Monday, December 6, 2010

Predicting the Game of the Year

The New York Jets face off against the New England Patriots in what will be the most significant game of the 2010 NFL regular season to date. Disregard the fact that both teams are 9-2 and atop the AFC. Disregard the fact that the winner of this game is in position to get the number one overall seed, while the loser will need to settle for a wildcard spot. This battle means so much more than simple playoff seeding.

The Jets have won 3 of their last 4 meetings with the Pats. In the six games prior to 2008, New York was only 1-5. With a win on the road, one (I) could begin to make the case that such a victory solidifies the Jets as the new dominant AFC East team after years of playing the role of either second fiddle or bottom dweller. New York has already made progress in claiming the division as their own by making an impressive and unexpected postseason run last year. However, this division is still New England's, as it has been for the past decade. Rex Ryan believes his team doesn't receive enough respect, but even he recognizes the recent superiority of the Patriots. If he wants his team to garner the attention he believes they deserves, New York must win the division, and to make that mission easier, must defeat New England in Foxborough, a place where the Patriots are undefeated this season. However, the Jets are the only team to win all its road games this season.

Both sides recognize the significance of this game for the current season as well as what it may hint at for the future. There are many intriguing matchups in this game. Here are the 2 that will determine the outcome.

Matchup 1: New England's Short Passing Game vs. New York's Talented Cornerbacks

People are disappearing again on Revis Island now that the premier cornerback in the league is back to full strength after his early season injury. In the last 5 games, Revis has limited Greg Jennings, Calvin Johnson, Josh Cribbs, Andre Johnson, and Terrell Owens to a grand total of 15 receptions, 180 yards, and 0 touchdowns. Meanwhile, his teammate and likely fellow pro bowler, Antonio Cromartie, has been playing at a comparable level with his opposition. However, the New England receivers are different than that which the two shutdown corners are accustomed, especially for Cromartie. Cromartie is a tall corner, standing at 6-2, which serves him particularly well against tall receivers who run deep patterns. The small, nimble New England receiving corps of Welker, Branch, Edelman, and Woodhead are the exact type of talent that causes problems for the Jets corners. New England has also utilized all of its tight ends this season. Gronkowski and Hernandez are both viable fantasy starters each week.

I would feel pretty confident starting Welker in this game. He has been one of the few New England receivers to perform well against the Jets during the Rex Ryan era. As for the other wide outs, I'd consider them to be a bit more of a stretch. Branch will probably be matched up either one on one with Revis or in a zone with Cromartie short and Brodney Pool or Eric Smith deep. However, I see the game turning out differently for the non-wide-out-frequent-pass-catchers. The linebackers might struggle defending both tight ends, especially the smaller and more agile Hernandez. However, the player who the Jets should be most concerned with is Danny Woodhead, who they released during the preseason. The Jets have terrific linebackers, but they are dominant because of smart play and good tackling, not tremendous speed. If the Jets rely on them to guard Woodhead they could have major difficulty. If they elect to use a safety on him, things could open up deep. Woodhead will be the X-factor in this game and a very good fantasy start. The Jets' trademark since Ryan took over has been to play tight man coverage and use creative blitz schemes with the linebackers and safeties. However, I think the more judicious move for them this week would be use a healthy dose of short zone coverage, with just a single deep safety.

Of course, the key to the Jets defensive game plan will be to stop Tom Brady, who, like Revis, has been on an absolute tear recently, earning possible MVP recognition. Despite the hair, he appears frightening on the sideline (this really, really speaks to his intensity and desire to win, cause let's be honest, the hair… I mean… As TJ and Keyshawn would say, "Come on Man!"). He is proficient against the blitz and deadly when given time. If the Jets want to win this game, they will need to hit him at least 7-10 times. The Jets D is great, but great fantasy players perform against good defenses, so start Brady this week, although you should be ecstatic if he produces a line like 250, 3, and 1.

Matchup 2: New York's Rushing Heavy Attack vs. New England's Porous Defense

Simply put, this is the worst New England defense we have seen in 10 years. They are young, inexperienced, and inconsistent. They have allowed 288 yards/game passing (worst in the league) and give up an average 110 yards on the ground (16th). Meanwhile, the Jets continue to dominate with a rushing attack that has ranked somewhere from 1 to 4 throughout the season and is currently second. This discrepancy is one that the Jets will obviously attempt to exploit. I know it, you know it, Ryan knows it, Belichick knows it, even Wade Phillips knows it, and he doesn't know anything (sorry, couldn't pass up another opportunity). Regardless of whether or not running the ball will be a surprise, the Jets are going to attempt to do it around 40 times on Monday night. Green seems to be taking over some of the duties he lost to LT earlier in the season, but both should get over 15 touches this week and therefore, are fantasy starts.

The Pats are going to load up the box with 8 guys and make the Jets beat them with Sanchez, who is coming off a pretty awful game. However, the three games prior to the Thanksgiving train wreck were the three best of his career, at least in terms of passing yardage. He is confident, be it warranted or not, and because of this, is especially dangerous. The outcome of this game will probably come down to Sanchez's performance, even more so than it will that of Brady, either team's running game, or the passing defense of the Jets.

Anticipate Sanchez to look towards Santonio Holmes once again this week. Holmes has been one of the best receivers in the league over the last 4 weeks, scoring 4 touchdowns and producing 360 yards. Tis the season of giving and thanks, and Santonio Holmes fantasy owners should be thankful that he keeps giving. However, Holmes' abilities will be tested this week when he goes up against rookie CB, Devin McCourty, who has emerged as one of the best players to come out of the 2010 draft. I still expect him to go for around 60 yards and score in this game.

If the X-factor for the Patriots is Danny Woodhead, then Dustin Keller is certainly the one for the Jets. The coaching staff for New York is going to want to build up Sanchez's confidence early in this game, which means he'll be giving Keller lots of early targets. Prior to the emergence of Holmes, Keller was probably the QB's favorite target, particularly on play action bootlegs. However, fantasy owners are growing frustrated with Keller's role in the offense as of late. This is now the third season in a row that Keller has produced some big games back-to-back and then seemingly disappeared off the face of the planet for consecutive games. I think Keller will be fantasy relevant for the first time in a while this week. I'm confident the Jets will be working him the ball early, so expect something like 30-45 yards in the first half, another 30 or so in the second, as well as a red zone touchdown somewhere along the way.


I would love nothing more than the Jets to win this game and I believe they certainly have the ability to do so. This said, the Patriots have been playing better football recently and I think the Jets will struggle defending all the little guys of the Patriots. Rookie Kyle Wilson, continues to grapple with playing as either the nickel or dime back. Brady loves to spread the ball around the entire field and has an uncanny ability to find the weak link on a team's defense and attack it. Weather is going to play a significant role in the performance of Sanchez, and fortunately for him, the current forecast is calling for temperatures in the mid thirties with a 20% chance of precipitation. You can't really expect anything better given the time of year. If Sanchez can limit himself to only 1 turnover and if the Jets run it over 40 times, I believe they will come out on top. I just don't think that will happen. It pains (PAINS!) me to say this, but I think the Patriots win it 24-21. Then again, maybe this is all just an elaborate voodoo jinx…

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