The New England Patriots (3-2) will fight for sole-possession of first place in the AFC East when they travel to MetLife Stadium to take on the New York Jets (3-2) on Sunday.
The Pats are coming off a 19-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Jets beat the Cleveland Browns 17-14 in Week 5 – but the division rivalry is heavily in New England’s favor as they have won their last 10 of 12 matchups against New York.
The Jets started their season 0-2 but after three-straight wins they are fighting for first place when at the beginning of the season analysts pegged them going 0-16.
New England will be the Jets’ toughest opponent thus far – backed by quarterback Josh McCown – and this game will show whether New York is the real deal or if the 3-2 start was just a fluke.
All eyes will be on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady – who had an MRI on his left (non-throwing) shoulder and was diagnosed with an AC joint sprain. He has taken a large amount of hits this season, so the offensive line will need to be sure to protect him.
The defense, which has had its fair share of problems this season, will need to be on the same page the entire game and the communication in the backfield cannot miss a beat – especially with the offensive line of the Jets looking very solid this season.
They’ll need to be able to cover Jets running back Elijah McGuire – and with a less-than-Belichick-like defense – he may be in store for a big game especially with the team being without running back Bilal Powell who is out with a calf injury.
With Powell out, the Jets may catch a break as running back Matt Forte, who missed the last two games with turf toe, is likely to return on Sunday. McCown’s likely target will be wide receiver Jeremy Kerley – who has been targeted 17 times this season for 132 total yards.
However, the Jets defense will need to pressure Brady and defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson will need to not be the weak link he has been for this New York D-line. If he can be effective, this could potentially cause defensive end Leonard Williams to break through the Pats O-line and disrupt Brady – causing him to make mistakes and throw away the ball.
Both Williams and Wilkerson are looking for their first sacks of the season while defensive end Kony Ealy leads the Jets and defensive linemen with five passes defensed – so Brady will not want to throw anywhere in his direction.
Brady will want to target running back James White – who leads the team with 29 catches. He was targeted nine times in Thursday’s win over the Bucs and caught seven of those nine passes.
Wide receiver Chris Hogan will also be a hot target for Brady. Last Thursday, Hogan had a career-high eight catches and has scored in four-straight games while fellow wide receiver Danny Amendola will likely be Brady’s number one target.
He played 55 offensive snaps in Thursday’s win – something he hasn’t done since Dec. 6, 2015. Amendola’s come up clutch this season between being Brady’s most trusted receiver to returning punts. Although he is no Julian Edelman, he has been filling in quite nicely.
The good news is that the New England defense looked better in Thursday night’s win – so if they carry that over into Sunday’s matchup, So if they pressure McCown and the rest of the Jets offense, they will be in good shape.
Brady will be relying on Amendola and Hogan down the field – and relying on the guys in front of him to protect him and that injured shoulder of his.
If Brady can lead New England to a win, he would break Brett Favre and Peyton Manning’s record for most regular-season wins by a starting quarterback in the NFL with 187.
Final score prediction: New England: 34, New York, 20