims first place in the AFC East outright (as both teams sit atop at 9-2), but could be in good position for a first round bye in the playoffs and possibly host two home games.
The loser of this game could fall one game behind with four games left, and depending on how it does the rest of the way, end up on the road for three playoff games in its march to the Super Bowl. The Jets have Chicago and Pittsburgh as tough opponents on the road in the last quarter of the season, while the Pats have Chicago and Green Bay to battle in that stretch. So they are obviously battling for more than just to to establish who the best team in football is (with the 9-2 Atlanta Falcons begging for consideration as well).
The Jets are undefeated on the road (5-0), but Tom Brady and his Patriots are undefeated at home (5-0). Brady is also looking to break the record for consecutive home wins for a quarterback with number 26 on Monday night.
So who will win and why? The Patriots in a shootout, as Brady, the reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week (due to his four TDs and perfect passer rating in the Turkey Day win at Detroit), will pick apart the Jets’ stellar defense with quick throws and check downs to Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez and anyone else open while the Jets make the mistake of over-blitzing, especially on third down. Little guys like Danny Woodhead and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be key contributors as well.
Perhaps the biggest impact will be the Patriots’ ability to stop the Jets’ running game, and a rejuvenated LaDainian Tomlinson in particular (who also is one of the Jets’ more reliable pass catchers as well).
The NFL’s leading tackler Jerod Mayo (with an astounding 132) will be the big time run stuffer, and lead the Pats defense in forcing Mark Sanchez and the Jets to be a more one dimensional offense in the second half, if not by the end of the first half. And as Peyton Manning knows, that means more opportunities for fast maturing Pats cornerbacks like Devin McCourty to pick off Jets passes.
My only fear as a Pats fan is the game changing for the worse on special teams, which slightly favors the Jets since Pats special teams coverage has been shaky at times. Brad Smith is every bit the elite kick returner for New York that Brandon Tate is for the Pats, but holding Smith back may be tougher than keeping Tate in check.
Big returns could mean that Smith sets up a short field for Sanchez and the Jets. However, they are last in the AFC in red zone offense (with the Pats currently third). Still, even if no touchdowns come out of a short field for the Jets, Nick Folk may become an important x-factor.
The Pats defense also worries me a bit, as it is still not yet an elite group as far as shutting down offenses goes. Sanchez will more than likely find a way to throw a touchdown or two to Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards no matter what Belichick does to try and stop the passing game. Brady’s offense is just going to have to outscore Sanchez’s, plain and simple.
The kicking game is about even, with Folk struggling lately for the Jets, and Shayne Graham not being much of a factor for the Pats as of yet since replacing the injured Stephen Gostkowski for the rest of the season.
In a late development, just revealed late this afternoon by profootballtalk.com was the loss of safety and special teams contributor Jim Leonhard, who left a Jets practice being carted off with a “severe shin injury” and is now likely out for the season. This is a big blow to them, as he is the team’s leading punt returner and ranks second in tackles. Brodney Pool and Eric Smith will now be the Jets safeties, while receiver Jerricho Cotchery will likely take over for a majority of punt returns now, according to PFT.
In all, I expect this game to live up to the hype and result in the Patriots and Belichick do what they do best, win big games, especially in December and at home in what will be a bonkers Gillette Stadium.
Photo credit: ESPN.com