|Patriots Potential Playoff Opponents: New York Jets||12.30.11 at 8:43 pm ET|
With the Patriots securely in the postseason, it’s time to start sizing up their possible postseason opponents. This is part of a weeklong series of features on the rest of the AFC playoff teams. We’ve already profiled the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. Today, it’s the New York Jets:
The skinny: Ah, yes. The Jets. Over the last three years, no team has talked more trash — and yielded fewer results comparatively — than the Jets. Currently, New York needs some help to get into the postseason. With an 8-7 record, they would need to beat the Dolphins this weekend and hope the Bengals, Titans and either the Broncos or Raiders lose to make the postseason. However, they’ve lost their last two and four of their last seven, so even if they do beat the rapidly surging Dolphins and get some help on Sunday, it’s not like they’re heading into the playoffs on a roll.
Offense: The offense has been wobbly over the second half of the season in large part because of the ineffective play of third-year quarterback Mark Sanchez (287-for-511 for 3,267 yards, 24 touchdowns and 15 interceptions). When Sanchez has looked to throw, it’s been Dustin Keller (58 catches, 770 yards, four touchdowns), Santonio Holmes (51 catches for 654 yards and eight touchdowns) and Plaxico Burress (41 catches, 555 yards and eight touchdowns). When it comes to running the ball, LaDainian Tomlinson (64 carries, 224 rushing yards, one touchdown) has been pretty much an afterthought this season, as the Jets have leaned almost exclusively on Shonn Greene (239 carries, 999 rushing yards, six TDs entering Sunday’s contest). Overall, the Jets are 21st in the league in passing (203.5 yards per game), 22nd in rushing (104.2 yards per game) and ninth in average points (24 per game). And the offensive line is in miserable shape — as the New York Daily News has pointed out, four players since Week 10 have won Defensive Player of the Week honors after facing the Jets.
Defense: The Jets are still one of the better teams in the league when it comes to stopping the pass — New York is fifth in the NFL, allowing 205.9 passing yards per game. The Jets’ defense does a decent job getting after the quarterback (17th in the league with 34 sacks), and whatever issues aren’t solved by the pass rush are frequently cleaned up by all-world corner Darrelle Revis, who is still at the top of his game. They’re fairly pedestrian when it comes to defending the run (15th in the NFL, allowing 113 yards per game). They’re 22nd in the league in points allowed, yielding an average of 22.9 per game. (By way of comparison, the Patriots are 14th at 21.4 points per game allowed.)
Why the Patriots should be afraid: Even though it seems highly unlikely they’d be able to pull it off this year, the Jets have always been capable of regaining their late-season mojo. In 2009, they were 4-5 after nine games and still made it to the AFC Championship Game. Last season, the Patriots laid a memorable 45-3 whupping on New York, and the Jets then turned around the following month and pulled off the postseason upset in Foxboro before heading back to the AFC title game.
Why the Patriots shouldn’t be afraid: Simply put, the Jets are not effective on offense and struggling on defense. This isn’t the same unit that came blowing into Foxboro last January and shocked the Patriots in the divisional playoffs. They have had breakdowns on both sides of the ball, and have lost four of seven heading into Sunday’s contest with the Dolphins. Sanchez is a combined 36-for-65 for 472 yards, with three touchdowns and two picks in his two games against the Patriots this season.
One guy to look out for: David Harris. The Jets are filled with a lot of names on the defensive side of the ball, but the steady, dependable linebacker always manages to fly under the radar. He picked off Tom Brady in last season’s divisional playoff game, setting the tone for the upset. This season, Harris is second on the team with 84 tackles (63 solo), five sacks, four interceptions and eight passes defensed. There might not be a more complete defender on the New York roster.
Potential playoff villain: Bart Scott. If another Patriots-Jets playoff contest is on the horizon this postseason, expect this to be shown on a loop inside Gillette Stadium in the week leading up to the game. Scott has seen a slight dip in production this season (it looks like he’s going to finish with the fewest tackles since 2004), but he still has 4.5 sacks (his best total since he had 9.5 in 2006).
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