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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: New England Patriots

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

Since their last meeting with the Jets a few months ago, New England improved to 6-6 but then lost their next three to fall out of the postseason mix. With a loss to the Jets, the Patriots’ loss total will hit double digits for the first time since 2000. Can the Jets end the season on a high against a banged-up Patriots team?

Quarterbacks

Cam Newton was benched last week and Bill Belichick seemed less than enthused about entering the final game of the year with him as a starter, so expect him to have a short leash against a rejuvenated Jets defense.

Unfortunately for Belichick, Jarrett Stidham hasn’t provided any kind of an upgrade whenever he’s been called upon, completing just 50 percent of his passes and throwing more interceptions than touchdown passes in five appearances.

Newton didn’t start the year too badly but he currently has 10 interceptions and just five touchdown passes, although he has rushed for over 500 yards and 12 scores. Newton’s highest passing yards total over his last five games is just 209 yards.

Brian Hoyer is still listed as the number three but not expected to be active on Sunday.

Offensive Line

Over the course of the season, New England hasn’t had to make many changes on their offensive line, although Isaiah Wynn landed on injured reserve a few weeks after the teams last met, to be replaced by Jermaine Eluemenor at left tackle according to the official depth chart.

That changes this week, though, as starters Shaq Mason and David Andrews have both been ruled out due to injury. In total, the Patriots have listed three players as out and another 16 as questionable.

Left guard Joe Thuney and rookie right tackle Michael Onwenu have started every game, but the right guard Lawson and center Andrews both missed a few starts. Thuney moved to center the last time Andrews was out.

Overall, they’ve been a solid unit with no player having given up more than three sacks or penalties all season but their reserves have generally been downgrades over the starters.

James Ferentz is the main interior backup with rookie Justin Herron and Korey Cunningham backing up at center. Herron started five games at tackle, including the last three at left tackle for Wynn, but Eluemenor is listed as the starter there and they may operate a rotation at that spot.

Marcus Martin was signed a few days ago to bring some additonal depth on the inside and Ross Reynolds was elevated from the practice squad yesterday.

Running Backs

The Patriots’ leading rusher is Damien Harris, who has three hundred-yard games and a healthy 5.0 yards per carry average but he’s missed the last few games with an ankle injury and was placed on injured reserve.

With Harris out, Sony Michel has been the starter although he’s been splitting the workload with backups James White and JJ Taylor. Michel has also had injury issues for much of the season after rushing for over 900 yards last year.

White, who serves as the third down back, has also seen his production drop off since last year. He has 45 catches after having caught 72 last year.

With Rex Burkhead now on injured reserve, the undrafted rookie Taylor is finally getting some opportunities while Jakob Johnson remains the team’s fullback.

Pass catchers

Jacobi Meyers had a breakout game against the Jets in week nine and has gone from strength to strength since then, as he’s now leading the Patriots with 53 catches and 661 yards. However, he doesn’t have a touchdown catch. In fact, N’Keal Harry is the only pass catcher with multiple touchdowns. He has two.

Harry and Damiere Byrd are still listed as the starters although Harry has just 18 catches since week two. Byrd has been solid with just under 600 yards but had a terrible dropped pass on a potential big play against the Bills last week.

New England are not expected to activate Julian Edelman from injured reserve before Sunday, so the rest of the rotation will be made up of three players who have just four catches between them this season; Gunner Olszewski, Matthew Slater and former Jet Donte Moncrief.

At tight end, starter Ryan Izzo is now also on injured reserve so all they have is a pair of three third round rookies with just two catches between them in Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi.

Defensive Line

New England’s best pass rusher is Chase Winovich, who leads them in sacks, albeit with just 3.5 on the year. Deatrich Wise also gets a lot of playing time on the edge and is tied for the team lead in quarterback hits.

John Simon and Shilque Calhoun also get plenty of reps on the edge, although both are also capable of playing linebacker.

Lawrence Guy, Byron Cowart and Adam Butler are New England’s main contributors on the inside with Guy being their best run stopper. Butler is second on the team with three sacks but he and Cowart have each had a disappointing year overall.

Akeem Spence has been added to bring extra defensive line depth off the bench with Carl Davis now on injured reserve and Derek Rivers released. Tashawn Bower, who started the last two games at defensive end, has been placed on injured reserve.

Rashod Berry, who was elevated for two games earlier in the year, was signed to the active roster yesterday to bring extra depth on the edge. New England also lists him as a tight end.

Linebackers

When the teams last met, New England had serious depth issues at inside linebacker and played a lot of the time in subpackages with no linebackers on the field. Terez Hall was the linebacker who played the most snaps, despite not having played any defensive snaps prior to that game.

Ja’Whaun Bentley has since returned to the lineup only to then get injured again and miss last week’s game. In that game, Josh Uche got the start, while Anfernee Jennings and Cassh Maluia also got reps. All three are rookies, but Uche was added to injured reserve so he won’t play. Hall also got some playing time last week, while Calhoun also played some linebacker reps. Bentley, Calhoun, Hall and Jennings are all listed as questionable for Sunday’s game.

When Bentley has been out, free safety Devin McCourty has typically worn the defensive headset.

Defensive Backs

The only real change in the defensive backfield is a big one as all-pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore was recently placed on injured reserve.

With Gilmore out, JC Jackson and Jonathan Jones are listed as the starters but Jason McCourty also gets plenty of playing time and youngster Joejuan Williams saw a lot of action last week.

Jackson is second in the NFL with eight interceptions, while Jones is the primary slot cornerback.

Perhaps as a result of their lack of depth at inside linebacker, the Patriots run a lot of three-safety sets. Veterans Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty are the starters but ex-Jet Terrence Brooks and second round rookie Kyle Dugger also get plenty of reps.

Undrafted rookie Myles Bryant has also seen some action at safety but reserves Justin Bethel and Cody Davis are basically just special teamers. The Patriots also signed Dee Virgin and Mike Jackson to the active roster and elevated D’Angelo Ross from the practice squad for added depth.

Special Teams

Ex-Jets kicker Nick Folk has had an amazing year for New England. After missing his first two field goal attempts, he’s since made 26 straight, although he has missed three extra points.

Punter Jake Bailey, who also handles kickoff duties, leads the league in net punting average and has only allowed 71 return yards.

In the return game, Olszewski is the punt returner and he scored on a 70-yard punt return against the Chargers a few weeks ago. He was also the kickoff returner, but has since been replaced in that role by Moncrief.

New England added another special teams touchdown in the same game when Davis blocked a field goal and Devin McCourty returned it for a score.

The Patriots have two of the best gunners in the NFL in Justin Bethel and Matthew Slater with Bethel leading New England in special teams tackles with 13. Davis is also a good contributor with 10 of his own.