There’s hardly a lack of interest anytime the Patriots play the Jets, but Week 7’s matchup at Gillette Stadium has the makings of a particularly important game for the home team.
Tied atop the AFC East with the rest of the division at 3-3, the Patriots can use Sunday to snap out of their recent lull and catapult themselves in front of the pack, where most expected them to be prior to the start of the season.
A loss to the Jets, however, would leave the Patriots playing catch up, and inject life into a Jets team that recently was left for dead after major injuries on both sides of the football. Safe to say the stakes are high, and also that both teams will be ready to land their best shot.
For the Patriots, questions surround the secondary’s ability to piece together a standout effort, and whether or not the offense will once again find the balance it deviated from during a Week 6 loss in Seattle.
As for the Jets, the Patriots provide a stiff test, and will serve as another measuring stick game. They’ve won three games this season, but have yet to register a signature win over a team many believe to be strong. They looked listless in contests with Pittsburgh and San Francisco, and struggled on offense against the Houston Texans.
When these two teams kick off on Sunday, much will be on the line. Here are five things worth keeping an eye on.
1. Expect the unexpected from the Jets. The Jets, like the Patriots, are a game plan team. That means the schemes and wrinkles they implement each week are catered to their opponent, making for quite a bit of unpredictability during preparation for the Patriots. Beyond that, as tight end Rob Gronkowski said on Wednesday, the Jets are capable of throwing out basically anything on defense, with a bright and creative mind at the helm in Rex Ryan. On offense -- and special teams for that matter -- the Jets have a particularly unique weapon in Tim Tebow, whose role from week-to-week continues to alter, and leaves a defense guessing. The Patriots must be disciplined this Sunday to account for anything that comes up.
2. Back to balance on offense? The Patriots’ offense is admittedly variable, changing from one week to the next based on the opponent on the schedule. This week would, at least on paper, figure to be an opportunity to re-establish a strong ground presence and balance the offense out. The Jets’ run defense has struggled this season, allowing 4.7 yards per carry and over 150 yards per game. The Patriots are 3-0 in games in which they run the ball more than they pass it, and 0-3 when the opposite is the case. If the ground game indeed becomes the focus for New England this Sunday, that trend will be put the test.
3. Favorable matchup for secondary? Speaking of favorable match-ups, this weekend could be the perfect time for the Patriots’ secondary to get back on track. Mark Sanchez is completing less than 50 percent of his passes this season, and has struggled with turnovers too. The Pats’ secondary has endured its own share of struggles, but may have a chance to turn its fortunes around on Sunday by keeping Sanchez in check. Either way, if this game comes down to Sanchez vs. the secondary, something has to give.
4. Tebow time. Tebow is an unequivocally polarizing player: many believe him to be nothing more than a gadget roster piece, while others believe enough in his intangibles to suggest he deserves to the be the starting quarterback for the Jets in light of Sanchez’s struggles. Regardless, his versatility brings an element to the Jets that any opponent has to account for. It seems as though each week he has been used in a slightly different role, and Jets head coach Rex Ryan has suggested he could even be used as a running back on Sunday. That remains to be seen, but nonetheless, Tebow must be watched closely.
5. Taking care of business. Though the Jets have matched the Patriots in the standings through six weeks, the teams’ 3-3 records feel quite a bit different. Specifically, the Patriots have stumbled to three losses by a total of four points, falling short of their own standards during key stretches, while the Jets have climbed back to 3-3 after a woeful two-game span of uninspired offense. The Patriots, at least on paper, are the superior team from a talent and experience standpoint, but need to show that they can handle the teams who don’t stack up to them, and do it for 60 full minutes. They’ve shown themselves capable to be as good as any offense in football, but consistency and sustained effectiveness are what will make this team great. Sunday is a chance to show it.