Monday, January 10, 2011


You get the feeling that it had to be this way. Even Rex Ryan seemed to be anticipating this Divisional Round matchup when last week he unfavorably compared Tom Brady's work ethic to Peyton Manning. Or maybe he was just putting his foot in his mouth. Or someone else's.

These teams not only split the season series, they've split their last 6 games. It makes sense when you consider how well their different strengths matchup. The Patriots pass first, ask questions later. The Jets run. The Pats have a young, sometimes shaky defense. The Jets have more experience, and are far sturdier. The Patriots keep their mouths shut. The Jets are a reality TV show.

I think the Patriots' ability to distribute the ball to multiple offensive weapons will allow them to regularly beat the Jets' defense. The Jets do have some exceptionally talented guys on defense, but Brady is the master at finding the weak spot, and hitting the open receiver.

However, I temper my optimism knowing that for many of the Pats' weapons, this will be their first postseason game. This past weekend, we saw playoff newcomers drop passes, fumble the ball, and generally fail to execute as they had in the regular season.

Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis have never played postseason football. Danny Woodhead has 1 career touch in the playoffs. Even Wes Welker has only 3 playoff games under his belt. The defensive side of the ball is hardly any better. McCourty, Chung, Spikes, Cunningham, and so on, are all newbies to this scene. And while veterans like Brady, Branch, and Wilfork might settle locker room nerves, it only takes one or two players making one or two mistakes to screw up an entire game (See: Pierre Woods, Super Bowl XLII).

The Jets actually bring more playoff experience, or at least have theirs distributed more evenly throughout their roster. Sanchez already has 4 games under his belt. Guys like LT, Braylon Edwards, Shonn Greene, Santonio Holmes, and so on, have all been in big games. And won them. That's something to keep in mind.

The health of Danny Woodhead is also something to keep in mind, as he made nothing but big plays in the 45-3 win a few weeks ago. We know that it was a concussion he suffered. We know that he's been practicing with a non-contact jersey.

The key to this game will be how the Patriots do against the Jets' rushing attack in the early stages. In that 45-3 win, the Jets ran for 152 yards, but most of those came when the game was essentially over. The Jets can run (148.4 yards per game, 4th in the NFL), and run well. The Pats have a depleted defensive line. It will be up to guys like Wilfork and Mayo to contain the running attack, and to limit rushes to 3 or 4 yards at the most.

It will also be up to Brady and the offense to hold onto the ball, and to score. The best way to stop an opponent from rushing is to build a lead.

I think the Patriots will be hurt by the Jets' RBs, but not killed. The Pats' offense will score enough to force Mark Sanchez to try to make plays, and we all know what happens next.

Patriots win 28-17.

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