Sunday afternoon at 4:25 p.m. two desperate rivals will hit the field in Foxborough, Massachusetts, pitted against one another. Both the New England Patriots and New York Jets currently sit at 3-3, as do their fellow AFC East teams the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.
For the Patriots to break through and begin their rise ahead of the rest of the division, they will need to make a statement with a win on Sunday. Here are 10 keys for New England to come out on top.
Last season the team featured two All-Pro targets for Tom Brady to take advantage of. Thus far this season Wes Welker has shown once again he will produce at the level everyone is used to seeing. However, the Patriots' other top option from a year ago, Rob Gronkowski, has not had the impact he did a year ago.
Of course Gronkowski can never live up to the insane season he posted a year ago, but the Patriots need to make a conscious effort to get him more involved because he cannot be covered by many people on this planet.
He has not found the end zone in two games and has only crossed the 100-yard mark once so far this season.
Gronkowski has shown previously that he knows what it takes to beat the Jets’ defense, as he had his second-best game in his stellar 2011 campaign against Gang Green. In that November meeting, Gronkowski hauled in eight passes for 113 yards and two scores.
The Patriots were the first team to be victimized by the new incarnation of the Wildcat that has spread across the league since Ronnie Brown destroyed New England with it in 2008.
The Jets have shown previously that they are very comfortable using it as well, whether it be with Joe McKnight, or of course Tim Tebow. The Patriots will be prepared to see Tebow running Sunday, but that will not be all they need to look out for.
Tebow has already had a hand in three successful fake punts through the Jets’ first six games, something the Patriots will clearly need to be alert for.
He has managed to pick off No. 12 in each of his two seasons since joining the Jets in 2010. His success goes all the way back to his San Diego days though, as he had a take away in what was a hard-fought AFC Championship game in January 2008 before the Patriots eventually won and advanced to Super Bowl XLII.
On Sunday it would be a surprise if Cromartie wasn't locked up with Brandon Lloyd, as he excels when he is matched up with outside threats like Lloyd. Brady may test him, but he would be wise to attack Kyle Wilson and the rest of the New York secondary more regularly.
As surprising as it may be to some people, the run game has had a major revival in New England this season. To keep the Jets from blitzing Tom Brady all day long and thinking pass every down, Stevan Ridley needs to go back to being the player we have seen most of the season before the Patriots went to Seattle.
Despite being held to just 34 yards on 16 carries last Sunday, Ridley is still the fifth-leading rusher in the National Football League. With fellow runner Brandon Bolden unlikely to play with a knee injury suffered in their loss to Seattle, Ridley should be asked to shoulder more carries than he would have otherwise.
The Jets’ defense is currently ranked 28th in the league, so Ridley could be due for another huge game, something that would go a long way in securing a win and demoralizing the Jet run defense.
The Patriots’ secondary has shown over the past few years that you can throw against it down the middle of the field. Scott Chandler, Doug Baldwin and other players you may not have heard of have been able to score utilizing the middle of the field.
A player who has done that to New England in the past is Jets tight end Dustin Keller. Keller has shown a knack at times for getting in between the Patriots' coverage zones and exploiting them. With the health of safeties Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung a clear concern heading into Sunday’s matchup, covering Keller may require some extra scheming.
With the Patriot run defense being as good as it has been, the Jets could be looking to throw often, and it would not be a surprise to see a number of those targets going Keller’s way early and often on Sunday.
Despite what people may say or think about quarterback Mark Sanchez, there is no denying that he has had success against the New England Patriots, even knocking them off in his second career game back in 2009.
The Patriots need to make sure that Sanchez is not going have a comfortable day in the pocket. Despite having some questions heading into the season, the Jets’ offensive line has allowed only 11 sacks thus far, ranking in the top-third of the league. To buck the trend and get multiple sacks and hurries, the Patriots will need an active day from rookie defensive end Chandler Jones.
Jones is already the unquestioned No. 1 pass-rusher on the team and could greatly benefit the Patriots by introducing himself on Sunday to Sanchez in a not so friendly manner.
The Jets are not a team that has pass-rushers to be overly worried about. They made North Carolina’s Quentin Coples the 16th overall pick in April’s draft, but he has only recorded two sacks through six games.
For the Jets to get after Tom Brady, they will need to mix in plenty of stunts. The Patriot offensive line has held up pretty well lately, except unfortunately in crunch time, but the O-line will be tested and kept on its toes a lot on Sunday.
To keep Brady clean and the offense rolling, Josh McDaniels may need to hold an extra runner, like Danny Woodhead, in the backfield next to Brady to be safe.
Jason Hill, Stephen Hill, Chaz Schilens, Jeremy Kerley. These are not names your casual Pats fan probably knows too much about. There is one thing to remember though. If quarterback Russell Wilson can carve up the New England secondary, everyone on the field needs to be a high-level threat in the eyes of the Patriots defenders.
Too often no-name players have made big plays victimizing the likes of Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and company for them to take anyone lightly. Every receiver and quarterback should be feared by New England until the Patriots raise their competency level in the defensive backfield by leaps and bounds.
Shonn Greene had by far his best game of the season last week against the Indianapolis Colts. Greene barreled his way to 161 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. This is no cause for concern against New England’s stout run defense.
The Patriots rank sixth in the NFL in run defense and are coming off a week in which they held Marshawn Lynch, who was the league’s third-leading rusher going into the game, to just 41 yards.
If the Patriots’ defense has another abysmal performance it is hard to imagine it will be because of the front seven, and certainly not because they could not stop the run.
The Patriots have had great chances to come away on top in all three of the games they have fallen in this season. To not let the trend continue, the offense needs to keep its foot on the gas pedal and put away the Jets.
The offense seems to excel in every quarter but the fourth so far this season (except of course in Buffalo). Whatever the reason is for their inability to sustain drives late in games, it needs to be figured out and fixed immediately or the 2012 season could be another in the line of wasted seasons with future Hall of Famer Tom Brady at the helm.