2011 NFL Playoffs: Predicting Jets Vs. Patriots By Position
Despite what Rex Ryan might say, the Jets Patriots showdown on Sunday isn’t just about Rex Ryan versus Bill Belichick.
For these AFC East rivals, who split their regular season games, intriguing matchups abound all over the field.
Here’s a look at some of those matchups, and which team had the advantage.
Mark Sanchez vs. Devin McCourty
The second year quarterback is coming off a shaky performance (62.4 rat) against the Colts, and the rookie Pro Bowl cornerback is playing with a world of confidence.
Five of McCourty’s seven interceptions on the season came in the last seven games.
To Sanchez’s credit, he battled back from a terrible first half to guide the Jets to a game-winning field goal. Still, despite his marked improvement this year, he’s still the league’s 27th ranked passer.
Tom Brady vs. Darrelle Revis
Tom Brady’s hot streak is well-documented. He’s leading an offense that’s hotter at this point in the season than that of the 2007 Patriots.
He also set an NFL record for the lowest interception rate over a full season, and has thrown a record 355 passes since his last pick.
Revis, meanwhile, has quietly returned to “Revis Island” form after struggling with a hamstring injury for the first part of the season.
“Quiet” is the operative term for Revis here, in that peculiar way in which corners can best achieve stardom by staying as anonymous as possible.
LaDainian Tomlinson/Shonn Greene vs. Jerod Mayo
Ever since Tomlinson cooled down from his hot start to this year, the distributions of carries between the Jets runners has been relatively even. They will go with the hot hand.
Last week, it was Tomlinson, who once again defied rumors of his demise by averaging 5.1 yards in his 16 carries while making some catches out of the backfield.
Mayo, however, is playing as well as any Bill Belichick-coached inside linebacker has since Pepper Johnson of the Parcells-era Giants. Mayo led the league with 114 solo tackles and made the Pro Bowl for the first time but not the last.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis vs. David Harris
A straight-line running back meets a hard-hitting linebacker.
Harris has once again anchored one of the league’s best run-defenses (the Jets finished third best in yards per carry allowed).
Green-Ellis, meanwhile, has emerged into one of the league’s most effective backs, averaging 4.4 yards per carry and scoring 14 touchdowns. His no-frills, keep-the-offense-on-schedule makes him a great fit for the Patriots prolific offense.
Still, Green-Ellis has his detractors: Some see his success as more a product of the talent surrounding him than his own skills.
Santonio Holmes vs. Pat Chung
Holmes gained folk hero status when he emerged from his suspension as the Jets Mr. Clutch. In a five game stretch in the middle of the year, Holmes either caught the game-winning pass or the pass that set up the game-winning play four times.
If Holmes is the Jet who makes big plays, Chung is the Patriot charged with stopping them. The second-year safety is one of the game’s most underrated players.
Chung made 94 tackles this year, best among Patriots defense back and eighth best among NFL safeties.
Two-time Pro Bowler Brandon Meriweather might get more accolades, but Chung is the better player.
Wes Welker vs. Brodney Pool
Yes, Welker deserves credit from coming back for a torn ACL and MCL sustained last year. It’s somewhat miraculous that he’s close to his “old self,” but there has been some dropoff.
Welker’s receptions, yardage, and yards per catch totals are down markedly from their 2007-2009 levels. Perhaps most revealingly, his YAC numbers are down a full yard from his average during that span.
Pool had one notable screw-up in last week’s game against the Colts, but overall he played well and has steadily improved over the past month. He’s a sure tackler who flashes well in the running game, but he can be beat for big plays.
This matchup is closer than you might think, but Welker still wins.
Nick Mangold vs. Vince Wilfork
The shaggy-haired Unstoppable Force meets the new SI Cover Boy, The Immovable Object.
Mangold anchors a Jets running game that started rolling in the second half against the Colts.
Wilfork is a massive nose tackle who occupies blockers so that guys like Jerod Mayo can lead the league in tackles. He’s a “space-eater,” as they say. Rest assured, that’s not the only thing he eats.
Despite the big names, the Patriots run defense is merely average, ranking 16th in the league in yards allowed per attempt.
Matt Light vs. Jason Taylor
If Taylor still has something left in the tank, now’s the time to show it. Along with Calvin Pace, Taylor gives the Jets their best hope of generating a pass rush without relying too heavily on the blitz.
Light had an outstanding bounceback year and earned a Pro Bowl invitation when the Dolphins’ Jake Long announced he’d sit out the game. The mainstay at left tackle helped the Patriots finish fourth in sacks allowed.
Brad Smith vs. Shane Graham
Brad Smith, the Jets Jack-of-all-trades, finished second in the NFL in kick return average. He pulled his groin against Indianapolis, but his latest prognosis for this weekend was good.
Meanwhile, Shane Graham’s average of 61.4 yards per kickoff is the fifth-lowest in the league for kickers with 23 kickoffs or more.
The Jets want this to be a defensive game in which field position matters. In other words, they want it to be a game in which Brad Smith can make a difference.
Julian Edelman vs. Steve Weatherford
Edelman’s role in the offense has greatly diminished, but he’s one of the league’s most dangerous punt returners. His 94-yard punt return against the Dolphins – which set the franchise record – is a hopeful sign for the Pats.
Largely because of that one return, Edelman ranked second in the NFL in punt return average. But even subtracting that from his record, he ranks in the top 10.
Jets punter Steve Weatherford is one of the best punters in the league. With the help of the Jets punt coverage team, he ranked in the top 10 in net punting yards.
Prediction: Patriots 38 -- Jets 24
The final tally on these matchups is Patriots 5 – Jets 4, with one even.
This is pretty close, and lends credence to Ryan’s proclamation that the game would come down to the battle of wits between he and Belichick.
But I don’t think so. I think the Patriots offense is too explosive and that Tom Brady is too good. The Jets have a solid defense, but it’s a step down from the great one they had in last year’s playoffs.
Oh, and if it does comes down to Ryan versus Belichick? I’ll take the rings, though I won’t kiss them.
Patriots 38 – Jets 24