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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: New England Patriots

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Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Five weeks ago, the Jets gave the Patriots all they could handle, but were ultimately brushed aside in the fourth quarter as New England would go on to win 27-13. Heading into the rematch, New England needs a win to secure a first-round bye and will be at full strength against a banged-up Jets team that will be eager to play spoiler.

Quarterbacks

Tom Brady hasn’t lived up to his usual standards this season and has only thrown multiple touchdown passes in two of the last eight games. He threw for a season-low 126 yards with two interceptions in the win over the Bills on Sunday. Prior to that, New England’s only touchdown in their loss to Pittsburgh came on a blown coverage on their first series of the game.

Nevertheless, Brady has indicated his desire to return for next season and beyond. His current contract expires at the end of next season. Having been limited with a knee injury for much of the year, Brady is apparently fully healthy as we head towards the postseason.

Brian Hoyer is the backup and, in an ideal world, New England would probably like to win comfortably so they can rest Brady in the second half. Hoyer has actually thrown fewer passes than wide receiver Julian Edelman so far this season.

Offensive Line

New England has maintained excellent continuity on the offensive line with all five starters remaining in the lineup since the previous meeting with the Jets. That’s paying off in pass protection as they’ve only given up four sacks in the last five games. They had given up 16 in the first 10, so the rate has halved.

Left tackle Trent Brown has given up the most pressure and leads the team in penalties with eight but he overwhelmed some Jets defenders in the previous game with his size in the running game.

Left guard Joe Thuney is yet to give up a sack this year, having given up 10 in the past two seasons. Tackle Marcus Cannon has also done well in pass protection, as he’s only given up one sack. Cannon, center David Andrews and guard Shaq Mason usually key the running game.

Tackle LaAdrian Waddle and interior lineman Ted Karras are still the main two reserves on the bench. Waddle is listed as questionable though.

Running Backs

The Patriots dominated on the ground in the last meeting with Sony Michel rushing for 133 yards and James White adding a career-high 73 yards on just nine carries.

Michel needs 119 yards for a thousand-yard season and White has averaged 4.4 yards per carry, caught 83 passes and accounted for 11 total touchdowns.

Rex Burkhead is back in the lineup now to add depth off the bench, while James Develin will see time at fullback.

Receivers

Considering the fact that he missed the first four games through suspension, Julian Edelman has had a monster season. He leads the Patriots with 781 receiving yards and has also added another 83 on the ground and 43 as a passer.

The only real loss the Patriots have suffered since they last played the Jets was that of Josh Gordon, who caught five passes for 70 yards in the first game against the Jets.

Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson will therefore have to step up. All three have contributed over 20 catches and at least two touchdowns, but they had just one catch for three yards between them against the Bills last weekend. Hogan got the start and played over 60 snaps but wasn’t targeted. Patterson has been limited with a knee injury during the week.

Since making his return against the Jets, tight end Rob Gronkowski had a big game against Miami with eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. However, he’s been quiet in the past two weeks. He has 45 catches for 658 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games. Dwayne Allen is the only available backup so is likely to play although he’s been listed as questionable having been limited in practice.

Defensive Line

New England remains tied for second worst in the NFL with 26 sacks on the year, although they’ve racked up 10 in the last five games, including two against the Jets. Four of those are from Trey Flowers, who has taken over the team lead with 6.5 sacks.

Deatrich Wise has been starting across from Flowers and has 4.5 sacks of his own. However, Adrian Clayborn was a healthy scratch last week after going five games without a sack. Youngster Ufomba Kamalu and veteran John Simon have been backing them up.

Veteran Lawrence Guy has had a breakout year against the run, although he doesn’t have a sack. The two other main contributors on the inside - former first rounders Danny Shelton and Malcom Brown - don’t have one either, but reserve Adam Butler has two.

Linebackers

The gameplan has remained the same in respect of the linebackers for New England. Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy play a full time role while Elandon Roberts is a bit of a liability in coverage so he usually comes out of the game for a defensive back in passing situations. Van Noy is the team’s leading tackler and also contributes as a pass rusher and in coverage.

Veteran Albert McClellan was the first guy off the bench last week, but hasn’t had to play much so far.

Defensive Backs

Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was voted to the pro bowl, the only player other than Brady to make it this year. He’s had a great year, although he has given up five touchdown passes in coverage.

Jason McCourty had been having a good year as the other starter, but rookie JC Jackson got the start last week. Jackson is a physical player but hasn’t had a penalty since week seven when he had three against the Bears.

Youngsters Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen have also been getting reps in recent weeks.

At safety, Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung have been productive starters, as each has 80 tackles on the year. They run a lot of three-safety sets with Duron Harmon who leads the team with four interceptions.

Special Teams

The Patriots kicking game features Ryan Allen on punts and Stephen Gostkowski as the placekicker. Allen has posted mediocre numbers and has given up the 10th most return yards in the league. Since the previous Jets game, Gostkowski has missed his first two field goals from within 50 yards of the season.

Edelman remains as New England’s punt returner, with Patterson or sometimes Michel on kickoffs. Patterson has had a great year, but Edelman has been underwhelming.

As usual Matthew Slater has been their most productive player in kick coverage, but reserve safeties Brandon King and Nate Ebner have also had good years. King missed last week’s game as he is working his way back from an injury.