8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Patriots -10, Over/Under: 42.5
For the second time in five weeks, AFC East Rivals meet, as the unbeaten New England Patriots travel to MetLife Stadium to battle the New York Jets, from East Rutherford, New Jersey. Given all the comings and goings that they’ve endured through the first month and some change, it’s difficult to conceive the Patriots (6-0, 1st in AFC East) getting off to a better start. Consider the fact that after losing the likes of All-Pro Tight End, Rob Gronkowski, along with Receivers, Danny Amendola and Kevin Hogan, in the Offseason, while also losing First Round Pick, N’Keal Harry thus far to injury, and basically renting the mercurial Antonio Brown (4 REC, 56 YDS, 14.0 Y/R, 1 TD) for one game, all the while having to replace not one, but two Starters along the Offensive Line (Left Tackle, Isaiah Wynn, and Center, David Andrews), and it’s really rather remarkable that New England has managed to continue moving forward with relative ease. Even with nearly every member of his current cadre of Receivers dealing with some form of injury, the ageless Tom Brady (65.4%, 1,743 YDS, 7.02 NY/A, 10 TD, 3 INT, 57.3 QBR) has been operating the attack with a surgeon-like precision, leading a unit that has averaged a league-leading 31.7 Points per Game (1st Overall) on 399.7 Total Yards (8th Overall), including 298.2 Yards through the air (5th Overall) on 7.00 Net Yards per Attempt (9th Overall). Make no mistake though, this incarnation of the Offense isn’t close to those of years past, with the Rushing Attack dragging along at 101.5 Yards per Game (21st Overall) on a meager 3.5 Yards per Carry (28th Overall), and the situational efficiency lagging behind as well; the Pats have converted on 40.7% of their Third Downs (13th Overall), while struggling in the Red Zone, where they’ve scored a Touchdown on just 50.0% of their opportunities (21st Overall). At 42-Years Old, Brady has certainly overachieved with this Supporting Cast, but the biggest boost to their success has ironically been the play of the Defense, which through six games has been by far and away the best in the NFL. In fact, you could really make a strong case that this is the best Defense that Bill Belichick has ever had, period. The Patriots lead the league in a slew of categories including Total Defense (234.7), Points Allowed (8.0), Net Yards per Pass (4.1), Takeaways (16), Sacks (25), Third Down Defense (13.7%) and Red Zone Defense (25.0%) among others, and scoring Three Touchdowns to boot. Two of those scores came in last week’s meeting with the struggling New York Giants, with Rookie Edge-Rusher, Chase Winovich (7 TKL, 3 TFL, 5 QBH, 4.0 SK), securing a deflected Punt (ironically off the back of the Long-Snapper) and returning it for six points late in the Fourth Quarter, followed later by a 22-Yard Fumble Return to pay-dirt courtesy of veteran Linebacker, Kyle Van Noy (15 TKL, 2 TFL, 7 QBH, 3.5 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 TD, 3 PD). This affair wasn’t nearly as close as the 35-14 final score would have indicated, with Belichick’s charges relegating the visiting side to a scant 213 Total Yards on Ten First Downs, forcing Four Turnovers, and holding possession for a staggering 39:36. With all that said, it’s a legitimate concern as to whether or not this group can maintain this level of play, particularly when you consider the level of competition that they’ve played thus far this season. To put this into perspective, New England has now faced the Steelers, Dolphins, Jets, Bills, Redskins, and Giants, who together have managed to put together an absolutely miserable 10-23 record (.303). To break that lineup down even further, if you take away the surprising Bills (4-1) from that group, then we’re looking at a cadre of teams that rank among the worst in the league, sporting a combined 6-22 resume (.214). Case in point, when the Pats took on the Jets just three short weeks ago, they absolutely benefitted from the fact that Gang Green trotted out a Practice Squad Quarterback. Predictably, New York was completely unable to move the football on their own, totaling a dismal 105 Yards of Offense on SIX First Downs, going 0-of-12 on Third Down, and possessing the ball for a scant 24:56. So in closing, while you can only play the schedule in front of you, how could Belichick’s troops NOT excel against opponents like this? We’re about to find out shortly, for after tonight’s meeting with the Jets, which given their recent performance following the long-awaited return of their Quarterback, Sam Darnold (more on him in a bit) should be a more competitive affair, the competition steps up considerably with dates with the Browns, Ravens, Eagles, Cowboys, Texans, and Chiefs, with all but Cleveland currently leading their respective Division.
Meanwhile, after a dreadful four-game stretch in which they were forced to start what was basically a Practice Squad Quarterback in the form of Luke Falk, the Jets’ (1-4, 3rd in AFC East) 2019 season officially begin now that they’ve welcomed back their Sophomore Signal-Caller, Sam Darnold (69.9%, 513 YDS, 6.09 NY/A, 3 TD, 1 INT, 45.2 QBR). After blowing a late lead in the Season Opener, New York lost their crown jewel in the most unexpected of manners; Darnold was pronounced out indefinitely after the 22-Year Old was diagnosed with Mononucleosis. That’s right, folks, if you weren’t convinced that this franchise is indeed cursed, what was expected to be their most promising season this decade, has been potentially curtailed due to Mono. Needless to say the Offense, which had been dealing with a wealth of other problems, including an injury-ravaged Offensive Line, and some very uninspired playcalling from Head Coach, Adam Gase, was in dire straits without his presence, which says a lot about a player who is the youngest in the league at that position. In Weeks Two through Five (fortunately there was a Bye wedged in there), the Jets managed a dreadful 7.7 Points per Game on 165.0 Total Yards, including a scant 99.7 Passing Yards, while committing Four Turnovers. Furthermore, the aforementioned Falk was about as bad as it gets under Center, completing 64.4% of his Attempts for an average of 138.7 Yards on just 3.06 Net Yards per Attempt, with Zero Touchdowns and Three Interceptions, and suffering Sixteen Sacks. So can you blame the faithful in the Meadowlands for letting out a collective sigh of relief when Darnold was announced as the Starter heading into last weekend’s tilt with the Cowboys? While they didn’t become a juggernaut overnight, there were plenty of encouraging signs for Gang Green in the surprising 24-22 victory over Dallas, who despite owning them in just about every significant category, couldn’t convert on a decisive Two-Point Attempt with just forty-three seconds left in the contest. The hosts posted season-highs in Points (24), Total Yards (382), Passing Yards (326), and First Downs (20), with Darnold playing his ass off, completing 23-of-32 Passes for 338 Yards, Two Touchdowns and an Interception, leading the home side to a commanding 21-6 lead at Halftime. Late in the Second Quarter, the young Quarterback nailed his Receiver, Robby Anderson (16 REC, 256 YDS, 16.0 Y/R, 1 TD) for a huge, 92-Yard Touchdown to break the game open, shortly after engineering a brilliant 14-play, 83-Yard Drive culminating in a Touchdown Run from Tailback, Le’Veon Bell (85 CAR, 256 YDS, 3.0 Y/C, 1 TD). With Darnold back in the saddle, it will be on Gase and the Coaching Staff to get their team going in other areas, particularly the Running Game, where the aforementioned Bell has yet exhibit the production that made him an All-Pro in Pittsburgh, and the Defense, which has struggled mightily against the Pass (262.0 Yards, 21st Overall), thanks in large part to a lack of pressure (7 Sacks, 29th Overall). Third Overall Pick, Defensive Tackle, Quinnen Williams (11 TKL), missed a few games with an ankle injury that has kept him from becoming the disruptive force that he was in college, while the unit’s captain, Linebacker, C.J. Mosely (6 TKL, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 PD), has yet to return to the field after puling his groin midway through the Season Opener. Needless to say, his presence would be an absolute boon to a group that has been racked by injuries, losing the likes of Nose Tackle, Steve McLendon (12 TKL, 3 TFL, 2 QBH, 1.0 SK, 1 FR), alongside Linebacker, Albert McClellan (4 TKL), in the win over the Cowboys.