The New York Jets make their annual trip up to Foxborough on Sunday to take on the division rival New England Patriots, and surprisingly first place in the AFC East will be on the line. Both teams are at 3-3, but only the Jets are at or around where they thought they would be. New England already has three tough, close losses, and the Jets are hoping to put New England back under .500. It won't be very easy, as New England doesn't often lose two straight games and has done so once already this season. How can the Jets pull the upset and take first place? Below are some of the key matchups:
Jets' Defense vs. Tom Brady, New England's Passing Attack - The Patriots aren't as one-dimensional as they used to be. Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead have given New England very solid play out of the backfield so far this season, but this offense is still built to throw the ball down the field. The Jets have historically struggled mightily against New England's tight ends, so much so that it can be argued that LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell were both bought in this offseason with a heavy emphasis on the Jets' two tilts with the Pats. It will be interesting to see how the Jets control Rob Gronkowski and the newly-returned Aaron Hernandez. Brandon Lloyd hasn't been as dynamic as NEw England would have hoped, but he remains a threat down the field, and of course Wes Welker is still there to catch all the underneath stuff from Tom Brady. Antonio Cromartie has been one of the best cornerbacks in football since Darrelle Revis went down, and the Jets will need him to continue his excellent play on Sunday. If New England has success through the air and is able to pick up big chunks of yardage, it might be a long afternoon for the Jets.
Mark Sanchez vs. New England's Secondary - Conversely, New England's defense is susceptible to long passing plays. Mark Sanchez hasn't played quite lights out the past two weeks, but he has somewhat steadied the ship and seems to be improving bit by bit. Although New England is a tough place to play, there should be opportunities for Sanchez to move the ball downfield against New England's patchwork secondary. The Jets have taken consistent shots downfield this season, without tons of success, but if Sanchez hits a few big plays, the Jets can stay in the game. If Sanchez does the opposite, and in the worst case scenario turns the ball over, it's going to be tough for the Jets to keep pace with the Pats.
Rex Ryan vs. Bill Belichick - Belichick is clearly the superior coach, but Ryan has made some excellent adjustments to the Jets defense in the past few weeks. New York has been able to get a little more pressure on the quarterback, and Ryan knows that in order to beat New England, he needs to get Brady on the ground. Meanwhile, expect Belichick to try and get the Pats into the hurry up offense, taking advantage of a bit of a slower front seven. When New England has the ball, it should be a bit of a cat and mouse game, and whoever wins the coaching battle will likely see his team get to 4-3.