Patriots vs. Jets: Highlighting Key Matchups to Watch for New York

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer INovember 20, 2012

There is hope in New York, as the Jets finally snapped their three-game losing streak on the strength of a solid defensive performance against the St. Louis Rams.

They'll have to get another good performance against an even better offense to come away with the win against the New England Patriots.

The Jets are 6.5-point underdogs at home, so clearly, most are not expecting them to win, but can they?

Here's the outlook, with some key matchups to watch.


What It Means

For the Patriots, this game is a chance to prove that they can win without tight end Rob Gronkowski. It is also a must-win if the Patriots want to remain in contention for one of the two first-round byes, which became much more important with the timetable of Gronkowski's recovery being set at four to six weeks (which would put him back roughly around the start of the playoffs).

For the Jets, this game is virtually a must-win if they are to keep their playoff hopes alive. A loss this week means the Jets are essentially playing the last five weeks of the regular season in a one-and-done playoff scenario. It's a long shot for the Jets to make the playoffs at 9-7, much less 8-8.


Key Matchup to Watch: Aaron Hernandez vs. Jets Linebackers

With Gronkowski out, the Patriots will have to find another way to take advantage of the Jets' weaknesses in covering tight ends.

Enter Aaron Hernandez, who should be healthy for Thanksgiving night in New York. The third-year tight end has abused the Jets nearly every time he has faced them, accumulating 23 receptions for 303 yards and a touchdown in five regular season games.

According to Football Outsiders' DVOA rankings, the Jets are the league's fifth-worst team at covering opposing tight ends.

The Patriots matched up Hernandez on cornerbacks a lot in their most recent meeting, but they always manage to get him on a linebacker at least once or twice a game. On this play, the Patriots drew it up that Hernandez would break toward the sideline at five yards along with Wes Welker. The separation gave Tom Brady a big enough window to hit his target.

From there, Hernandez made linebacker David Harris miss his tackle, and were it not for a solid tackle from Yeremiah Bell, Hernandez would have gained a lot more than seven yards.


Biggest Advantage for New England

Their run defense should have no problem shutting down the Jets' running game.

The Patriots defense ranks seventh in the league against the run, yielding 3.9 yards per carry to opposing ball-carriers. The Jets, on the other hand, have struggled to establish the ground-and-pound mentality they sought to re-instill this offseason, and they have the league's seventh-worst average at 3.7 yards a tote.

Mark Sanchez had a solid day against New England's secondary the last time they met (28-of-41 passing, 328 yards, TD, INT, 90.8 passer rating), but his three best performances of the season have come at the aid of a solid running game and a stout defense. New England's ability to shut down the run greatly improves their chances of winning against the Jets.


Biggest Advantage for New York

The Jets have some speed at wide receiver, and they were able to use that to their advantage in the last meeting. Sanchez threw six passes that picked up 20 yards or more and went 3-of-5 for 72 yards and an interception on passes traveling 20 or more yards through the air.

New England's secondary has looked a bit better since then than it did leading into that contest, and Sanchez can't afford any poorly thrown balls like the one that was picked off by Alfonzo Dennard in the last meeting.

However, New York has enough success to glean on that there may be an opportunity for New York to exploit any weaknesses New England may have on the back end.


Best Video Tangentially Related to the Game

The Jets have pulled off the upset of the Patriots in the past, and this trip down memory lane comes through a forest of hilarity and belching courtesy of Paul "Fitzy" Fitzgerald of Don't get lost in the woods, or the swearing.

To quote the great Nate Dunlevy, "Fitzy is very, very not safe for work, children or house pets. ...Don't say I didn't warn you."


Patriots Win If...

They manage at least one turnover.

Rex Ryan has lauded the Patriots for their ability to create turnovers, and that has been their path to victory all season long. They have won the turnover battle outright nine times and have picked up all seven of their wins under that circumstance. They have also forced multiple turnovers in nine of 10 games.

The Jets have won the only two games this season when they have not turned the ball over, but they have turned it over multiple times in six of their 10 contests and are 1-5 when that happens.


Jets Win If...

Their coverage holds up.

Even without Darrelle Revis, the Jets have a solid secondary. Rex Ryan deserves a great deal of credit for what he has done with a shorthanded defense, but without getting much pressure from his front seven, a lot of the credit goes to a secondary that is allowing just 6.5 YPA passing (seventh-best in the NFL) and a 798. passer rating to opposing quarterbacks (ninth-best in the NFL).

The Jets' run defense has not played well on the season as a whole but has severely picked up the pace over the past five games, holding opponents to yards per carry in that span. They have a tall task in front of them to cover Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and Julian Edelman, but it's their best chance at picking up the win.



There's a reason people are saying it would be an upset if the Jets beat the Patriots.

That's because most people don't think it will happen.

Don't count me among the enthusiasts.

Patriots 24, Jets 20


Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained first-hand or via team press releases.


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