Is it just me, or are the New England Patriots the worst 14-2 team the National Football League has ever seen?
Don't get me wrong, this is a very good team. Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the league—sorry, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees—and Bill Belichick is a genius (for keeping Ernie Adams close by all these years).
Yes, the offensive line is strong, and there are a couple of other difference-makers in Vince Wolfork and Wes Welker, but what else is there? The defense, statistically, is sub par and inexperienced. Special teams? Not so special.
The running game? BenJarvus Green-Ellis has a terrific nickname but does he inspire fear in anyone? Two rookie tight ends? Deion Branch? Danny Woodhead?
The Patriots are the textbook example of how important a quarterback and a head coach are to a team's success. Belichick has a system and fits players into that system, and he has a maestro in Brady to run the show. (And a mentalist in Adams sitting in a booth upstairs whispering advice into his headset.)
The offense succeeds because of Brady and an offensive line that keeps him upright, end of story. The defense only needs to keep opponents under 30 points.
The numbers are gaudy. Since a loss in week two, the Patriots have scored at least 23 points a week and since week eight have scored at last 28 points per game.
That week two loss was to the Jets, of course, a victory long since forgotten thanks to the Pats' 45-3 destruction of the Jets in week 13. As a result, just about everyone—except you, Ron Jaworski!—is picking the Patriots not only to win Sunday but to likely go to and probably win the Super Bowl.
Not me. Here's why:
Ground and pound
The Jets game plan against the Colts was obvious. Run LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene all day and keep Manning off the field. The Colts knew this. The Jets still ran over the Colts. The Patriots will try and stop the run, but will struggle.
The Patriots' pass defense is one of the worst in the league, and while the Pats are trying to stop the run, that will open up play-action, which Mark Sanchez—who has been shaky—does well. Plus, Braylon Edwards has picked up his game, Dustin Keller has re-emerged and Santonio Holmes is as clutch as they come. Big pass plays will happen.
Defensive looks galore
Rex Ryan kept the blitz at bay against Manning and it worked. Expect more blitzes against Brady, but more importantly, expect the Jets to mix it up considerably against Brady, who had trouble with the "Times Square" defense run by the Browns.
Many visitors to Revis Island
Typically, Darrelle Revis locks onto one receiver and shuts him down (just ask Reggie Wayne). While Welker is the Pats' top receiving threat, Brady spreads it around, so expect the Jets to put Revis on everyone in the first half just to keep Brady thinking, then don't be surprised to see him lock down on Welker in the second half.
Very special teams
Steve Weatherford has been brilliant recently pinning the opposition inside the 20; in the last game against the Pats, he was awful. Brad Smith and Antonio Cromartie are return threats. Nick Folk? OK, so he's far from automatic, but he's looked good lately.
The key for the Jets will be how they defend against whoever Revis is not covering, avoiding mismatches like Jason Taylor covering Woodhead, and getting pressure on Brady.
The Jets should be able to score points, and the defense will be supremely motivated to make sure Brady doesn't put up big numbers again.
Sure, the Patriots are 14-2, but look how many of those games could have gone the other way. Yes, the Pats are 6-1 against playoff teams, but the Jets have beaten the Pats, Steelers and Colts, and they've been great on the road. Foxborough will not be intimidating.
And 45-3? Everything went wrong in that game—bad coaching decisions, huge disparity in field position, falling behind early, trying to play catch-up on the road against a good team and a great quarterback with a big lead. Just an absolute mess.
That isn't happening again. This will be much closer.
Jets 31, Patriots 27.