By Gregory Hunt
In what will be a battle for first place in the AFC East, the New England Patriots will face the New York Jets Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. It's the start of a stretch in which the Patriots play four of the next five games at home, including three home games in a row. This stretch also includes games against New England's other two division opponents, the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins.
With a 4-1 record, the Jets are in second place in the AFC East, one game behind the 5-0 Patriots. The only loss for the Jets came in a 24-17 upset to the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium in Week Three. Since then, the Jets have won two games in a row, with a bye week coming in between those two victories. Last week, the Jets defeated the Washington Redskins 34-20 at MetLife Stadium.
Jets on Offense
There's a comparison to make of this year's Jets offense to the one in 1998. That year, the team earned a 12-4 record and advanced to the AFC Championship Game where it lost 23-10 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos. The 1998 team featured a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet) and a 1,000-yard running back (Curtis Martin) led by a veteran quarterback (Vinny Testaverde). This year's team features similar parts in receivers Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall, running back Chris Ivory, and 32-year-old quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Thanks to Ivory, the Jets are leading the NFL in rushing with 146 yards per game, nearly 50 more yards per game than the Patriots. While Fitzpatrick isn't having a spectacular year, his game is considerably better than that of last year's starter, Geno Smith. Decker and Marshall, who both started their NFL careers with the Broncos although they weren't teammates in Denver, have combined for 55 catches, 750 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.
Jets on Defense
The Jets currently lead the NFL in total defense, giving up only 269 yards per game, and in scoring defense, giving up only 15 points per game. The team has only eight sacks on the season, but fifth-year defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson has half of those. Also, former Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, who started his career with the Jets before returning to the team this season, is having a stellar year including three interceptions. Before this season started, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson predicted the Jets would have the best defense in the NFL. So far, he been proven correct.
Jets Players to Watch
Off-and-on, the Patriots have struggled to stop the run this season, so Ivory presents a tough challenge for the Patriots. At 222 pounds, Ivory is a bruising back, and he is currently averaging 5.5 yards per carry and 115 yards per game. New England will also need to deal with a highly-motivated Revis, who left the Patriots on bad terms even after winning a Super Bowl with the team last season. He would like nothing more than to embarrass New England quarterback Tom Brady.
This year, the Jets present a strong threat to New England's supremacy in the AFC East. The team looked pretty bad last season when it went 4-12 under former head coach Rex Ryan, so it's remarkable how rookie head coach Todd Bowles has turned the team around so quickly. To be fair, the Jets haven't played a particularly difficult schedule so far this season, so if they play an uninspired game like it did in losing to the Eagles, the Patriots should win the game easily. However, the Jets are anxious to finally get a statement win, especially against a New England team that has beaten them in seven of the last eight games, so the Patriots could be in for a dogfight.
Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He's also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women's college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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