NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (5-3) at NEW YORK JETS (5-3)
Sunday, 8:20 P.M. ET, NBC, Sirius (NE 92, NYJ 93), Westwood One Radio
To witness the changing of the guard. Payton Manning is out. His return is not certain. The top three quarterbacks of the old guard — Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Tom Brady — have thrown double-digit interceptions. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (24 TDs, 3 INTs) and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford (19 TDs, 4 INTs) are the players to watch. Rookies Cam Newton and Andy Dalton are not so far behind.
Will Mark Sanchez to join that group? The Patriots’ swoon against the Steelers and Giants opens the playoff door for the New York Jets.
What To Watch
New England’s two toughest remaining games are against division foes: the Jets and the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots beat the Jets in Foxboro in October. A sweep gives them the tie-breaker advantage they may need against Jets. They should be so lucky. The Patriots have not lost two consecutive games since 2003. Their losses were to two strong teams, the Steelers and the Giants, and both were lost for the same reason, poor defense. New England allowed 759 yards in the last two games. Even worse, New England allowed a four-play, 80-yard drive in the last two minutes that allowed the Giants to win. Here’s a thought for Bill Belichick, take the ball out of Tom Brady’s hand and feed it to RB BenJarvis Green-Ellis. That keeps the Patriots defense on the bench.
Bill Belichick dropped DT Albert Haynesworth from the team this week. Belichick hoped Haynesworth would shore up the middle of his defense without expecting much more. Big Albert did neither. His impact on the Patriots’ defense, or on opposing players, was zilch. The Jets’ seventh-ranked defense has 18 sacks and 19 turnovers. More frightening, the Jets held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of 59.4.
Jets receivers are performing at half the level they should be. Leading receiver Dustin Keller has 29 receptions. A No. 1 receiver should be have 50 or more at this point. Plaxico Burress had his best game since week one last weekend against the Bills. That could be an upward trend that boosts an underperforming group.
Who Will Win
Just when you are ready to pick against Belichick, he finds a way to beat you. But the indicators all point to a win by the Jets. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.