After what seems like forever, the Pats and Jets are finally almost ready to kickoff. Today’s game marks the 105th meeting between the two franchises, which is about as close as a rivalry can be: the Jets have won 52 times, the Pats have won 51 time, and there has been one tie. After Mo Lewis put Drew Bledsoe in the hospital the Pats won 13 of the next 15 contests, but starting with an overtime win in 2008 the Jets have won four of the last six, and of course anybody that even casually follows football can’t help but know that since Rex Ryan became head coach his squad has won three of the five matchups between the two teams. Here is look at some of the battles that will go a long way to determining the winner in today’s game.
Patriots pass offense vs Jets pass defense
Opponents have thrown passes Darrelle Revis way 13 times this season and have completed just three of those passes, for a 23.1% completion percentage; that’s second best in the NFL. Throwing Eric Smith’s way has resulted in six out of 17 completions; that 35.3% rate is 5th best. On the other hand Tom Brady leads the NFL in yards (388.2 per game), yards per attempt (9.5), touchdowns (13), passer rating (111.3), first downs (75), percentage of pass attempts for first downs (46%), and is fifth in completion percentage (66.9%), so something has got to give today. Supposedly the Jets will put Revis on Wes Welker, so the Pats should look to spread the ball around more than they have done thus far this season. Rather than just look for one of Deion Branch, Chad Ochocinco, Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez, get the ball to all of them to keep the Jets defense off balance.
Patriots rushing offense vs Jets run defense
This goes hand-in-hand with the passing game. The Jets are giving up an average of 3.97 yards on first down, which is best in the league. Stevan Ridley averaged 9.7 yards per carry last week, which was the most in Patriots franchise history by a runner in his first game with the Pats with at least ten carries. If the Pats can get a win on first down that will set up positive down and distance situations, and it will set up the play action pass. However, if the Pats are unable to set up the run then they will become predictable and it could be a repeat of what we saw in the January playoff game. The Pats lead the league by converting 52.4% of their first downs, but the Jets defense is tied with Washington at stopping opponents on third down (26.0%). The key to the Pats winning third downs on offense is to gain positive yardage on first down.
The Jets have scored three non-offensive touchdowns (on an interception, kickoff, and blocked kick), which is tied for second in the NFL. But on the other hand they have also allowed three non-offensive touchdowns (one interception and two fumble returns), which is worst in the NFL. The last couple of years the Pats have gotten away with allowing a lot of yardage by creating turnovers on defense; that needs to continue today. One other special team note: the Pats lead the league in defensive starting field position this year; opponents average starting drive position is the 21.4-yard line. Forcing Mark Sanchez and the Jets to go on long drives is definitely a positive for the Patriots.
Jets pass offense vs Pats pass defense
The Jets passing offense is every bit as bad as the Pats pass defense. I am less concerned about Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress as I am about Dustin Keller. Keller is the Jets leading receiver, and Sergio Brown and Josh Barrett have yet to inspire much confidence in Patriot Nation. The Pats need players like Rob Ninkovich and Andre Carter to get a good chip on Keller at the line to help Brown and Barrett out. Even though that means they will be that much less effective rushing Sanchez, the pass rush is a moot point if he can complete the pass with a three-step drop.
The other concern is throws to outlets out of the backfield. Reggie Bush, Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert, Fred Jackson, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush have combined for 37 receptions and 381 yards in their four games against the Pats this year. LaDainian Tomlinson is no longer much of a threat running the ball, but he does have 200 yards on 13 receptions this year. Whether it be Dane Fletcher or somebody else, the Pats linebackers need to remain closer to the line and the running back and be more aware of the outlet pass to minimize that yardage.
Jets rushing offense vs Pats run defense
Rex Ryan says he wants the Jets to return to the ‘Ground and Pound’. The Pats front seven needs to stop the run right from the start and force Sanchez into predictable play calling, which would hopefully lead to a turnover – or at least a rare three and out. The Jets have fumbled the ball nine times in four games, losing five of them. This leads right into what has been successful for the Patriots defense, causing and creating turnovers.
Bottom line: I think the Jets will have some success in the short passing game, but a couple of turnovers by Sanchez will be the deciding factor.
Pats 27, Jets 20
49ers (+3) vs Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is coming off an emotional win, their first sellout at home in forever on national television. Teams playing on a short week historically have a horrendous record, and teams traveling coast to coast historically have a horrendous record. Tampa Bay had just 72 hours from the time they woke up after their win against the Colts before they were traveling to the better-known bay. I say they are neither mentally nor physically prepared. Harbaugh has his team playing well; Patrick Willis and crew will contain LaGarrette Blount then feast on Josh Freeman in third-and-longs.
Bengals (-1) at Jaguars
Jacksonville’s offense has been pretty bad, and Maurice Jones-Drew has been relatively limited as a result. Meanwhile Cincinnati’s defense has improved and is creating turnovers.
Giants (-10) vs Seahawks
I normally hate going with the chalk in double-digit spreads, but Seattle is just awful this year. Last time they traveled east they were shut out at Pittsburgh, 24-0; I think the final score in this game could be even more lopsided.
Saints (-6½) at Panthers
Cam Newton has received a lot of love for his play, and deservedly so, but New Orleans is just a much better team from top to bottom. Drew Brees has so many weapons the Carolina defense just doesn’t have a chance
Chargers (-3½) at Broncos, 1 unit
Bills (+3) vs Eagles, 1 unit
Seahawks at Giants, over 43½, 1 unit
Lions (–5½) vs Bears, 1 unit
Titans at Steelers, over 40, 1 unit
Chiefs +2½ at Colts, over 38½
Vikings -3 vs Cardinals, under 45
Bills +3 vs Eagles, under 52½
Raiders +5 vs Texans, over 48½
Saints at Panthers over 51
Bengals at Jaguars over 37
Steelers +3 vs Titans
Bucs at 49ers under 41½
Chargers at Broncos over 46
Packers -5½ at Falcons, over 53
Lions vs Bears, under 47½
Brett Favre: shut the hell up. The more you talk, the more you prove to the world what a selfish egotistical ass you are. If you can’t pay a compliment with making a dig at your replacement, then don’t say anything at all.
RIP Al Davis, Steve Jobs and Charles Napier
For all the ripping and ridicule that Al Davis received over the past few years, he should be remembered as a visionary and for his positives. Davis saw an opportunity for the AFL to not only be able to compete with the stodgy, conservative NFL, but to surpass it in popularity. For those too young to remember the AFL pre-merger was indeed more fun and exciting to watch. Davis was not afraid to take a risk and sign big-name NFL players to the new league, which forced the NFL to quickly negotiate a merger. But it was much more than that; Davis was color-blind when it came to signing players, and other teams like the Chiefs followed suit. The doing away with unwritten racial quotas may have had as much as anything with the new league quickly becoming on par with the NFL, but Davis did not stop there. He didn’t care if a player was from a small-time school rather than a big name program; all that mattered was whether or not he could play. And that attitude went beyond players; long before other teams forced the Rooney Rule to go into effect he was the first to hire an African-American head coach, and he was also the first to hire a woman as an upper level management executive in the NFL.
The first time I remember seeing Charles Napier was in the trio of Russ Meyer comedies, Vixens, Super Vixens and Cherry, Harry and Raquel. That was my first time I was supporting myself, living away from my parents – and my first introduction to cable television. If your sense of humor is off center and you enjoy some lowbrow comedy (as well as a healthy dosage of nudity), check them out. I had a feeling he might go on to have a decent acting career, but I never thought it would be as accomplished as it was. Napier did such a good job in his tough guy character roles in movies like Rambo, Blues Brothers, and Silence of the Lambs that it generated emotions from the audience, and made you forget that he was an actor in a movie.
There’s really not much that I can add about Steve Jobs that hasn’t already been written, so I’ll just leave you with his commencement speech at Stanford from 2005.
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