After an unexpected Wild Card Round of the 2011 playoffs, we are now without either Super Bowl team from last year. The New Orleans Saints were shocked by the Seattle Seahawks and the New York Jets avenged last year's AFC Championship game loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
This has left us with four great matchups, which are replays of regular season games, with the most intriguing contest of this weekend between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.
These two teams have obvious bad blood, but bring together a full slate of storylines perfect for the NFL viewer. Let's break down the pros and cons from each side as well as highlight the matchups that will be game planned for. With two previous meetings against one another, we have plenty to work with in regards to detail.
New York Jets
The New York Jets are stubborn and full of confidence. With a bully defense that ranks among the league's best, the Jets are flying high with respect from opponents; but with mouths that are never short on words, New York is also a target for many teams. After being embarrassed by New England 45-3 in their last meeting, expect to see a fired up Jets team, both on the field and in a war of words.
Rex Ryan, a coach never shy to speak his mind, will have a similar game plan when it comes to playing the Patriots as he does with every team: control the clock with a heavy rushing attack on offense and knock the opposition around on the defensive side of the ball.
Expect to see a heavy dose of Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson throughout the game as the Jets look to pound the ground game and keep the Patriots offense on the sidelines.
The biggest factor for this game will be the decision making of the Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez. The difference between the win and loss against the Patriots this year was heavily weighted by Sanchez and protecting the football. If he is able to make clean, intelligent decisions when passing the ball, New York will be tough to beat.
In summary, the Jets will need to keep New England's powerful offense on the sidelines by running the ball steadily and also protecting the ball when a passing situation occurs. Also, the Jets will need to take care of any mistakes the Patriots produce, Tom Brady is dangerous enough without giving him extra opportunities.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are arguably the smartest and most unselfish team in football, as reflected by their coach Bill Belichick. Not only is New England dubbed as the best team at preparing for each game, but also for adjustments during the course of any game. If something is not working as planned, the Patriots switch to a different gear until they find the one that works best.
The greatest strength in Foxboro revolves around the offenses ability to protect the ball and practically eliminate mistakes. As a team, the Patriots turned the ball over all of 10 times in the 16-game regular season. If the Jets execute their plan to milk the clock with the run game, New England will need to stay efficient to keep pace with the time they have.
The biggest factor for a New England victory will be to disrupt the timing and effectiveness of the Jets passing game. The Patriots would be foolish to focus solely on the New York rushing game as it would open up the deep threat and build the confidence of Mark Sanchez if he were given open throwing lanes. The Pats need to manage the Jets running game while eliminating the line of sight between quarterback and receiver.
In summary, the Patriots will need to make the most of their possessions and stay error free as the Jets will look to capitalize on any mistakes that are to be made. Expect to see the defense step up to hold off the ferocious attack from the Jets power running game.
I believe that Tom Brady will be smart with his throws and keep the ball safe while also trusting in running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in a very balanced attack against the Jets' strong defense. On the other side, I expect to see carries shared between LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene as New York eats away at the clock and controls the tempo of the game.
In the end, Mark Sanchez will have a to be perfect in order to keep up with Tom Brady and the Patriots, but will falter with an early pick that will end up being the difference. I foresee a 30-24 Patriots victory with a wonderful performance by Patrick Chung and the New England linebackers.