By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff
The jubilation is palpable in Patriots nation. Finally, a meaningful game is on the horizon, and it’s against the hated Jets. New York, who were once considered a Super Bowl favorite, is now viewed upon as the weakest team left in the AFC playoffs. It’s funny how quickly things change in the sports world. Last time the Jets were in town, fans were quivering in their boots about a possible New York sweep against their beloved Patriots and tumbling New England all the way down to the 5th seed. But a 45-3 blowout has made all the fans forget about how formidable the Jets were coming into that contest.
While the Divisional round might be a repeat of the trouncing, it could also mirror their Week 2 meeting. Regardless, it will be an exiting game, whose victor will be the team that gets the upper hand in these 5 matchups:
1) Jets Running Game vs. Patriots Linebackers
The Jets control the game with their running attack. This alleviates the pressure off of Sanchez’s green shoulders and keeps the ball away from Tom Brady’s deadly hands. The Patriots front 7 isn’t exactly the iron curtain, but they do get Brandon Spikes back as well as an extra weeks rest. However it’s not impossible to see that the Patriots defensive line, currently held together by duck tape consisting of Love, Deaderick, Moore, and Cohen splitting at the seems during the heated playoff atmosphere in a frigid Gillette Stadium.
2) Mark Sanchez vs. Bill Belichick’s schemes
Sanchez doesn’t have to throw the ball very often in order for the Jets to succeed. This is a good thing for the Jets, as he is prone to getting flustered and making costly mistakes. So, the more confusing Belichick’s schemes are, the more likely the young QB will make a bad decision.
3) Shayne Graham vs. Any Field Goal Attempt Over 35 yards
It would be nice to think that the Patriots will walk all over the Jets and will only need Graham to kick chip-shot extra points, but that is not how most playoff games play out. Patriots will at some point count on their kicker to make a clutch play, and so far Graham has not instilled much confidence. However, historically he is rather accurate which is should serve as some condolence to people who are worried about his obvious lack of range. Please don’t look up his historical stats! He is 3rd all time in field goal percentage behind Nate Keating and Vander-jerk (the 2 most infamously least clutch kickers in the last decade.)
4) Patriots offensive line vs. Ryan’s Blitz
Rex Ryan’s defenses always produce elaborate blitzes which force their secondary to play in man coverage all game long. If the Patriots stout offensive line can buy Tom Brady time to adequately make his reads, he will be able to pick apart any man coverage, which was evident in their last meeting.
5) Turnover Battle
Patriot fans have been living the twilight zone these past couple of months. New England is so stingy with the ball and force so many turnovers that opposing teams inevitably fall behind and are forced to air the ball out in order to get back in the game. Their playbooks become slimmer and their play-calling inherently riskier, resulting in even more turnovers. This self-sustaining downward spiral is impossible to get out of unless the Jets themselves start generating turnovers. Let’s hope that the Patriots continue this Scrooge-ness, all the way to the AFC Title game.