The Patriots welcome the Jets to Foxboro on Sunday in the final game of the regular season. New England still has things to play for in week 17, with a first-round bye in the playoffs coming their way with a victory. It’ll be important for them to take care of business against a New York team that would like to spoil the Pats New Year.
New York has had a rough season, struggling to find consistency with a roster filled with gaps in talent. They rank in the bottom third in the league in most categories, both offensively and defensively. They are averaging just 22 points-per-game while giving up an average of nearly 27 points per game. It has been a difficult season for the Jets to this point, leading to their 4-11 record.
The Jets have their franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold, but they lack elite talent among their skill positions. Jermaine Kearse, Quincy Enunwa, and Robby Anderson are solid, but none resemble a true number one receiver. New York’s running backs aren’t much better, led by Elijah McGuire. One of the priorities for the Jets this offseason will certainly be surrounding Darnold with more talent.
The former USC standout has also struggled in year one, with only 2700 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions on a 57% completion rate. He has shown some good things and will improve heading into next year.
The Jets defense is in the same position. Their few bright spots of talent are not enough to carry a defense lacking depth. Jamal Adams is a star, Trumaine Johnson has had a fantastic season, and Avery Williamson is a machine. Darron Lee has also been an impressive young linebacker for the Jets. The issue has been inconsistent play from the rest of their defense outside of this young corps. They are giving up over 380 yards per game, including 126 rushing yards, both good for bottom third in the league.
Oddly enough though, the Jets are second in the league in opponent third down conversion percentage. They are only allowing teams to convert on third down 33% of the time, which is an impressive figure.
The Patriots offensive game plan will likely be similar to last week against Buffalo. New England’s run game was extremely effective, finishing with over 270 yards on the ground. They will likely try to continue that trend this week, preserving the health of Tom Brady.
Sony Michel has his fourth 100+ yard game of the season against the Bills and should see a number of touches against the Jets. However, if the Patriots get an early lead, Rex Burkhead should see a heavier rushing workload. The NFL season is significantly longer than the college football season. It can be hard for rookies to adjust, with some burning out late in the season. Michel is especially susceptible to this as a running back and is in an even more precarious situation with a Patriots team that could have a deep playoff run. Lightning Michel’s workload will be important to ensure his longevity.
Dwayne Allen and Rob Gronkowski will be crucial for the success of the Patriots run game again. Both tight ends had some critical blocks against Buffalo last week. They will have their hands full against a talented New York linebackers corps but could be vital in the Patriots success on the ground.
New England’s offensive gameplan avoided the pass against the Bills because of their elite pass defense. That may not be the case this week, with the Jets having some holes in their secondary. The Patriots receivers need to show an ability to win matchups. They have been unable to do so as of late, leading to a stagnant pass game.
Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett need to find some sort of rhythm heading into the playoffs. Both have been invisible lately, and need to prove that they can help the Patriots win in the playoffs. With Cordarrelle Patterson also likely out with a knee injury, Dorsett will be asked to do more as a gadget player.
The Patriots defense enjoyed one of its best performances of the season last week against the Bills. They should be able to continue that trend this week against an inconsistent Jets offense.
The game plan will need to be different, however. Last week the Patriots spent much of the game in straight man coverage with zero help from safeties over the top. They did this so that they could load up the tackle box and prevent the Bills from rushing the football.
They won’t be able to run the exact same defense this week. While the Jets receivers are not exactly elite, they have some serious speed. Robby Anderson is one of the faster receivers in the league and will be able to beat cornerbacks in cover zero looks based on his speed alone. This doesn’t mean the Pats won’t use man coverage. Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty are talented enough to hold their own against New York’s receivers. The Patriots will likely just use more safety help to prevent deep plays down the field. With any short or intermediate routes, they will likely play tight man to test Darnold’s accuracy which has been spotty at times this season.
The Patriots front seven had a fantastic showing in week 16 and could use a repeat performance this week. The Jets had just 47 yards on the ground against Green Bay last week. They are clearly not particularly confident in their run game, which means that the Patriots have no excuse not to control the line of scrimmage. Malcolm Brown has been a severe disappointment all season. A good performance last week, this week, and through the playoffs could win him back enough credibility to earn a decent paycheck this offseason.
The Jets are a young upstart with a few bright spots of talent. However, Bill Belichick usually has very few problems with rookie quarterbacks. He should have no trouble containing Sam Darnold in the rookie’s last game of 2018. The Patriots have been up and down this season, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t earn a first-round bye in the playoffs on Sunday.
New England 33 New York 17