Every week leading into the Patriots' next game, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss preview the matchup. This week, it's Sunday's road game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium (CBS, 1 p.m. ET):
Mike: From a Patriots perspective, this is one of those games where you figure the Jets have nothing to lose and will try to pull out all the stops -- fake punts, onside kicks and more. In that sense, these types of games can be dangerous.
Tedy: The Jets are 3-11 and it's been a tough season for them. There's a lot of talk about potential changes next year with coach Rex Ryan. But in a situation like this, it's simple: A win over the rival Patriots would make their season and would be something for Ryan to hang his hat on, if this is indeed the end. The idea that they could hurt the Patriots' playoff seeding is something that figures to motivate them.
Mike: Some have wondered whether the Patriots might be looking at a trap game, but I don't see it. Not when the Jets controlled most of the action Oct. 16, holding a time of possession edge of 40:54 to 19:06.
Tedy: Not much has changed offensively for the Jets in terms of the running game since that time. Chris Ivory is a guy I see running as hard as any back in the NFL. He's tough to tackle. The main thing that obviously stands out, in terms of something the Patriots didn't see Oct. 16, is receiver Percy Harvin. The Jets traded for him the week after playing the Patriots and he's a difference-maker on offense and special teams. This is the type of week where the big leg of kicker Stephen Gostkowski will be very important. As long as the wind isn't a factor, the Patriots will be hoping he can kick the ball through the end zone and keep it out of Percy's hands.
Mike: What are you seeing from how the Jets are using him?
Tedy: It's a lot of catch-and-run routes. Other times, you see clear-outs by all other receivers and they'll run Harvin on a crossing route. Then there are times like the first quarter of their Week 14 loss at Minnesota (7:41) where maybe you've been lulled to sleep with all of their short stuff with Harvin and they run him deep to keep you honest. They'll do that quite a bit. On that play against the Vikings, it was nothing fancy, just Harvin running deep on a 35-yard connection for a touchdown. He is the quick type of receiver that has burst off the line of scrimmage to give any cornerback -- even Darrelle Revis -- a challenge.
Mike: One thing we've seen the Patriots do over the second half of the season is match up their cornerbacks, with Revis often drawing the top threat. A Revis vs. Harvin matchup would be fun to watch.
Tedy: Harvin is the best offensive weapon they have, and you can almost envision a scenario where Rex would love to try to beat Revis deep with him. Week 9 against Kansas City (fourth quarter, 3:59), you see it again with Harvin when he gathers in a 42-yard reception to beat cornerback Sean Smith down the right sideline. Smith is right there, it's a close play, and Harvin comes down with it.
Mike: The other thing Patriots defenders have talked about this week is Harvin as a threat running the ball as well.
Tedy: They do it in different ways with him. One play I'm sure the Patriots have studied came in the Week 13 "Monday Night Football" loss to the Dolphins -- first quarter, 8:28 remaining -- when they lined Harvin up next to quarterback Geno Smith in the shotgun and handed it off to him up the middle (6-yard gain). When I saw that, one of the things that came to mind was some of the troubles the Patriots had in their loss to the Packers when receiver Randall Cobb was lined up in the backfield. I see similarities between Harvin and Cobb. That's more of a traditional running play, and a lot of the short passes are like glorified run plays (Week 9, vs. Chiefs, fourth quarter, 9:04) where they're trying to get him in space and he can make things happen. He's a very difficult tackle.
Mike: Your research had me going back to the only time the Patriots faced Harvin in the past -- a Week 8 game against the Vikings in the 2010 season (a 28-18 New England win). Harvin finished with six catches for 104 yards that day.
Tedy: Yes, and you also have to go back to what he did in Seattle. He's a player who you have to respect from an ability standpoint, and also his outstanding speed, which showed up in the Seahawks' Week 2 game this year against the Chargers. They lined him up in the offensive backfield, had run-action going one way and gave it to him on a counter flip, and Harvin sprinted 51 yards for the touchdown (first quarter, 1:37). It all happened so quickly. Harvin actually stepped out of bounds on his way to the end zone, but he was probably moving so fast the replay official couldn't believe what he saw.
Mike: So we got into Harvin pretty detailed here, which makes sense as his presence is the most notable difference between this game and what we saw Oct. 16. Anything else to touch on offensively?
Tedy: In our breakdown from Week 7, we highlighted Smith and how there was "Good Geno" and "Bad Geno." He's had more struggles since that point, and one thing they can do to help build some confidence is get him going as a runner. Keeping things manageable on third down is critical for them, as those can sometimes be converted by his running ability. And there's also Eric Decker, who is the type of player that you don't believe should be making catches on you, but he does. He had a good game against the Patriots in Week 7, and a big catch against the Titans last week.
Mike: Defensively for the Jets, one thing that stands out is their struggle to create turnovers. They have just 11 this season, which ties for a league low.
Tedy: You might think of Ryan as a pressure-based coach, and they show a lot of pressure looks when they play a quarterback that they respect, but they also like to use a lot of three-man rush looks too. The problem is that if the rush can't eventually get to the quarterback, or at least threaten the throw, you are asking your coverage players to play with discipline for a long time. If they don't, you get burned for a long touchdown pass, which is what happened on the Shane Vereen long touchdown catch in the first game between the teams (first quarter, 13:40).
Mike: The Jets are tough against the run, ranking third in the NFL in fewest yards allowed per rush (3.5 avg.). So I think a good matchup to watch will be how the Patriots offensive line, which has its captain Dan Connolly ailing, holds up against the pass rush.
Tedy: It all starts up front for the Jets with Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison and Muhammad Wilkerson, which is a very good defensive line. But Wilkerson missed Sunday's game against the Titans and might not be ready to go.
Mike: No need to go much further here, Tedy. Let's get to the predictions. This game reminds me of the Patriots' Week 16 road game against the two-win Jaguars in the 2012 season -- going away to play a team that is out of it when there likely won't be much energy in the stadium. The Patriots struggled against Chad Henne and the Jaguars that day before pulling out a close victory and it wouldn't surprise me if something similar unfolds Sunday. I expect the Jets to pull out all the stops with fake punts, etc. But in the end, I think the better overall talent wins out. Patriots 23, Jets 20.
Tedy: We're on the same page on this one, Reiss. Rex Ryan will get his team emotionally ready to play and if the game stays close in the first half they Patriots will find themselves in a fight. The fight will be there, but I doubt the Jets ability to play mistake free complementary football for four quarters. Geno throws the ball to the wrong team in the end. Patriots 28, Jets 20.