We asked Mike Reiss, who covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com, and Rich Cimini, who covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com, to help us break down Sunday's Patriots-Jets clash by answering five questions on the matchup. Their answers are below:
Randy Moss vs. Darrelle Revis is getting the headlines, but is it really the most significant one-on-one matchup? If not, what is?
Reiss: I picked it as the most significant matchup because they are two of their teams' best players, and two of the NFL's best players at their positions. But one could make a strong case for other matchups being just as important, if not more important. Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork versus Jets center Nick Mangold is another good one.
Cimini: Yes, I do think Revis-Moss is the most significant matchup, and not because of their history and all the hype. Here's why: If the Jets put Revis on another player, it means they have to double Moss. That takes an extra player out of the equation -- one fewer player to use in coverage or one fewer player to use in a blitz package. With Revis on Moss (assuming Revis' hammy is well enough for him to play man-to-man), it allows the Jets to play 10-on-9 football (not counting the quarterback). That's why Revis is huge. But there are other intriguing matchups in the game, especially Mangold and Wilfork. You're talking about two of the best at their respective positions. If Mangold doesn't win that matchup, it'll be tough for the Jets to run the ball.
Which player or position faces the most scrutiny?
Reiss: I'd say it's Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and that New York offense. The Baltimore Ravens can make a lot of offenses look bad -- they brought the Patriots down to earth in the playoffs last year -- but another poor performance against the Patriots would really turn up the heat.
Cimini: This is a no-brainer: It's Sanchez. I know, I know, it sounds like a cliché to pick out the quarterback, but after the way he played in the opener, Sanchez is under tremendous pressure. There has to be a lot of stuff rattling around in his head. He has been trained to make smart, conservative throws, and to rely on his check-down options, but now Rex Ryan is saying he wants Sanchez to take more shots downfield. So which is it? I wouldn't be surprised if the kid is confused. That said, he still has to perform better. His accuracy, even on short passes, needs to improve. I think he'll respond favorably this week. I mean, he has won two playoff games on the road, so you know he can handle pressure. It's just a matter of being patient and trusting his instincts.
Patriots pass protection or Jets pass rush: Which will have the better game?
Reiss: I'd lean toward the Jets based on the home-field advantage. The Patriots' protection was very good against the Bengals, with Tom Brady not sacked and hit just twice, but I'd expect Brady to be under much more duress this week.
Cimini: I think the Jets' pass rush will get the better of the Patriots' pass protection, but you might not see anything in the sack column. Sounds weird, right? In last season's meeting at the Meadowlands, the Jets harassed Brady so much with their pressure packages that he averaged only 4.6 yards per attempt -- and they didn't record a sack. With a Rex Ryan-coached defense, it's all about making the quarterback release the ball a tick or two faster than he'd like. The Jets have a creative package of overload blitzes, often using two or three defensive backs, that put a lot of stress on offensive lines. The Patriots' line is a well-coached group, but Ryan usually comes up with new wrinkles, sometimes adapting on the fly. The confusing fronts, coupled with the crowd noise, will make it tough on Brady.
What's the key to victory for the team you cover?
Reiss: The key for the Patriots is playing a complementary game between offense, defense and special teams. On offense, the overall passing game will be the key, while stopping the run is priority No. 1 on defense.
Cimini: The key for the Jets is disrupting the Brady-to-Wes Welker connection. Brady didn't have Welker in last season's first meeting, and that made the Jets' blitzes that much more effective. Without his favorite "hot" receiver, Brady was out of sync on the blitzes and had to hold the ball. Now Brady has his trusted blitz beater back in the lineup, and the Jets have to figure out a way to cover him. It won't be easy. In Foxborough last season, Welker caught 15 passes against an overmatched Jets secondary. This time, the Jets will start out with rookie CB Kyle Wilson on Welker in the slot, but they're planning to take a committee approach. They're not foolish enough to think a rookie can shut down one of the best slot receivers in the game, so they'll rotate their coverage. If they can hold Welker under seven catches (his average since 2007), they'll be in very good shape.
What's your prediction for Sunday's game?
Reiss: I picked the Patriots in a field goal game 20-17. I think the magic number for New England is 20. If they can score 20 points, I think they win because I have doubts that the Jets can produce that many points.
Cimini: I'm picking the Jets 17-14. No, it's not a homer thing. In fact, I had the Ravens beating the Jets on Monday night. I think the desperation factor is big here. If the Jets lose, they're 0-2, looking at back-to-back divisional road games -- a tough spot. The Jets were too full of themselves coming out of training camp (they're ultra-confident, in case you couldn't tell from watching "Hard Knocks"), and last week was a much-needed slap in the face. They were awful, and they know it. I think they will respond favorably, making enough plays on offense and pulling out a hard-hitting defensive struggle.