Later tonight in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the 6-3 New England Patriots will host the 6-3 New York Jets in primetime. To these teams, its just another game during the regular season, but to everyone else it is much more.
This rivalry has been building for years, and it comes to it's anticipated explosive climax tonight. To the New York Jets, and specifically their fans, this is the most important game in the history of the franchise since Super Bowl III. They want to show the world on that they are the new kings of not only the AFC East, but also contenders for the AFC crown.
Meanwhile, to the New England Patriots they want to prove to everyone that even though their biggest stars (Tom Brady, Laurence Maroney, Rodney Harrison, Adalius Thomas) are done for the year, they still have what it takes to step up and win a big game when it counts.
After all, this team has won four conference titles and five of the the last six division championships in this decade alone.
The mission of the Patriots is simple—leave the New York Jets a broken, twisted, psychological mess when it is all said and done.
For the Jets, it's all about redemption and sending a message.
We all know about Brett Favre and his storied history in bad weather games.
This season, Favre is completing around 69 percent of his passes for almost 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns. The downside is that he has thrown an NFL high 12 interceptions (at least one in seven of eight starts; and over two in five games,) and has yet to crack 300 yards passing this year.
His opponent, Matt Cassel, is replacing a legend in Tom Brady. Though the Patriots' offense is not what it was a year ago, Cassel has done enough to win games by completing 68 percent of his passes and throwing for over 200 yards in five of the last six contests.
Remember, he won his first career start in the Meadowlands against these Jets back in week two and the progression is evident. Favre may be asked not to lose the game, but Cassel may be asked to win it. To me, it comes down to Cassel's poise versus Favre's avoidance of crucial mistakes.
Thomas Jones had a disappointing 2007 season with the Jets, scoring only once the entire season.
This year, he has eight touchdowns and 750 yards rushing. In week two against the Patriots, he had only 70 yards rushing and did not get into the end zone including at a crucial sequence at the goal line early in the game.
But since the bye week, he has scored seven of his eight rushing touchdowns including a club-tying record of three against the St. Louis Rams. Backfield mate Leon Washington gives the offense an added dimension in the running and passing game, scoring three touchdowns against the Rams.
Washington may be the perfect speed counter against the Patriots aging linebacker corps. The Patriots will feature undrafted rookie free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis who has scored a touchdown in his last four games. Veteran Kevin Faulk will spell BGE in the backfield, most likely on third down and in the screen game.
This is the matchup that I'm most interested in tonight. Jerricho Cotchery and Lavernues Coles have combined for almost 1,000 yards receiving and 8 touchdowns. It took a while for these two to get on the same page with Brett Favre, especially Coles who took exception to the release of Chad Pennington.
Randy Moss and Wes Welker are two of the top receivers in the league today, especially Welker, who has become the NFL's most dangerous slot man with his great yards-after-catch skills. Moss, of course, is the most lethal deep threat in football and is getting the football more and more.
The $140 million makeover of the New York Jets included major upgrades along the offensive line with the additions of Pro Bowl Guard Alan Faneca and Tackle Damien Woody.
This unit, along with Nick Mangold, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, and Brandon Moore, has become one of the best in the league, not surrendering a sack in the last two games.
The Patriots line, anchored by Pro Bowl Center Dan Koppen, are finally fully back and healthy and have surrendered only one sack in their last two games after giving up 28 in the previous eight, mostly due to Cassel's inexperience and injuries to starters.
The line has been together for six years and has always been one of the league's best, powering the AFC's third best running game.
The other side of the Jets makeover was on the defensive side of the ball, reeling in former Pro Bowl DT Kris Jenkins to help against the run and LB Calvin Pace for his versatility.
Along with other signings, the Jets have the fifth best run defense and rank second in sacks with 31, but give up about 22 points-per-game. Though riddled with injuries, the Patriots are seventh in overall defense, giving up 17 ppg, and have allowed only a single 100-yard rusher (Ronnie Brown) all season. Look for up and coming cornerback Darrelle Revis to be helped out by safety Kerry Rhodes on containing Randy Moss.
The New York sports media will hound Eric Mangini if he falls to 0-2 tonight against his former mentor, so the pressure is solely on him to win tonight. The Patriots are 4-1 at home this season and Bill Belichick has only lost once at home to the Jets since 2001.
Jets Offensive Coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, must come up with a better gameplan as the weather will be a factor in this game. Look for Favre to throw more if Thomas Jones cannot get going on the ground.
Patriots Offensive Coordinator, Josh McDaniels, has done a tremendous job of gameplaning with Matt Cassel, utilizing his skill set and getting his playmakers involved in the offense. Look for McDaniels to run the football more to slow down the Jets pass rush and also to open up the playbook more for his young signal caller.
Tonight's game is must-watch TV as the winner of this game has a possible inside track to a possible two-seed in the AFC playoff race. As for who will win, tune in tonight to find out.