On Monday December 6th, The New York Jets (9-2) and New England Patriots (9-2) will be in the national spotlight as they clash for the second time this season in what's sure to be the game of the year.
In a rivalry that's been hyped up ever since Bill Belichick jumped off the Jets' ship and ran to New England, contests between these two teams are always heated and there is no exception on Monday night. In addition to the tensions of an already existing rivalry, there are additional implications this game holds that make it all the more dramatic.
Sole ownership of first place in the AFC East hangs in the balance.
Many playoff implications are abound as the winner of this game is most surely going to take the top seed in the AFC and secure a first round bye and home field advantage throughout the post-season.
The loser of the game could possibly miss the playoffs. The remaining schedules for both teams is no walk in the park and a wild card birth in this AFC is highly contested. It seems almost certain that an 11 win team will miss the playoffs this season.
You might be thinking "surely you can't be serious!"
In the immortal words of the recently departed Leslie Neilsen: I am serious... and don't call me Shirley.
Here are 10 things to watch for in a game that's sure to be one for the ages.
There is seemingly no love lost between these two guys. The mutual respect is there, but it remains to be seen how much they actually like each other. It seems less and less as every post game handshake is a bit more icy than the last.
Rex is also a sound-bite machine. In his first press conference as the head coach of the Jets, he proclaimed he's not here to kiss Belichick's rings. And in his most recent interview with Newsday's Bob Glauber, Ryan gave us this gem: "I came here to win. As much as I respect and admire Bill Belichick, I came here to kick his ass, and that's the truth. That's just the way it is"
All talk aside, both of these guys are defensive geniuses.
The Patriots defense hasn't been as good as it has in previous years. They rank dead last against the pass, 31st in total yards given up, 22nd in points given up and 16th in against the rush. But if you think Belichick isn't preparing a stingy defense to play against the Jets highly touted ground & pound attack and the emergence of Mark Sanchez's air attack, you'd be sorely mistaken.
The Jets' defense, while it has suffered some hiccups, is still one of the statistically best in the league. They rank in the top four in all defensive categories except against the pass (12th). Rex will be up late at night preparing a defensive plan to neutralize Tom Brady and the Pats offense.
The biggest key to a victory on Monday night is to pressure Brady, and pressure him often.
In the Jets' 28-14 victory back in week 2, the Jets only sacked Brady once (which resulted in a lost fumble), but he was constantly hurried and knocked down. Brady tossed two INTs in this game (he has only four on the season) so expect Rex to throw the kitchen sink at Brady with many exotic blitzes and pressure coming from all sides of the field. They Jets don't need to pile up the sacks on Brady, they just need to keep the pressure on him and force him to make mistakes.
The only problem with this strategy is it can and probably will expose the middle of the field and allow big completions to New England tight ends, Rob Grankowski and Aaron Hernandez. Jim Leonhard, Eric Smith and Brodney Pool are going to have to step up to prevent these big plays from paying off big dividends to the Patriots.
This is the biggest game of the season for both these QBs... and quite possibly the biggest game in Sanchez's short NFL career (except for last year's AFC Championship game).
It's seems pretty clear that both these teams have lived and died on the backs of their QBs. Brady has done it before a time and time again, and Sanchez is beginning to show that he can perform when the game is the line.
A game of this magnitude, if it lives up to it's billing, can be almost assured that one of these two guys is going to get an opportunity to win the game in a final drive with not much time left on the clock.
The Patriots can expect a whole lot of LT and Shonn Greene.
The Jets will try to control this game and wear out the Patriots defense with tough running from Greene and some finesse running and catches out of the backfield from LT... especially if the Jets start out with an early lead.
Expect Greene to get about 20 touches and another 15 going to LT.
If the ground & pound works as well as it can, it will create some great opportunities for Sanchez to air out the ball as well.
Santonio Holmes was still serving his suspension when the Jets and Patriots locked horns in week 2. Now he will get his chance to make his mark on this bitter rivalry.
Holmes has emerged as the number one receiver the Jets hoped he would be, and his chemistry with Sanchez seems to get better with every game they play.
The Patriots are ranked dead last against the pass, so expect Holmes to have 5-7 catches for at least 80 yards and at least one TD.
After Brad Smith single-handedly dismantled the Bengals on Thanksgiving (with one shoe!), I think the Seminole (Wildcat) package will be a bit more prevalent against the Patriots.
Brad Smith is proving to be a play-maker at three different positions and I think it's time Schottenheimer expands the playbook for Smith to throw some passes out of the Seminole.
Darrelle Revis was still nursing a hamstring injury in week 2 and his play suffered as he was beat by then Patriot, Randy Moss, for a TD.
Now, Revis is back at 100 percent and Revis Island is a lonely place again. Deion branch will discover how lonely a place it is as he is limited to two catches for less than 30 yards and no TDs.
Nick Folk has been shaky at best with his kicking as of late. So much that the Jets brought in veteran kicker Kris Brown to audition for Folk's job.
Folk has missed five of his past 11 field-goal attempts and hit an upright on an extra-point attempt on Thanksgiving.
This is the type of game that can easily come down to a last second FG for a win, and right now I don't think anyone has the confidence in Folk to hit a game winner.
Besides pressuring Brady and establishing a strong ground game, the biggest key to a Jets victory is ball protection.
They cannot afford any costly lost fumbles or INTs as Brady will capitalize on turnovers almost every time he gets the chance.
Shonn Greene's fumble against the Texans changed the momentum enough that it almost cost the Jets the game. The Patriots are not likely to lay down like the Texans did, so turnovers are a huge-no-no in this game.
This is a tough game to predict as both teams have a lot riding on this one.
But in the end, I think the Patriots weak defense will cost them and the Jets will come out on top in a close game that will come down to a last minute TD drive by Sanchez.
Jets win 24-20.