BOSTON (CBS) — The Jets don’t have much at all to play for. The Patriots, on the other hand, have plenty.
New England is still playing to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs, which they can clinch by winning their last two games. However, they can also clinch when they take on the Jets at Gillette Stadium on Saturday if they win and the Oakland Raiders lose.
Tom Brady hasn’t played quite as well overall since losing tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season, but the Patriots offense has done just enough to win every game since losing to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10. The Jets, meanwhile, are rolling with rookie Bryce Petty at QB, who could be in for a long day against Bill Belichick’s defense, which is playing its best football right now and is notoriously hard for young signal-callers.
Anyway, here’s what to watch for in the Patriots-Jets Christmas Eve showdown …
Beat that spread
The Patriots are ridiculous 16.5-point favorites in this game, but considering the opponent and situation, it may not be that ridiculous. At home and playing for home-field advantage against a team with nothing to play for, the Patriots are poised for a blowout victory.
However, most Patriots-Jets games are surprisingly close – such as the Patriots’ 22-17 win at MetLife Stadium in Week 12. They needed a late go-ahead drive from Brady and game-sealing turnover to secure that win. So it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone if the Jets defense is able to limit the Patriots’ offense and keep them within striking distance.
It’s imperative that the Patriots score early and often in this game, in hopes of making the Jets check out mentally and start thinking about getting home for Christmas. Like the Dolphins in Week 17 last season, they don’t want the Jets to think they have a shot.
After being maligned as the Patriots’ potentially fatal flaw for much of the season – especially after getting torched by Seattle in the first game after the Jamie Collins trade – the Patriots defense has turned things around in a major way in recent weeks.
Although they haven’t faced the best offenses in the league, it was exciting to watch the defense mostly stop the Ravens and Joe Flacco from moving the ball in what would have been a complete shut-down effort if not for some costly fumbles. And it’s impressive no matter who you’re facing if you hold an NFL team to three points on its home field, which the defense just did to the Broncos in Denver.
Facing another young, inexperienced quarterback, this time on their home field, the Patriots defense is poised to put together another dominant effort. If Brady and the offense plays like it did last week, they may need it.
Although he was in a very tough road environment against arguably the best secondary in the NFL, Brady did not have one of his best games last week against the Broncos in Denver. The wide receivers had trouble getting open against the Broncos’ defensive backs, which led to down weeks for the likes of Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell.
The Jets secondary is a different story. Darrelle Revis is not the same player he once was and they have no one comparable on the outside to Denver’s Aqib Talib or Chris Harris.
Look for Brady and the Pats’ outside receivers to have a much more productive day than they did against Denver, and probably a better game than last time out against the Jets as well.
What Will Michael Floyd Do?
New Patriots wide receiver Michael Floyd, whom the team claimed off waivers last week, is expected to be active for the first time in a Patriots uniform on Saturday. The controversial acquisition is barely two weeks removed from an embarrassing DUI incident that led him to be waived by the Arizona Cardinals.
Now, Floyd gets to suit up with Brady and the Pats offense and could see the field against the Jets. It’s unclear how much of the playbook Floyd knows by now, but the fact that he would be active at all would signal that he will play at least a limited role.
Floyd is certainly no Gronk, but he presents similar matchup problems for opposing defenses with his size and strength. He could be a red zone target for Brady on Saturday.
What are you watching for as the Patriots take on the Jets? Share your thoughts in the comments.