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Previewing the Jets’ Opposition: New England Patriots

Taking a look at the Jets’ opponent for the season finale

New England Patriots v Buffalo Bills Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

It’s been a disappointing season for both the New York Jets and the New England Patriots in 2023, but whoever wins on Sunday will have gone 3-2 over the last five weeks. This is widely expected to be Bill Belichick’s last game as Patriots’ head coach, so he’ll look to go out with a win, which would be New England’s 16th in a row over their AFC East rivals. According to our friends at DraftKings Sportsbook, the Patriots are favored by 2.5 points in this game.

Quarterbacks

Belichick finally decided to permanently bench Mac Jones last month after benching him several times during the past three seasons. His replacement, Bailey Zappe, is actually 4-3 as a starter in his career. However, his most recent game against the Buffalo Bills was easily his worst game of the year as he threw three interceptions, including a pick-six to Rasul Douglas. He did have his first rushing touchdown of the season, though.

Jones was just about good enough to beat the Jets back in week three in a game where both teams played conservatively, neither had a turnover, and New England snuffed out a late Hail Mary to hang on for a 15-10 win. In his other 10 starts this year, New England won just once.

New England recently added Nathan Rourke to their roster, but he’s been inactive and serving as the emergency quarterback with Jones still operating as the number two.

Offensive Line

Left tackle Trent Brown has been one of New England’s better linemen this year when he has played, but fans have been increasingly frustrated with an apparently lack of effort and poor body language, and he’s implied he can’t wait to go somewhere else next season. He didn’t play last week and has missed all three practices due to illness this week, so he won’t play again.

Vederian Lowe started at left tackle in the Bills game, and he’ll probably make his eighth start of the year, and fourth at the left tackle position.

The right tackle is Mike Onwenu, who started off the season as the starting right guard but has since moved outside. Calvin Anderson and Conor McDermott have also started games at tackle, but they are both now on injured reserve, along with Riley Reiff who has been on there virtually all year.

Mid-round rookies Sidy Sow and Atonio Mafi are now starting at guard, with Sow replacing Onwenu when he moved to tackle and Mafi taking over from Cole Strange, who is also on injured reserve.

At least they’ve had continuity at center, where David Andrews has played every snap. His backup is fourth round rookie Jake Andrews (no relation), who has played just 13 snaps at left guard all season.

James Ferentz is the main reserve at guard, but he’s only played four snaps all season. New England needed an eighth lineman with Brown out, so Andrew Stueber was elevated from the practice squad.

Mafi has given up a team-high seven penalties and Lowe has the worst pressure rate on the team, so there will be potential weak links on the left side.

Running Backs

Rhamondre Stevenson has been New England’s best running back this season, but veteran Ezekiel Elliott has taken over as the number one since Stevenson went onto injured reserve. Elliott only needs 32 rushing yards to become the team’s leading rusher for the season. He’s also only one reception off the team lead in that category.

Elliott has had an increased workload in the past five weeks, but he hasn’t responded well, as he’s averaged 3.1 yards per carry or less in all five games. He has scored three touchdowns in those five games though.

Kevin Harris is currently listed as the number two. He hasn’t played much this year, but he has had some big plays. In all, he has 115 yards on just 15 touches.

JaMycal Hasty was recently added to be the number three, but he hasn’t contributed so far.

Pass catchers

New England’s passing game took a hit when starters Kendrick Bourne and JuJu Smith-Schuster landed on injured reserve, but sixth round rookie Demario “Pop” Douglas has responded well to the resulting increase in playing time. He leads the team with 47 catches and 548 receiving yards. However, he doesn’t have a touchdown or a 100-yard game yet.

Bourne and Smith-Schuster caught 66 passes between them this year but another veteran, DeVante Parker, has tried to pick up the slack with 32 catches since they’ve been injured.

Depth at receiver comes from another sixth-round rookie, Kayshon Boutte, former Eagles first-rounder Jalen Reagor and Tyquan Thornton, but they have less than 250 receiving yards between them. Matthew Slater remains in a special teams-only role, but this could be his last ever game, so perhaps New England will give him some offensive reps.

At tight end, Hunter Henry has established himself as one of the team’s best targets with 42 catches, including a team-high six touchdowns. He’s been ruled out with a knee injury and placed on injured reserve though.

The Patriots will therefore need to rely on their backups. Mike Gesicki has 28 catches, and Pharaoh Brown has just 12. Brown had a key touchdown in the previous matchup with the Jets.

La’Michael Pettway was also signed to the active roster from the practice squad on Saturday and could make his NFL debut. However, they also elevated Matt Sokol from the practice squad.

Defensive Line

New England plays a variety of defensive fronts. They have remained healthy on the defensive line for the most part, although they did lose reserve Daniel Ekuale to injured reserve.

The four players listed as starters, Christian Barmore, Davon Godchaux, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise haven’t changed since these teams last met in September. Guy, Godchaux and Barmore all play inside, with Barmore being easily their most productive linemen with a team-high 8.5 sacks and 15 quarterback hits. He also has six passes defensed.

Barmore is one of 13 Patriots players, most of them on defense, who have been listed as questionable.

Second round rookie Keion White plays on the edge, as does Wise, who has 4.5 sacks. White has shown some flashes, but he has just one sack so far.

Sixth round rookie Sam Roberts has been seeing rotational action in recent weeks, as has Jeremiah Pharms, who was recently signed to the main roster.

Linebackers

Matthew Judon was a pro bowler last year and New England’s defense has dropped off since he went onto injured reserve just four games into the season, at which point he had four sacks.

Josh Uche was expected to pick up the slack after racking up 11.5 sacks last year, but he has just three in 2023. Anfernee Jennings seems to have moved ahead of him, as he is tied with Barmore for the team lead with 11 tackles for loss.

On the inside, Ja’Whaun Bentley plays a full time role with Jahlani Tavai as the other starter and Mack Wilson rotating in. Bentley and Tavai each have 104 tackles, which is tied for the team lead. Bentley has added four sacks, while Tavai has two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

Christian Elliss and Chris Board only contribute on special teams.

Defensive Backs

New England’s depth at cornerback has taken some hits this year with Marcus Jones and standout first round rookie Christian Gonzalez going onto injured reserve. They also traded for JC Jackson to replenish their depth, but he went onto the non-football illness list last month.

Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant are now listed as the starters, with Shaun Wade getting regular action in the slot. Rookie Alex Austin, Buffalo’s seventh round pick this year, has been getting regular playing time over the past month, but Marco Wilson hasn’t seen action.

At safety, Kyle Dugger and Jabrill Peppers are the starters and Adrian Phillips gets plenty of playing time in three safety sets. Dugger and Peppers have two interceptions each and Dugger also has over 100 tackles.

Off the bench, converted linebacker Marte Mapu and veteran Jalen Mills, who can also play cornerback, have also seen plenty of action but Joshuah Bledsoe hasn’t contributed.

Cody Davis and Brenden Schooler are on the team for their special teams contributions.

Special Teams

New England drafted punter Bryce Baringer and kicker Chad Ryland in the offseason and they’ve had varying fortunes. Baringer has been pretty good and is tied with Pro Bowler AJ Cole for the most punts that have gone out of bounds. Ryland has missed nine field goals, but hit a 56-yard game-winner against Denver two weeks ago.

With Marcus Jones on injured reserve, New England lost an all-pro return man, and their punt returns have been underwhelming all year as a result, despite Bryant, Douglas and Peppers all getting chances. They hadn’t had much success on kickoffs either, but then Reagor had a 98-yard touchdown on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.

In kick coverage, Schooler - who also blocked a field goal - has arguably surpassed Slater as the team’s best gunner and leads them in special teams tackles. Wilson and Board have also been productive, while Davis scored on a fumble recovery in the Denver Broncos game.