Patriots Playoff hopes dwindling

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick
Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Patriots’ playoff seeding is dropping quicker than the temperatures outside. Three weeks after entering their bye as the number one seed in the AFC, they find themselves as the number 6 seed and fighting for survival. Before playing the Colts, New England needed to win out to secure the coveted top spot. Now, the Patriots’ playoff chances are getting slimmer.

The Patriots’ season can be broken into three distinct parts. At the beginning of the season, the team played non-cohesive football and stumbled to a 2-4 start. The middle, when the team found its identity behind a stifling defense and a power running game to win seven straight. And now the end, where the team has reverted to its early-season miscues and overall poor play.

Troubling Trend?

Against the Colts the team played flat through three quarters before giving themselves a chance to steal it late. Against the Bills, the Patriots again showed a lack of physical edge. A month after asserting their will against this very team it was the Bills who asserted themselves. The Patriots are in freefall in the standings. Once sky-high confidence surrounding the team is nowhere to be found. How the team responds will dictate the story of their season.

The Bills came ready to play on Sunday. It was apparent from the first drive that the magnitude of the game was not lost on them. A loss to the Patriots would have all but ended their hopes of winning the AFC East. They did not play desperate. The Bills played confidently despite being down numerous starters due to injury and COVID isolation rules. They made a physical statement on their first drive and didn’t relent for the full 60 minutes.

The Patriots came out flat again. After losing to the Colts in a similar fashion a week ago, the Patriots noted that a lack of focus in practice led to their slow start. They were aware of the problem and wouldn’t let it happen again. But it did. The Patriots were flat in a game that would’ve all but guaranteed not only a playoff spot but a division title.

Where did complementary football go?

The Patriots of the seven-game winning streak were successful because of their complementary play style. That style has been missing in the last two losses. Against the Colts, the defense needed to make one final stop to give the offense a chance. Instead, Jonathan Taylor busted off a 67-yard house call to end it with two minutes left. Against the Bills, the offense and defense both failed each other.

In the second quarter, the defense held the Bills offense to a field goal attempt. The score gave the Bills a 10-7 lead. The Patriots got the ball back with a chance to at least answer, perhaps even take the lead. Instead, Mac Jones would throw his first of two interceptions three plays later.

The defense responded in an adversity situation. Defending a short field, they allowed the Bills to get to the 1-yard line before forcing a turnover on downs. The offense needed to at least gain some yardage to give the defense a breather and flip the field. Instead, a three and out.

Despite the poor play throughout the first half, the Patriots clawed their way back into the game, closing the score to 26-21. All they needed was a defensive stop to give the offense a chance to take the lead.

On the first play, after the Patriots closed the score, Allen and Diggs were on different pages. The result was an errant throw that hit ball-hawking corner JC Jackson in both hands. Jackson has made a name for himself by being a ball magnet, and on perhaps the easiest potential interception of the year, it was dropped.

That wouldn’t be the Patriots’ only chance to stop the Bills on the drive as they stuffed an Allen sneak on third down at their own 34-yard line. The Bills went for it again, as they had 3 times before in the game. A stop here would give the Patriots the ball back with plenty of time to score.

Instead, Allen ran a naked boot to convert. Never mind two Patriots defenders had a chance to drop him behind the line. The Pats just can’t get out of their own way.

What happened to the defense?

The Bills came into the game down both starting guards and lost their top back up early in the second quarter. Despite this, Allen wasn’t sacked for the first time since week 7. The Bills were also down two of their top three receivers. All usual return man Isaiah McKenzie did was go for 125 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches.

The Patriots came into the game needing to limit wide receiver Stefon Diggs (85 yards and a touchdown on seven catches) and TE Dawson Knox (11 yards and a touchdown on two catches) but instead got burnt by a guy who usually doesn’t see much offensive action.

The defense was unusually conservative, sending four-man rushes at Allen throughout the game. They played afraid of Allen extending plays and taking off on runs. Even with an eye towards limiting the backyard ball, Allen consistently found ways to improvise and was the Bills leading rusher on the day. Allen was so impressive Sunday against the Pats; the Bills became the first team to never punt against a Belichick-coached team.

Despite showing up flat against the Bills and Colts, this team has fought their way back to a position to have potentially had a chance to win both games. The loss two weeks ago should have served as a wake-up call that showing up with anything but you’re a game at this point in the schedule is a recipe for disaster. It’s now happened twice, in potentially the biggest games of the year.

If the Pats want to make anything of this season, they must return to their complementary football style. All three phases of the game need to be capable of picking each other up. If not, it may become a season of “what could have been.” If they do get back to their winning formula, perhaps we see another seven-game win streak. Which would mean the next Patriots loss would be Week 2 — of next season. Fingers crossed.

Patriots vs Titans Observations

patriots vs titans
Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Good teams win games they are supposed to win. The Patriots did exactly that vs a depleted Titans roster on Sunday. The expectation was a feisty Titans team that wasn’t going to simply roll over for the Patriots.

The Patriots won vs the Titans in a game that somehow felt closer than it was and yet never like it was that close. They have stretched their win streak to six games. They continue to play Patriots brand football with all three phases able to pick up the team at any moment. Football season usually doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving in the Northeast and this year’s rendition of the team is trying to make that true again.

Observations

Defensive

  • A week after Kyle Van Noy put his fingerprints all over a game, it was J.C. Jackson’s turn to take the spotlight. Jackson’s forced fumble early in the third quarter was a huge momentum shifter for the teams. After that play the Titans would drift away from their dominant ground game. It was a pure hustle play by Jackson and one that could not have been timelier.
  • Jackson added an interception later in the game on a goal line stand to effectively end any chance of a Titans comeback. The interception was Jackson’s 7th of the season and 24th of his career. For how impressive the career total is only four years into his career takes a historical perspective. Jackson is now tied with Richard Sherman and Kenny Easley for the third most interceptions through a player’s first four seasons. Jackson has five more games to add to that total. His 24 career picks is a team record through four seasons, beating Hall of Fame corners Mike Haynes (22) and Ty Law (18).
  • The Pats again got a hand in the hidden yardage department on JC Jackson’s goal line pick. Had the ball been incomplete, the Patriots would’ve taken over possession at their own two. In a game that the running game was struggling, the added 18 yards from the touchback on the interception was extremely understated.
  • The Patriots continued their blistering pace during this win streak winning by 23 points. Over the six-game win streak the Pats have outscored their opponents 211-63 with an average margin of victory of 25.2 points. They have allowed opponents 26 combined points over the last four games.
  • Matt Judon added another sack on Sunday bringing his season total to 11.5. The Patriots sacked Tannehill twice and hit him five times.
  • A big key to the winning streak has been the turnover battle. The Patriots have 17 takeaways, including four more Sunday against the Titans, over the last six games against only 4 turnovers. They won the turnover battle just once during their 2-4 start.

Offensive

  • Mac Jones threw for a career high 310 yards while adding 2 touchdowns and no turnovers. He continues to be accurate, completing 71.9% of his passes. One area that Jones can improve is his identification of second level threats. A week after struggling against blitzes from the defensive secondary against the Falcons, the Titans utilized similar concepts with success against the rookies. The Pats have faced eight or more defenders in the box on 46.7% of their runs.
  • Titans safety Kevin Byard had some words for Mac Jones leading up to Patriots vs Titans: “(Mac Jones) can dink and dunk it as much as he wants. If they don’t get in the red zone, we’ll be good. We’ll try to take away some of those options and some of those deep balls from him so he can keep checking down to running backs and stuff like that.” Jones responded on the field Sunday with completions of 41, 38, 22, 21, and 20 yards. He went right at Byard for the first touchdown of the game.
  • Kendrick Bourne had himself a game catching 5 passes for 61 yards and 2 touchdowns. When Bourne caught the ball on his 41-yard touchdown the play had a 0.3% of resulting in a touchdown according to Next Gen Stats. Bourne added 29 yards after the catch than expected.
  • Jonnu Smith enjoyed his best day as a Patriot totaling 58 yards on 4 touches. The Patriots’ attack is balanced and multifaceted before Smith gets involved. They could become a “pick your poison” offense to defend if Smith’s role continues to grow.
  • As for offensive efficiency on Sunday? 10 drives, 1 punt. While the bye is right around the corner, Jake Bailey has enjoyed a couple light weeks recently.
  • Mac Jones joins Russell Wilson as the only rookie QB’s to win three straight games by 20 or more points. Seems Mac finds new good company to keep every week.

Overall Notes

  • Incredibly the Patriots are 4-0 when the opponent rushes for more than 250 yards. The games are the Patriots 36-13 victory vs the Titans on Sunday (270), the 24-point comeback in 2013 against the Broncos [Pats won 34-31] (280), a 2011 41-23 beatdown of the Tebow-led Broncos (252), and a 2002 27-24 victory against Miami (256).
  • The Patriots came into the game having rushed for 120-yards in seven straight games and holding opponents to under 100 yards rushing in three straight and five of their last seven. Both streaks would come to an end against the Titans. The Patriots would rush for 105 yards while the Titans racked up 270.
  • Looking ahead at the Patriots remaining schedule: at BUF, at IND, vs. BUF, vs. JAX, at MIA. The next four weeks will settle much of the debate surrounding current AFC playoff seeding.
  • A note from the “Patriots always get advantages from the league office” department. The Patriots head into their bye after a Monday night game against the Bills, already cutting the usual 14-day bye to 13 days. The NFL then flexed the following game against the Colts to a Saturday night prime time affair, trimming the Patriots bye week to twelve days. The Patriots already had the latest bye possible and now are losing valuable rest days. For comparison’s sake, the Bills are getting a scheduled ten days off between their Thursday night game against the Saints and their Monday night showdown with the Patriots. This on top of their full 14-day bye week earlier in the season. Nothing to be done about it but just an astute observation.

Patriots Stay Hot Against Falcons

Patriots vs Falcons
Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It wasn’t sleek. Or shiny. Or really that sexy. But if you’re complaining about the Patriots’ 25-0 drubbing of the Falcons on Thursday Night Football, you were probably the kid that complained they didn’t get enough presents on Christmas. Don’t be that kid.

While it may not get many points in the style category it certainly beats a “pretty loss.” The Patriots handled their business on a short week against the Falcons an unfamiliar opponent. And if you think New England should have beat them by more, just look at the results from Sunday and appreciate the W.

The Bills got dominated by the underdog Colts. The best team in the conference, the Titans, lost to the worst team in the conference, the Texans. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: a win is a win is a win. Doesn’t need style points.

Patriots vs Falcons Recap

Here are 14 observations from the Thursday Night Shutout.

1.) Kyle Van Noy was the lead story. He’s been coming along slowly throughout the season before erupting against the Falcons. He had 8 total tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, and one interception return for a touchdown. On a defense full of playmakers, one of the original boogeymen is rounding into form. Bad news for 31 other offenses.

2.) The Pats had 12 QB hits on Matt Ryan, a season high. That pressure goes a long way in explaining the team’s recent success on third downs. The Falcons were 2-11 on third down. The Browns were 1-11 a week before. Games are won on third down and the Patriots defense has been dominating opponents on the money down in recent weeks.

Over the last four games, the defense has pressured opposing QB’s on 48.5% of their drop-backs. Ryan was pressured on 59.4% of his drop-backs against the Pats.

3.) It’s a poorly kept secret that here at Around the Block Sports we’ve had a bit of a crush on Christian Barmore. He continued to be disruptive despite a quiet stat line (1 tackle for a loss). If you want teaching tape on what interior pressure does to an opponents’ passing game, watch Barmore against the Falcons.

4.) Staying with the big fellas up front, Carl Davis had himself a great game. He re-established the line of scrimmage in the Falcons backfield multiple times, including the critical fourth-down stop sequence in the third quarter.

5.) The Pats’ use of “big nickel” is a big reason for their defensive success and ability to match up with opposing offenses. In a typical nickel defense, a third corner enters the game, for the Pats they’ve been putting a third safety on the field. Devin McCourty has played 92.3% of defensive snaps this season, Adrian Phillips 81.5%, and Kyle Dugger 80.9%.

A big reason this defensive personnel package has found success is the hybrid ability of all three players. Phillips played primarily linebacker for the Pats last year. Add in Dugger’s train wreck level collisions and you aren’t losing a lot of physicality with the extra DB on the field. Not only does Dugger hit hard, but he shut down Kyle Pitts one on one in multiple instances Thursday night.

6.) The Browns scored 4:55 into the first quarter of their game against the Pats. Since then, opposing offenses have had 19 possessions with zero points. In that same time, the Pats have scored 70 unanswered points.

7.) The red zone defense is another reason this team has found success. They are allowing touchdowns on 48.3% of opponents’ trips into the red area. Last year they surrendered touchdowns on 65.3% of opponents’ trips, good for 28th in the league in red-zone defense. The Pats have 9 red zone stops this year, good for tops in the league.

8.) Going into the game, the theory was the Pats may revert to their roots in man coverage as the Falcons had struggled against it more than they had against zone. The Pats didn’t care. They played zone on all but 6 defensive snaps against the Falcons. It might have caught the Falcons by surprise as all three quarterbacks on their roster threw an interception.

It was the first time three quarterbacks on the same team each had thrown an interception in a single game since 2000. Current Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh was one of the offending parties for that Chargers team.

9.) Receiving stats since October 24: JC Jackson- 4 INTs, 91 yards, 1 touchdown. Odell Beckham Jr.- 3 catches, 24 yards.

10.) Belichick’s love for special teams had a palpable effect on the game. The Falcons’ average starting field position was their own 21-yard line. The Pats’ average starting field position was their own 33-yard line. A significant advantage in hidden yardage for the Patriots.

11.) Mac Jones is completing 83.7% of his passes over the last two games. Jones now has seven games on the season where he has a completion percentage north of 70%. No other QB has more than four.

And before we start screaming to the masses that Mac is a dink and dunk QB, his yards per attempt is greater than Patrick Mahomes’ or Justin Herbert’s.

12.) Despite his accuracy and usual good decision-making, he did struggle to identify multiple Falcons’ defensive looks on Thursday night. The Falcons were able to fool him with multiple defensive back blitzes. His interception may have been a case of misreading a post-snap coverage roll as well.

13.) The good news for the Pats having sustained success as the weather turns colder is their pair of absolute bruisers at running back. Damien Harris played 25 snaps while rookie Rhamondre Stevenson got 22. Stevenson had more touches than Harris, 13 to 11. Not a lot of defenses will enjoy seeing this team in the frigid northeast later this season.

Especially behind massive Trent Brown and human wrecking ball Shaq Mason. 104 of the Patriots’ 134 rushing yards against the Falcons came behind that destructive duo.

14.) The Patriots played the Bucs on a Thursday Night in 2017. The Buccaneers kicker missed three field-goal attempts that night and wouldn’t play in the NFL for two full years after being released the next day. That same kicker is now 25 of 27 on-field goals this year including going 4 for 4 Thursday night against the Falcons. Incredible comeback for Nick Folk.

Patriots vs Browns Preview

patriots vs browns preview
FOXBOROUGH, MA – OCTOBER 27: Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns is sacked during a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

The Browns visit Gillette Stadium on Sunday with both teams looking to firmly assert their positions in the AFC playoff picture. The Patriots have recovered from a sluggish start to the season having won 4 of their last 5, including three in a row. With a win, the Patriots would stay a half-game back of the Bills for the division lead. While continuing to send shivers through the rest of the NFL.

The Browns are 2-3 in their last five and currently sit ninth in the AFC playoff picture. The Browns are hoping they righted the ship in a 41-16 thrashing of the Bengals last week. A win for them on Sunday would legitimize their aspirations of being a threat for the postseason and help wash away the taste of an inconsistent start to the season.

Going into the Game

The Pats put themselves in a poor spot early in the season and have been climbing out of it ever since. Every game has felt like a big one as the Pats face top teams week in and week out. They announced their return two weeks ago against the Chargers and ground out a hard-fought win last week against a feisty Panthers team. Another win Sunday would cement their status as an AFC top dog.

Offensive Questions

Despite the recent winning streak, the Pats are still facing questions. Outside of the two games against the Jets, the Pats offense is averaging 21.5 points which is further inflated by two defensive touchdowns over the past two weeks. Counterpoint? The Chargers and Panthers feature two of the best pass defenses in the NFL. Both rank in the top six in passing defense DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average).  

Defensive Questions

The Pats defense has also feasted on weaker competition thus far this year. Against teams with 1-4 wins, the defense is allowing 12.8 points per game, 298.8 yards per game, averaging 2.4 takeaways per game, and have an opposing passer TD:INT ratio of 5:10. Against teams with 5 or more wins the numbers paint a different picture; 26.5 points per game, 392.3 yards per game, on average a single takeaway per game, and a TD:INT ratio of 7:3. While troubling, the defense has been jelling as of late and playing top-level ball since facing off against TB12 on Sunday Night Football.

Injuries

However you want to slice this game, injuries will play a part. Both teams will likely be missing key contributors. Running backs on both sides may be absent as Patriots Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson deal with concussions. The Browns will be without top backs Nick Chubb (COVID) and Kareem Hunt (IR-calf). The Browns are also facing injuries along their offensive line with starting RT Jack Conklin on IR. Starting C JC Tretter a late addition to the injury report this week with a knee ailment. In a repeat of previous weeks, this will be a knock ‘em down and drag ‘em out affair that promises to be low scoring and bring fans back to a brand of football rarely seen in today’s pass-happy league. Without further ado, the breakdown is presented in “Who has the advantage when…” format.

Patriots Pass the Ball

It’s been mentioned many times in this column but the Patriots’ passing game starts with protecting Mac Jones. Last week his play fell off as the Panthers got pressure. Successful defense starts with the marriage of pass rush and coverage and the Browns are exceptionally good at getting pressure. They have the second-best pressure rate in the league despite blitzing on only 20.8% of opponents’ dropbacks. Myles Garrett continues to be a complete force, pacing the team with 12.5 sacks. The team totals 27 sacks, also good for second in the league despite the next highest single sack total belonging to Jadeveon Clowney with 3.5 sacks.

The passing attack sputtered last week against an aggressive and fast front seven. The task doesn’t get any easier against a similar group in Cleveland. The Pats will be able to take advantage of the Browns’ aggressive linebackers in coverage with screens and play action. Multiple times against the Bengals last week, the Browns’ LB’s vacated the short intermediate middle field on hard play action. That is Mac’s comfort zone and if he can get cooking there, the offense will have success through the air. The Browns feature primarily zone coverage, something Mac and the Pats’ offensive concepts usually exploit. None of it matters if the hog mollies upfront doesn’t keep Mac upright.

Advantage: Patriots

Patriots Run the Ball

The Pats face a challenge before even stepping on the field Sunday as the health of both Harris and Stevenson is questionable for the game. If the two lead backs can’t go, the Pats would be left with Brandon Bolden and JJ Taylor to shoulder the load. According to reports, Stevenson has a better chance at returning than Harris. If the Pats do enter the game with only two active backs on the roster, it would not be surprising to see Jonnu Smith getting snaps out of the backfield ala Cordarrelle Patterson 2018.

The Browns feature the third-best run defense according to DVOA. The Pats rushing game had its best single-game output last week against a similar style defense. The Browns feature much more talent along their defensive front, which may make having success on the ground a much different task. The Pats would be wise to utilize some misdirection plays and counters with pulling guard action in hopes of taking advantage of the Browns’ aggressive style. This has the makings of running to keep the defense honest and set up play-action rather than running due to success.

Advantage: Browns

Browns Pass the Ball

It all starts with the tight ends in the Cleveland passing game. The two leading receivers in terms of catches on the Browns roster are tight ends David Njoku and Austin Hooper. This grouping is the engine that drives the Browns passing game. The Browns also utilize “13” personnel (one running back, three tight ends) at an absurd rate. They lead the league with 129 plays ran from “13” personnel, the next closest team, the Titans, has 52. Belichick has also been harping on the fact the Browns are one of few teams that regularly run tight end screens throughout the game. The Patriots are uniquely set to defend this grouping with utility safeties Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips skill sets provide the defense favorable matchups. Not many teams roster hybrids of this pedigree, something the Browns have been able to take advantage of but probably stops this week.

When the Browns do go outside in the passing game it isn’t big-name Jarvis Landry making the plays of late, it’s been second-year man Donovan People-Jones. All three of the Browns passing touchdowns to a wide receiver have been to People-Jones. Over his last three games, People-Jones has caught 11 of 14 targets for 257 yards with an average depth of target of 21 yards. He adds the explosive element to this Browns passing attack. My bet is J.C. Jackson draws People-Jones in man and zone coverages.

The loss of Chubb is also felt in the passing games as Mayfield’s numbers drop-off significantly without the talented back. Mayfield’s completion percentage is 73.5% with a TD:INT ratio of 4:0 with Chubb on the field. Without those numbers read 63.6% and 4:3. The loss of Chubb may have disastrous effects throughout all levels of the Browns offense.  

The health of the Browns offensive line is something the Pats should look to take advantage of. If Tretter can’t go, rookie Christian Barmore will very much be in line for another disruptive game. The loss of veteran Conklin places a lot of pressure on backup Blake Hance. Hance famously entered a playoff game a year ago after signing earlier in the week. That led to QB Baker Mayfield commenting on their introduction in the locker room before kickoff. While Hance may have had a nice introduction to Mayfield and the team, he may be in for a long introduction to Matt Judon. The Pats will want to bring pressure while keeping Mayfield in the pocket. The advantage here lies with the stellar front seven of the Pats and the veteran savvy of their defensive backfield. The Pats will look to capitalize on the inevitable interception.

Advantage: Patriots

Browns Run the Ball

It wasn’t long ago that the Patriots’ run defense was being lambasted for poor effort. Some may have wondered if Hightower had lost a step in his year away. Since, the Pats have held the Jets, Cowboys, Texans, and Panthers under 4 yards per carry. This improvement has revolved around the stellar play of Hightower and fellow linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. The loss of Chubb provides a more significant challenge for the Browns offense against a suddenly surging Patriots defense.

Earlier in the year, the Browns found themselves in a similar situation against the Broncos. All third-string running back D’Ernest Johnson did in that matchup was run for 146 yards on 22 carries. The Browns continue to lead the league with 160.2 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry on the ground. Both are video game numbers. The game will come down to this matchup. If the Pats can limit the Browns rushing attack, their offense will be stuck in the mud throughout Sunday afternoon.

The Browns enjoy motioning a tight end or fullback into the backfield for a late numbers advantage. The Pats will need their big boys up front to eat up blocks without yielding ground to keep their linebackers clean to make the play. The Pats opened the game a week ago with a heavy 3-4 front that featured Lawrence Guy (315 lbs.), Carl Davis (320 lbs.), and Davon Godchaux (311 lbs). Expect the Pats to stay here while occasionally adding Barmore (311 lbs for those wondering) for jumbo packages.

Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams

The Pats have been rounding into form after a rough start to the season on special teams. Return man Gunner Olszewski is set to miss the game with a concussion. Last week this forced WR Jakobi Meyers into action on punt returns. JJ Taylor may be in line this week to field kicks.

The Browns have had an inconsistent season from their special teams’ units thus far.  K Chase McLaughlin has been solid but the Browns punting units have had issues. P Jamie Gillan ranks last in the league with a 41.8-yard average. The loss of core special teamer Demetric Felton (COVID) may lead a lane open for the Pats to exploit in the return game.

Advantage: Patriots

Coaching

Browns Head Coach Kevin Stefanski was in elementary school when Belichick was head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Join that with the lights-out play calling of Steve Belichick (lip licking aside) and Mayfield might not be the only one confused on Sunday. McDaniels has been calling smart and safe plans of late, something that should continue against a Browns defense that doubled their takeaway total last week against the Bengals.

Advantage: Patriots

Prediction

This game may be in the running for the quickest game played Sunday as long as the refs don’t get too involved (the Browns were flagged 10 times last week, average 7 per game). If there was ever a game to bet the under, it’ll be this one. Both teams will look to establish a healthy ground game without much luck while having to play small in the passing game. This is going to be a physical “do your job” 60 minutes and I’ll take Belichick’s boys every day of the week in that kind of matchup. Pats win 20-17.

New England Patriots vs. New York Jets-Part II

New England Patriots cornerback JC Jackson. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The New England Patriots face the Jets looking to start a run of success to get their season back on track. The Patriots lost to the Cowboys in overtime last week to drop them to 2-4 while the Jets enjoyed a bye week last week after losing to the Falcons in London.

This will be the series finale for these two AFC East rivals this season unless both somehow miraculously make the postseason. The Pats convincingly won the first matchup and will be looking to do the same to get their first home victory this season. The Pats have won the last eleven against the Jets and will be hoping to make it twelve in a row on Sunday. The Jets collected their lone victory of the season against a depleted Titans club. Without much more delay, the game preview in “Who has the advantage when…” style:

New England Patriots’ Passing Attack

The Patriots’ passing game has slowly been rounding into form. Rookie passer Mac Jones has looked like the real deal while he has been let down by his pass catchers and blockers alike. He was solid against the Cowboys last week but seemed handcuffed by conservative play calling.

This may be a week where the Pats are extremely aggressive in the first quarter as the Jets have been outscored 30-0 in the opening frame while gaining a total of 79 yards in the first quarter through all five games. Another thing going for the Pats? The Jets are yet to collect an interception on defense.

Advantage: Patriots

Patriots Run the Ball

The Patriots running game has been up and down this season. It has shown signs of life before completely disappearing. Ball security has been an issue as well as Patriots’ running backs have accounted for 4 lost fumbles, a number that easily leads the league.

Despite the ball security issues, Damien Harris continues to run angry and provide highlight runs while rookie Rhamondre Stevenson showed some of his tantalizing ability last week. He could be in the mix to replace James White as the receiving back if he can clean up his pass protection and fumbling woes that have followed him from college.

The Jets feature a stingy running defense under first-year head coach Robert Saleh, allowing 123 rushing yards per game with a four-yard per carry average. Behind the Patriots shuffled offensive line, expect the Pats to just surpass that number Sunday.

Advantage: Push

Jets Pass the Ball

In the last matchup, the Pats had Wilson seeing ghosts to the tune of four interceptions. The Patriots’ secondary could use a repeat performance in a “get right” game. First, look at veteran safety Devin McCourty, who has played two consecutive games with uncharacteristic mistakes.

Then there’s Jalen Mills, who could use a confidence boost after being exposed by CeeDee Lamb last week. Wilson can make tremendous plays off script so the Patriots defense must stay disciplined and continue to cover the entire field regardless of what is happening upfront. Wilson has been sacked 18 times over the first five games of the Jets season, while the Patriots were finally held without a sack last week.

Look for Belichick to scheme up some pressure for Matt Judon and company from the offensive right side, forcing Wilson to move to his left and make awkward across-body throws on his unscripted plays.

Advantage: Patriots

Jets Run the Ball

The Jets have not been a good rushing team in 2021, averaging a paltry 74 yards on the ground per game. While the Patriots’ defense received much criticism early in the year for their run defense, their run fits have been exceptional since halftime against Houston. While the season numbers still reflect a group that struggled against the run early, this phase of the game is heavily on the rise in the last two weeks. Facing a flailing Jets rushing attack may help their case even further.

Advantage: Patriots

Special Teams

The Jets have had plenty of practice returning kickoffs this year as evidenced by their eleven attempted returns for a respectable average of 26.3 yards per. The Patriots have been a mixed bag in the third phase of the game, allowing two blocked punts and having some uncharacteristic miscues in other phases.

One area they’ve been solid? Their field goal unit with ex-Jet Nick Folk leading a charge for a Pro-Bowl season. Jake Bailey has found his rhythm again (when he can get the ball away), while Gunner Olszewski has featured some of his fearless return style. The Jets have been sound in their coverage units. The Pats need to execute their assignments here and play a mistake-free game.

Advantage: Jets

Coaching

While Belichick has been criticized for his conservative play calling, he also puts on a clinic when it comes to defensive football. Despite the high yardage total allowed to the Cowboys, his boys are still playing smart situational football. The Pats have gone toe-to-toe now with two world-class opponents and lost on last-minute plays. The last time these two teams met up, Belichick ran laps around his Jets counterpart. That should continue as Belichick’s hate for Gang Green is well known and he looks to get his team back on track.

Advantage: Patriots

Prediction

This will come down to the New England Patriots doing their jobs. They can play with the best teams in the league and have shown that they already outclass the Jets this season. However, they’ve also shown they can let inferior opponents hang around (the Texans) and haven’t quite figured out how to win when given the opportunity (games against the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Cowboys).

This shouldn’t be a game that comes down to a single possession though. The Patriots will race out to an early lead before forcing Zach Wilson to make a few mistakes in the second half.

Pats win comfortably 31-13 to get their first home win.