New York Jets Opponent Spotlight: New England Patriots

David Aitken with an opponent spotlight on the New England Patriots, the New York Jets week 16 opponent

The Evil Empire makes their way to Metlife Stadium this Sunday in a game of huge importance for both teams. Here’s a look at some key talking points for the Patriots, including their unfortunately strong Super Bowl prospects, some hope for this Sunday, and what the future may have in store.

Flying High with the Bye

Another year of football, another first round bye for the Patriots. All six Super Bowl appearances for New England have come with a  bye during Wildcard weekend, so for their prospects of repeating it is of huge importance. This Sunday they’ll also be playing to clinch home field advantage, making Sunday’s game at Metlife Stadium enormous for both teams.

For Belichick’s Patriots in pursuit of their record-breaking fifth Super Bowl title, the road appears as smooth as it ever has. The Broncos and Bengals could still pose a stiff test, but given their quarterback situations it wouldn’t be surprising if either are victims to a first-round upset either during Wildcard Weekend or hosting in the Divisional playoffs. New England, meanwhile, are fortunate to have several key injuries on offense projected to be healthy for postseason football, re-establishing the high-powered offense that promoted suggestions of an undefeated season at the halfway point.

Denver of course has a victory over New England with Brock Osweiler at quarterback, but the honeymoon period appears to be over and there is reason to believe Denver may not even make the playoffs (it is likely good news for the Jets if they don’t). The Bengals meanwhile are relying on A.J. McCarron in the interim and will need Dalton to return at his best in the playoffs for any shot to knock off New England. The best chance to knock off this Patriots team might come from the wildcard spot. Kansas City is the hottest team in the AFC at the moment and are playing the type of defense that could hold Brady to a below-average performance. Pittsburgh are the team in the playoff hunt far and away best equipped to handle New England in a shootout. And then of course, the Jets played a relatively healthy New England team to a close game in Foxboro earlier in the season. If the Jets have a shot a month from now, they’ll prove it this Sunday.

Can Brady Pull a Blanda?

There’s no more frightening thought to Jets fans than Tom Brady living his claim that he’ll play another ten years if he can. At age 38 he’s still playing some of his best football, one of his most impressive seasons ever in fact. It really is the type of season that makes you wonder just how long he can keep this going, and whether Brady can add unrivaled modern longevity to his list of numerous incredible accomplishments. Forget playing until 48, if Brady could muster just one or two quality seasons over 40 he’ll be doing something special. Is that realistic, however?

The sample size is small, but we recently have seen late incredible seasons from old quarterbacks be more a warning sign rather than a symbol of peak condition well into the future. Peyton Manning was 37 and 1/2 when he began his record-breaking 2013 campaign, and was about five months older than Brady is now when he had an excellent 2014 regular season. Now he is struggling worse than he did as a rookie in 1998. Brett Favre turned 40 a month into his sensational 2010 season with the Vikings, but then struggled a great deal a year later and saw his Ironman streak fall. Rich Gannon at 37 led the Raiders to a Super Bowl, and played just ten more games over two seasons before retiring. Kurt Warner, the exception, finished his final season at 38 and 1/2, retiring on a high note rather than waiting until his body failed him.

This is not to say Brady is destined for the same fate. It’s Jets fans that know better than anyone else how hard it is to get hits on Brady, compared to Favre’s willingness to endure pain or Warner’s issues with concussions. Rather, this is about pointing out that age has gotten the best of several other quarterbacks who not too long before were playing some of their best football. The decline isn’t gradual, there often is not any warning signs. Despite how well Brady is playing, his drop-off may not be that far. Hopefully. Please.

Is Now a Good Time?

All elite passing attacks have weapons. When the Patriots had their full complement earlier in the season, they were nearly unstoppable. In the first 9 games including the Washington and Giants games where they would lose Dion Lewis and Julian Edelman respectively, New England was averaging 33.6 points-per-game and were undefeated. In the five games since, the Patriots offense is averaging a full touchdown less (26.4 PPG) and have lost two of five. Buffalo held them to just 20 points in Rex Ryan’s yearly highlight Tom Brady game plan, and the Giants game where Edelman was lost was decided by a last-minute field goal.

The Patriots will survive this injury spell and be in good position to accomplish their long-term goal of a championship. They need just one win of the last two to clinch homefield advantage with Miami also left to play, and sidelined receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are projected for a healthy return by their first postseason game. With that said, the only better time to play the Patriots would have been a few weeks ago when Rob Gronkowski was sidelined. Regardless, the Jets should feel this is one they can win. New England’s passing attack has not been operating at maximum capacity, the Jets have won four straight, and it’s the biggest game the Jets have played at Metlife Stadium yet.

Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com