The New York Jets are talented, flashy, young and exciting. They've got an attacking defense, a coach who loves the spotlight and a group of offseason acquisitions who have grabbed all sorts of headlines. Combine that with their deep playoff run, and they're the people's choice to win the AFC East. So we must wonder: How do the Patriots match up against the Jets?
Time will tell if the Jets' big-name acquisitions will compromise that winning chemistry, and that stuff is nearly impossible to predict this far away from the season. Maybe the Jets will utilize that talent to put together a division championship, or maybe that group of strong personalities will cause a locker-room explosion.
For now, let's just look at the Patriots and Jets, and how the longstanding rivals match up on the field.
The biggest question might involve the growth of Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who was reigned in during his rookie season. Sanchez completed 22 of 43 passes (51.2 percent) for 299 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions in two games against the Patriots. He was an afterthought in the first half of New York's Week 2 victory at the Meadowlands, but once the Jets' running game got going in the second half, Sanchez was on point and played well against New England. At Gillette Stadium in Week 11, though, he was a bumbling disaster: 8-of-21 passing, 156 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions and a fumble.
The Jets also did the Patriots a favor by unloading running back Leon Washington, who commanded pinpoint attention in the film room, practice field and game. New York's overall running game might have taken a step back with the departures of Washington and Thomas Jones, and the additions of rookie Joe McKnight and veteran LaDainian Tomlinson, whose game has greatly deteriorated. The Jets also parted with left guard Alan Faneca, which was a wildly unpopular move among the players.
So, while the Jets have added wide receiver Santonio Holmes to mix up with Braylon Edwards, the Patriots might not have to respect New York's running game as much as they did last year. That, ultimately, could help the Pats focus their attention on continuing to confuse Sanchez until the quarterback proves he can be a weapon, as opposed to a game manager.
On the other side of the ball, the Jets definitely added some punch with cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who is a serious talent opposite of Darrelle Revis. While it's believed Pats wide receiver Wes Welker will be back in the lineup for Week 1, it's still very unclear how effective he'll be on a consistent basis. If there's any downgrade at wide receiver, the Jets will hold a big advantage with their passing defense. That will only allow them to blitz with even more reckless abandon.
Based on these glances through the roster, it appears as though each team's defense will hold the upper hand when they're on the field, which will make any mistakes very critical to the outcome of each scheduled game. Give the edge there, then, to Tom Brady and the Patriots.
There are also a couple of wild cards that come into play. First, the Patriots and Jets initially meet in Week 2 in New York. This is on the heels of the Patriots' home opener against Cincinnati and the Jets' home opener against the Ravens, which promises to be an old-school, physically taxing bloodbath. It's also on a Monday night, and teams always have a difficult time bouncing back on a short week, which will make their game against New England even more troublesome. For what it's worth, the Jets had one Monday night game in 2009, and they followed it up with a stinker at home in Week 6 against the Bills.
The Patriots and Jets next meet Monday night of Week 13 at Gillette Stadium. Each team will be coming off a Thanksgiving game — Patriots at Detroit, Jets host Cincinnati — so they'll have 10 full days off. Give that edge to game-planning master Bill Belichick.
The Jets have deserved the offseason attention they've received, and there is a considerable amount of talent on that roster. But don’t anoint them as the division darlings just yet.
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