Thoughts On The NFL Playoff Picture

TOJ breaks down the NFL playoff picture heading into week 13

A look at the NFL playoff picture with only five games remaining in the season…

AFC

  1. Houston (8-3)
  2. New England (8-3)
  3. Baltimore (8-3)
  4. Oakland (7-4)
  5. Pittsburgh (8-3)
  6. Cincinnati (7-4)
  7. Denver (6-5)
  8. Jets (6-5)
  9. Tennessee (6-5)

I don’t think anybody in their right mind expects Houston to stick around as the top seed or even get a first round bye with the carousel of T.J. Yates, Kellen Clemens, and Jake Delhomme at quarterback. However, they should hold on for their division title and probably even the number three seed. What a dream match-up that would be for the number six seed (certainly if it happens to be our Jets). Considering their tie-breaker advantage and how the remaining schedules look, Baltimore should win the AFC North with Pittsburgh taking the top wild-card seed. The battle for last wild-card spot should go down to the wire. The Jets have the advantage in terms of schedule, but Cincinnati is a better team right now and Denver has God on their side.

NFC

  1. Green Bay (11-0)
  2. San Francisco (9-2)
  3. New Orleans (8-3)
  4. Dallas (7-4)
  5. Chicago (7-4)
  6. Atlanta (7-4)
  7. Detroit (7-4)
  8. Giants (6-5)

I would expect the top four seeds to remain the same, just based on schedule and how those teams are trending. Atlanta is the favorite to get at least one wild-card spot as they should finish at a minimum of 10-6 with a remaining schedule of: Houston, Carolina, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Atlanta. The Giants look to be free-falling as usual. Even without Jay Cutler, Chicago should be able to reach 10 wins with Minnesota, Seattle, and Kansas City still on the schedule. Detroit still has to play New Orleans and Green Bay and looks to be falling off.

TOJ Tuesday Afternoon New York Jets Link Dump

TOJ with updates on Plaxico Burress, Mike DeVito, Emmanuel Cook, Mark Sanchez, MetLife Stadium and more

Green Lantern with some deserved praise for Plaxico Burress

Burress is quickly becoming one of the most popular players on the team because he is one of the few players who has been improving down the stretch. He has already earned his contract by catching seven touchdowns and it is hard to see the Jets not making a strong push to bring him back next year. He has clearly matured from his time in prison and remains a clutch player on the field.

Jim Leonhard on fans booing Mark Sanchez during introductions

This has inspired a good debate on Twitter. I tend to agree with @RobCelletti in that fans have every right to boo poor play on the field during the game, but booing your starting quarterback during introductions is uncalled for. Obviously paying fans have a right to express themselves in how they see fit but all you are doing is contributing to the ugly stereotype of Jets fans. If you are booing Mark Sanchez when he is called out to start, don’t cheer for him when he throws a game winning touchdown. Like many others, I am tired of hearing the Jets don’t have a homefield advantage because of their stadium. A stadium is a building. It is the fans who make a homefield advantage. I have seen Jets fans rise to the occasion against New England in 2009 and 2010, they just need to be more consistent.. like their team.

Why was Mark Sanchez so angry?

My best guess is that he was fired up after throwing a game winning touchdown after being booed in his own stadium and got emotional (in an angry way) on the sideline.

Emmanuel Cook released and replaced by Tracy Wilson

This does give the vibe of a sketchy situation. A few notorious rumor mongers out there are saying there was an altercation involving Cook and special teams coach Mike Westhoff. Considering Cook’s personality that doesn’t seem to make sense. He has interviewed with us here before at TOJ and we have reached out to him about the situation.

Injury Updates

Mike DeVito isn’t going to play this Sunday, which is a big loss. Fortunately, Marcus Dixon and Ropati Pitoitua have shown themselves more than capable of filling in. Jeremy Kerley is expected back, giving the Jets another guy who can hopefully avoid muffing punts. Shonn Greene is banged up with his rib injury but is expected to play, just look for more work for Joe McKnight and LaDainian Tomlinson who will be back.

TOJ Week 12 NFL Picks

TOJ with his week 12 NFL picks. Who are your best bets on Sunday?

Season Record – 81-65-5

Week 12 Picks (Lines Courtesy of BetUS)

  • Arizona (+2.5) vs. St. Louis
  • Jets (-9.5) vs. Buffalo
  • Cleveland (+7.5) vs. Cincinnati
  • Houston (-7.5) vs. Jacksonville
  • Carolina (4.5) vs. Indianapolis
  • Tampa Bay (+3.5) vs. Tennessee
  • Atlanta (-10.5) vs. Minnesota
  • Oakland (-4) vs. Chicago
  • Seattle (-3.5) vs. Washington
  • New England (4.5) vs. Philadelphia
  • Denver (+6) vs. San Diego
  • Pittsburgh (-11.5) vs. Kansas City
  • New Orleans (-7) vs. Giants

TOJ Thanksgiving Day Picks

TOJ with his Thanksgiving Day picks.

Last Week: 5-7-1

Season Record: 80-63-5

Green Bay (-7) vs. Detroit – I do think the Packers are good enough to run the table. The building will be rocking in Detroit and I expect the Lions to both jump out to an early lead and to empty the playbook with trick plays. However, in the end I think Aaron Rodgers will carve up that defense in the second half and Matthew Stafford will throw a couple of crucial interceptions.

Dallas (-7) vs. Miami – Yes, the Dolphins have been much better as of late but Dallas has too much on the line to slip up here. They are well on their way to being in the driver’s seat of the NFC East and won’t stumble against the surging ‘Fins.

San Francisco (+3) vs. Baltimore – Awesome football game. However, I am more sold on San Francisco than I am on Baltimore at this point. The 49ers play how the Ravens want to play better than they do.

New York Jets: Where Do We Go From Here?

Sitting at 5-5 and looking awful in the process, do the New York Jets have a playoff run in them?

We have now had a few days for the dust to settle on a disgustingly disappointing week of New York Jets football. The New York Giants will take some of the media spotlight for laying an egg at home last night against Vince Young and the Philadelphia Eagles. As it stands right now, the New York Jets are 5-5 and somehow still very much alive in the AFC wild-card race.

Basically they are 1 game out as they sit behind the 6-4 Cincinnati Bengals at. Currently, they are also behind Denver and Tennessee because of tie-breakers despite having the same record as them. Be prepared for six weeks of rooting against these three teams, along with Pittsburgh and Baltimore although most of us expect both of them to return to the playoffs.

The Jets schedule is kind to put it mildly the next three weeks. This week they play the only team in the NFL who has been more pathetic than them the past two weeks, the Buffalo Bills. The Jets get them at home and beat them up only a few weeks ago, 27-11. If the Jets can’t take care of them this week, it is time to start firing coaches (cough, cough Schottenheimer) and benching people. After Buffalo, the Jets travel to Washington to face the Rex Grossman show in DC and then host Tyler Palko and the Kansas City Chiefs.

This three game stretch reminds me of the 4-6 Jets in 2009 facing Carolina, Buffalo, and Tampa Bay. The won all three but nobody was all that impressed considering the level of competition. I could see a similar situation unfolding this year as ultimately the Jets will have to find a way to not just win these next 3 but at a minimum take 2 out of 3 from Philadelphia, the Giants, and the suddenly hot Dolphins to end the season.

They aren’t beating anybody if Mark Sanchez doesn’t get his confidence back and start playing with some consistency, most of that is on him but Brian Schottenheimer has to come up with a competent game-plan. Rex Ryan must let Bill Callahan and Tom Moore give more input to assist in this process. I don’t know how to hide Wayne Hunter outside of leaving awful Matthew Mulligan in to help chip block. I suppose they could also try awful Vladimir Ducasse in that spot or give Shawn Nelson a chance if he ever gets healthy. Maybe give Josh Baker a few more reps? There are more questions than answers right now on offense.

On defense, my rant is coming this afternoon. 9 of their 12 last quarters have been terrific. They dominated Buffalo. Played a strong first half against New England and then dominated Denver for 56 minutes. This team needs more. Considering how bad the offense has been, this defense needs to abuse the upcoming three offenses the way they should, despite Bart Scott and Calvin Pace potentially being the slowest two linebackers in the NFL and Eric Smith being arguably the worst starting safety in the NFL.

Optimistic? I wouldn’t say I am. Yet, there is a glimmer of hope left in this season thanks to the 2009 precedent and how bad the team’s next three opponents are.

TOJ Week 11 NFL Picks

TOJ with his week 11 NFL Picks. Who are your best bets?

Last Week: 8-7

Season Record: 75-56-4

TOJ Week 11 Picks (Lines Courtesy of BetUS)

  • Tennessee (+7) vs. Atlanta
  • Miami (-1) vs. Buffalo
  • Baltimore (-7) vs. Cincinnati
  • Jacksonville (+1) vs. Cleveland
  • Minnesota (PK) vs. Oakland
  • Detroit (-7) vs. Carolina
  • Green Bay (-14.5) vs. Tampa Bay
  • Dallas (-7.5) vs. Washington
  • Arizona (+10.5) vs. San Francisco
  • Seattle (+3) vs. St. Louis
  • Chicago (-4.5) vs. San Diego
  • Giants (-6.5) vs. Philadelphia
  • New England (-16) vs. Kansas City

New York Jets Defense: Simple Questions, Simple Solutions

Justin looks at long term solutions for the New York Jets problems on defense

The New York Jets defense has problems. They’re not dominant against the run and they just got torched against the pass. The upside? They have seven draft picks this year, and while most teams are scrambling in search of quarterbacks, running backs and receivers, the Jets are already in prime position to stack up key positions on their defense.

Safety

The first, and obviously weakest part of the Jets defense is their safety play. Sure Jim Leonhard is smart, instinctive and hard working. He’s also 5’8 and 188 lbs. Matching him up on a tight end is a joke and picturing him taking down the elite running backs in this league is hard to imagine. And who is the other strong safety to back him up? Emmanuel Cook. Like Leonhard, Cook is undrafted, and probably with good reason.

At free safety, the Jets have their jack of all trades in Eric Smith (3rd round pick), and Brodney Pool (2nd round pick/traded from Browns), who has missed crucial time in their schedule with injury. Eric Smith, as this year has shown, should not be a starting safety, as he seems to get beat all over the field in pass coverage. Brodney Pool should be the starter, but missing this much time is not good for a guy who struggled without Leonhard’s guidance last year.

There is an obvious answer to all of this. Draft a safety. Anyone notice the difference a guy like Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu makes? A safety can play against the run, against the pass, blitz, or drop into double coverage. As their cornerback position is secured for the near future, a free roaming safety could provide huge plays in the secondary.

Enter Mark “fear of god” Barron. I made up the nickname, and it is appropriate. Projected as a second round pick, Mark Barron (Alabama) (6’2 215lb) has enough experience in a complex scheme to make an immediate impact at the safety position. Given a full offseason to get acclimated to the Jets scheme, he could be the blitzer who can get to the quarterback and also stop NFL running backs dead in their tracks. If you want proof, just YouTube Mark Barron and look at him against Penn State, and if you are a sadist, look at him put a nice lovetap on Jordan Rogers from Vanderbilt. Barron has already put his stamp on the big hitting Alabama secondary, which is currently giving up 7.1 points per game. Again, 7.1 points per game.

Linebacker

At outside linebacker, the Jets are in flux. Aaron Maybin is slowly evolving into their edge rusher, Calvin Pace is up and down but getting old, and Bryan Thomas is on injured reserve and simultaneously getting old. Jamaal Westerman being a legit pass rusher is not a realistic goal, but a good sub package rotation and Garrett McIntyre is simply filling space on the roster.

At inside linebacker, David Harris is the stud, Bart Scott is the aging complement and the Josh Mauga/Nick Bellore combination is the fallback in case of injury.

Dare I look at another Alabama defensive player? I dare indeed. Courtney Upshaw. He’s not the biggest, he’s not the fastest, but he is ferocious, and probably stronger than most of the tight ends that are going to try and block him in the NFL. He’s a first round pick and will probably be gone by the time the Jets get their number called, but if the Jets don’t make the playoffs,(no one wants that) they can swoop in with relative ease and snatch him somewhere in the middle of the first. You want a pass rusher? Look up Capital One Bowl highlights from last year. Be patient as most of it is Alabama scoring touchdowns, but there are a few great blind side sacks. In a game where Alabama scored 49 points, Upshaw was the MVP. Look up this year’s highlights if you want something in high definition.

If you put his hand down he beats your tackle, if you stand him up he runs over your running back or comes straight up against your quarterback. He also happens to be coached by the best defensive mind in college football. A transition to the Jets shouldn’t be too difficult.
So let’s say he is taken before the Jets can grab him. Then you’ve got this guy Dont’a Hightower, who unlike Upshaw usually lines up inside and knocks opposing guards about six feet off their block. He’s about as heavy as Upshaw and two inches taller.

Defensive Line

The Jets defensive line, like their linebacking core, is in flux. At nose tackle, Kenrick Ellis will hopefully at some point get into football shape and get healthy enough to take over the starting spot by next year. Sione Pouha, a guy who was always intended to be the complement to Kris Jenkins, has held up surprisingly well as a starting nose tackle. Martin Tevaseu is simply taking up space and is only active in case of injury to guys at defensive end.

At defensive end, Muhammad Wilkerson is taking the place of Trevor Pryce. Mike Devito will start at the opposite end of Wilkerson next year, while Ropati Pitoitua is most likely going to substitute for both guys or drop in on nickel and dime packages

Will the Jets become bold and go with defensive line again? Hopefully they will, for the sheer fact that they currently have no Pro Bowlers on their defensive line, and they can’t generate pressure without giving something up over the middle or the short screen.

Postscript

Is getting two Alabama players as your top two draft picks realistic? No. Is getting one? Yes. Though I have nothing against small school defensive players, guys that play on the Alabama defense are operating on another level. They read, react, and rush with the ferocity that teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Jets have come to make their trademark. Some people watch college football for the beauty of touchdowns, I watch it for the beauty of the Alabama defense. And beautiful it is.

New York Jets…And The Hysteria Sets In

One regular season loss and the hysteria has set in for Jets Nation

Let’s not sugarcoat anything from the New York Jets game last night. It was embarrassing to make the number of mental errors they did. The table was set perfectly for them to make a run for a AFC East title and they choked. Nobody played well. Nobody coached well.

Now for some perspective: despite a missed chip shot field goal, a muffed punt, a tipped ball interception, horrific clock management, horrific protection, and a mediocre performance from the quarterback, the Jets were down by a touchdown with less than 10 minutes left.

This loss hurts as it ended any realistic chance of the Jets winning the division and hosting a home playoff game. The road to the Super Bowl will again be spent…on the road. Now the key is actually getting to the point of the playing those road playoff games.

I don’t care how much last night stung, the Jets are still sitting at 5-4 with 5 straight games coming up in which they will be favorites. They are in a conference where there could be a 9 win team who makes the playoffs and nobody is pulling away in the wild-card race. If they do make it into the tournament, who is unbeatable?

New England was unbeatable last year and we know how that went. Baltimore just lost to Seattle. Pittsburgh has looked vulnerable at times. The AFC West is a mess and Houston has never played a playoff game and now has Matt Leinart under center. It is a wide open conference where the team who gets hot at the right time will end up in the Super Bowl.

I am not trying to blind with you some sunny optimism about the Jets and the holes on their current roster. There is real problems that we will get to addressing later. Yet, for now they are more than talented enough to beat Denver and their college style offense even on short notice.

The pity party solves nothing, similar to the rash of hysteria that follows every loss this team has. I have news for you Jets fans, Mark Sanchez isn’t going anywhere. He is our quarterback and this isn’t a bad thing. Is he inconsistent? Is there room for improvement? Yes. Sanchez is a young, developing quarterback who had minimal experience in college and has dealt with a revolving door at wide receiver and some questionable play-calling. On the whole, he will likely make a statistical improvement in every major category this year from last year…just like he did from his second year in comparison to his first year.

Stop saying the Jets can’t win with him because he has already won four road playoff games and wasn’t the reason they lost of either of their AFC Championship Games. The media gives Sanchez the rashest and harshest treatment because of his coach and the team he plays on.

Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions yesterday, his team has lost 3 of 4, and he is always banged up. Should the Lions give up on him? Josh Freeman has been terrible this year compared to last year and has never won an important game. Should the Bucs give up on him? Matt Ryan zero playoff wins. Time to cut him loose? Joe Flacco can’t get past Pittsburgh in the playoffs and just lost in Seattle, why keep him around?

The same thing goes for Rex Ryan, don’t hate on his personality and brashness when the team loses but embrace it when they are winning. You can say this about Rex, he is consistent. He is himself and that never changes. Either like it or dislike it, don’t say he needs to stop being who is because the Jets didn’t run the table after starting 2-3.

Last night was an ugly loss to our hated rivals…it brings out plenty of negative emotions. Vent them out but save your big picture judgements until the season is over. The same people who buried the Jets today are the same people who buried them in 2009 and 2010 after regular season losses to New England.

It Is Now Or Never For Jets Fans: Suggestions For MetLife Stadium

Chris Celletti with a call to action for Jets fans this Sunday and a few suggestions for the MetLife Stadium game-day production crew

I’ve been going to Jets games since the days of Boomer Esiason. I’ve seen some great moments for sure – plenty of bad ones, and now I’ve gotten to experience two different stadiums. MetLife Stadium has many faults. When it was being designed and then built, Jets fans were sold on the idea that this would be OUR stadium – not just a shared one with the Giants – even though we were sharing this one with them too. How would that be accomplished? By green lights, and green signs, and just a bunch of other green things. When I first walked into the place, the color that overrode everything was gray. It’s a huge hunk of steel and concrete. I suppose it is better than the Giants’ red that the seats in the old building had, but walking into MetLife stadium doesn’t exactly invoke an overwhelming amount of Jet pride.

Jets fans have always seemed a bit whiny when it came to not having their own stadium. I say this because there is no reason that on eight Sundays a year (and hopefully more, but who are we kidding?) Jets fans can’t lose their collective minds and go be completely off the wall in support of their team, regardless of the name of the stadium or the color of the seats. I watch enough NFL football on TV to know what a truly great home crowd is. Every other NFL stadium seems totally packed by kickoff; in most buildings the entire place is standing and cheering on the team’s first defensive possession. From being at every Jets home game this season, I can tell you that that’s not nearly the case at MetLife Stadium.

The place is generally about 60% full at kickoff. When I walk into the stadium from the parking lot, usually about a half hour from kickoff, I notice hoards of people still lounging in their bucket seats, knocking back Coors Lights and flipping burgers, priorities clear. Why you’d pay whatever you pay for a Jets ticket and waltz in 25 minutes late because you just had to have another sliver of Sal’s awesome skirt steak, well, I’m not sure. I hope Sunday night is different.

You have all day to tailgate. Get to your seat by 8 o’clock. Go nuts for the team when it is announced. Stand up, get loud, make it as tough as you can for Tom Brady. If the Jets go down by 7, or 10, don’t wallow. Rex Ryan and Bart Scott have both said the crowd could make a difference this week. They’re not crazy.

As for MetLife Stadium? Well, they cant change the colors. Whatever. But there are some things that can be changed.

-First off, don’t attack our senses at every chance. I don’t need to hear “Ridin’ Dirty” blasting in my ears after every Shonn Greene 10 yard run (thank God, in that sense, that he’s had a rough year). My brother, Rob Celletti, has made the very valid point that the blasting of music does absolutely nothing to get people pumped up. Instead, it has the reverse effect. All it does is drone on and drown out any crowd noise.

-Replace your PA announcer, please. I usually don’t begrudge people who do their jobs since, but I know I could do a better job. I swear I could. Almost anyone could.

-You’ve gotta be kidding with “Down With The Sickness” by Disturbed before kickoff. To every New York sports team who isn’t sure what song to play when their team comes out, here are four words: Empire State of Mind.

-Give me more classic highlights during TV timeouts! This was one of the best parts of the old Giants Stadium. So what if we’re losing to the Dolphins 3-0? Show me Ken O’Brien hitting Wesley Walker for an 86-yard bomb in 1988, and all will be fine.

So there’s that. The gameday stadium production will be the same, but one can dream. Either way, now is the time for Jets fans to step up their game and make MetLife Stadium a fortress. The team has given you plenty to cheer about the past two and a half seasons.

Now go cheer.

Jets vs. Patriots: A Deeper Look At Two Rivals, Part 2

Part 2 of our roundtable series discussing Jets/Pats featuring TOJ, The Jet Report, Pats Propaganda, Green Lantern, and NBC’s Bruce Beck

In part I of “A Deeper Look” we broke down the main characters such as Rex, Belichick, Sanchez and Brady. As we continue today with the second installment of our three part roundtable series breaking down the Jets/Pats showdown, we look at other members of the backfield, as well as how these teams fared during free agency.

Once again we are joined by TJ Rosenthal from The Jet Report, Mike Dussault from Pats Propaganda, WFAN’s Jeff Capellini and NBC’s Bruce Beck:

Q. Darrelle Revis: Explain how his play effects the entire Jets defense and teams that try to attack it.

Capellini: Besides basically shutting off half the secondary on passing downs, Revis is also a very good tackler. He’s very good against the run. He forces opponents to overload one side of the field, which causes congestion and a better chance of tipped balls and interceptions. Cromartie, Wilson and the linebackers have already shown great prowess at ball-hawking. If you narrow a team’s options throwing the football and cut off the real estate they have to play with, turnovers happen with greater frequency. Last week Ryan Fitzpatrick was picked off twice in the center of the field by linebackers, this while Stevie Johnson was one-on-one on the outside. That right there is the Revis factor in a nutshell.

Caporoso: He is the league’s only true lock down corner and his skill set gives Rex Ryan the ability to be so comfortable in man coverage. Some teams choose to avoid Revis entirely but this season teams seem to be taking more chances on him, which is leading to a monster year for him in terms of creating big plays (see Dallas and Miami game).

Q. Neither club seems to be on their way to leading the league in rushing. The Jets struggled early on defensively and the Pats have had their problems there seemingly all year. Can a team in the modern day NFL win a Super bowl without a solid running game? Without a shutdown defense?

Caporoso: I think the answer has to be yes, just from looking at Green Bay last year. I wouldn’t say they had a solid running game or a shutdown defense yet their passing offense was so ridiculous and their defense created enough turnovers that it compensated for it. Every team has a different formula for winning based on their coach and personnel. For the Jets to win a Super Bowl, they need a solid running game and a shutdown defense.  

Dussault: The Patriots seem to think you don’t need an elite running back, though they drafted two of them in the third round this year. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is the perfect Patriots runningback. He runs hard, doesn’t lose yards, doesn’t fumble, and as an undrafted free agent he doesn’t cost much. That said he’s not going to make plays by himself. Danny Woodhead has lacked the explosive plays this year, but I believe Kevin Faulk should be the big factor against the Jets this weekend assuming he’s healthy. They’ll need his pass protection smarts to pick up the complex Jets blitzes. I’d expect to see him out there more than any other back.

As for a shutdown defense I’m not sure one exists. You need an offense that can finish and a defense that can make the stops in the key moments. Usually these are veteran defenses like Jets and not young defenses like the Pats. But you’re not going to ever fully shutdown the top offenses in the game, you just have to stop them when it counts most.

Capellini: The Colts and Pats from some years back had ample enough running games and defenses to win it all and they did. Even last season the Packers, for all their airing it out with Aaron Rodgers, still had a scoring defense and got big efforts from the likes of James Starks when it mattered. I think you can live without the running back to an extent if you have a good committee, but without the defense you are not going to win a championship. If the Patriots are not worried about this right now they have their heads in the sand.The Jets are more complete on both sides of the ball and just recently have started to show it. The onus will be on all 53 to keep up this consistency or they, too, will be watching come January.

Q. What player on your club has been the biggest pleaseant surprise so far in 2011? Biggest disappointment?

Dussault: The Patriots biggest pleasant surprise has to probably be Kyle Arrington with his league leading 5 interceptions. His emergence really made Leigh Bodden expendable and he’s able to play both outside and in the slot. He may be undersized but he’s tough, though he’ll give up his share of completions. Brandon Spikes is another player who is emerging as arguably the Pats best linebacker. For all the love Jerod Mayo gets it’s really Spikes who is becoming the heart of the defense. Too bad it looks like he’ll be out on Sunday with a sprained MCL.

Biggest disappointment has to be Devin McCourty after a breakout rookie year.He’s looked better the last couple weeks though, now he just needs to start making plays on the ball.

Caporoso: Joe McKnight has gone from being from the team goat to a terrific all-around playmaker. So he is the biggest surprise. The biggest disappointment? I will go with Derrick Mason, considering the way his entire situation went down and the early turmoil it created on the team.

The Jet Report: We’re with Joe on this one. McKnight has made huge plays and made people forget about Brad Smith who was a huge part of this team. Especially when considering how many roles Smith played, how often the Jets, who have had red zone issues in the Sanchez era pre Plax, needed big plays from him. McKnight has done the same, maybe even in a more explosive way. Disappointment? The offensive line has taken a while to get into gear. That has hurt the run game. Mangold is back now so all things seem to be settling down up front.

Capellini: Believe it or not, Plaxico Burress has begun to provide a stability on offense. He’s nearly at game speed now and you can see it in his route running and concentration. I think he more than any other player this side of Sanchez will tell the tale for the Jets on offense going forward. Defensively, I love what Sione Pouha is becoming. I think if the Jets can get him and unsung Mike DeVito going together going forward you will be talking about a serious two-headed run-stuffing monster.

Q. Where do both clubs need to improve the most?

Caporoso: For the Jets, it is Mark Sanchez and the passing attack. If they continue to improve, the Jets are going to be a very difficult team to beat. For New England, it is the defense and in particular the secondary who needs to improve substantially. 

Dussault: For the Pats it has to be communication in the secondary. We’ve seen when this defense is all on the same page they’ve been very effective at shutting down some very good offenses. This is characteristic of a young defense. If they continue to improve and show more consistency the Patriots will be a better team than they were in 2010. They’ve been especially better recently on 3rd down and in the red area which is encouraging. They just need to do it game in and game out.

Capellini: The Patriots’ secondary is a mess. Besides bringing in new guys, which is always a crapshoot, it’s on master Belichick to scheme things the way he has in the past. So far, he hasn’t. The Jets still need a pass rusher. I’m not breaking news here. They totally shut down the high-flying Bills last week without getting a single sack. Now imagine what they could be if they could get to the quarterback more?

The Jet Report: The Pats come into the is game 32nd in the NFL on defense against the pass AND run. That has to get better. They don’t have to become the Steel Curtain, but they have to exit THAT territory. The Jets are getting into a groove defensively, have their special teams set up now with McKnight and Kerley and have figured out a balance on offense. They have to stop shooting themselves in the foot in the first half. Those stunted drives that end in turnovers not only hurt on the scoreboard, they impair the team emotionally. It takes them through halftime until they regain their flow again. Finish early drives guys.

Q. Let’s go back in time for a minute. Free agency resembled the “Wild West” this past August. Has the production level put forth by free agent pick ups so far warranted the decisons to release others who once held their positions? (you answer this based on FA’s  Pats picked up and let go)

Caporoso: For the Jets it appears at this point, it was the right decision to part ways with Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith considering the production of Plaxico Burress and Joe McKnight. I can’t argue with Shaun Ellis leaving either since he hasn’t done much in New England combined with the fact that Muhammad Wilkerson has held down his previous role well. I would have liked to keep Jerricho Cotchery to mentor Jeremy Kerley, especially considering how Derrick Mason worked out. I think in retrospect New England would look elsewhere for their deep threat at receiver instead of Chad Ochocinco and would have focused more on improving the secondary.

Dussault: Brian Waters has been a great acquisition filling a big hole at right guard though the Pats offensive line has been less than stellar as of late. Chad Ochocinco has been under a lot of criticism but against the Giants he truly looked like he was starting to get it, Brady just had trouble delivering the ball to him when he was open. His ability to beat press man coverage is why he was brought in and they will really need something out of him against the Jets.

Capellini: If you consider the Pats’ two biggest pickups are now basically not involved, then I would say New England didn’t do the greatest of jobs this past offseason. Haynesworth ended up being the problem many people thought he would be and OchoCinco, as stated earlier, has been a major disappointment. Burress justifies letting Braylon Edwards walk. McKnight justifies letting Brad Smith walk, at least as far as special teams go.

The Jet Report: Haynesworth and Ochocinco were just trimmings. Albert is gone but Ocho still could help out if he and Brady get on the same page down the stretch. The Jet choices were all solid. We would have liked to see a bit of shopping for a backup QB though. The problem was that Sanchez loves Brunell as a mentor so that wasn’t going to happen. We also wonder what would have transpired that first week of free agency had Asomugha not been such a focal point for the Jets.

Q. Albert Haynesworth was released on Tuesday. Derrick Mason was traded weeks back. Did you expect alot more from them? Why did both veteran players fail to become part of the equation in Foxboro and Florham Park.

Caporoso: I thought Haynesworth had potential to be a contributor but shame on me for forgetting how lazy and what a lost cause he was. I also did think Mason could succeed here but shame on me again, for forgetting his history of creating issues in a locker room. I just think neither player bought into the system and locker room of an already tight, successful team.

Dussault: Haynesworth is who the critics thought he was. He looked dominant at times and other times he looked like the worst defensive lineman on the team.  It’s disappointing because he clearly has the talent to dominate if he wanted to.Schematically he wasn’t a perfect fit for what the Pats do, but he could’ve made a real impact as an interior sub-rusher. The Pats brought him along carefully and gently but it was all for naught, and it looks like his career is probably over now.

Capellini: Temperament goes a long way in this league. I wish Mason had just kept his mouth shut and worked on helping the Jets, but you knew what you were getting when you signed him. He’s a great talent, has been for years, but he’s also a powder keg. To basically get kicked off the Jets, who never shut up, shows you just how much he didn’t fit in. Haynesworth, like I said above, became a problem because he, too, couldn’t keep his mouth shut, not to mention the fact that he just didn’t perform all that well. But like the Jets, the Pats knew what they were getting themselves into. It shows that even in a football factory, where there’s a clear right way and wrong way to do things, even the mighty Pats can make a bad personnel decision on an older player.

Q. What makes this Patriots Jets rivalry so special?

Caporoso: The players and coaches going back and forth between the two franchises. The recent success of both teams. The number of large games, including two playoff meetings in recent years. Rex Ryan’s attitude compared to Bill Belichick’s.

Dussault: Of course you have the history of being divisional rivals for so long, but what makes it truly special now is the stark contrast in approaches. In just about everything they’re complete opposites yet both styles have proven effective. There’s a great balance to the rivalry and they’ve split the games since Rex Ryan joined the Jets. There also a balance to the Jets having a veteran defense and an offense around a young quarterback, while the Pats have a veteran offense with a young defense. Just about every element of the rivalry has balance and that makes it a lot of fun. Rex brings a lot to it all by himself, I can’t think of another coach I’d rather have coaching my team’s rival. He makes it a lot of fun because you want to beat him so badly. I’m sure Belichick does the same for Jets fans in his own way.

Capellini: It’s really not about New York and Boston. It’s a matter of combustible personalities and fan bases colliding. It’s about one perennial doormat finally getting its act in gear and challenging the status quo. It’s about the rightful throne holders not liking the new kids on the block because they know one day their reign of terror could end, mostly because the usual also-rans now have a plan. It’s also about the lesser team being tired of hearing about and watching the great gods from up north continue to destroy and conquer. The Jets envy what the Pats are as much as the Pats fear what the Jets are becoming. It’s a symphony on the field two or three times a year.

The Jet Report: The history. The storyline. The characters involved. From the AFL’s onset up until the 1990’s, these teams were division rivals but never eternal enemies. Once Bill Parcells left New England to become the Jets head coach, and Bill Belichick left the Jets to return to New England, the entire battle went from trench warfare to Civil War style. With both sides fully armed, heading full steam towards each other. Add New England’s magnificent run with Brady, followed by Eric Mangini ditching Bill, getting locked out in Foxboro, then calling out his boss with “Spygate,” and you have the need for NATO intervention. All of this mind you, BEFORE REX RYAN showed up in Florham Park. It’s been nothing but great drama, great strategy, and classic games for a long time between these two. Both of whom have now earned a mutual respect for each other in the process. As hard as that may be for some of the players involved to admit.

Beck: The atmosphere will be electric. Jets-Pats — the best rivalry around, outside of Yankees-Red Sox. Sunday Night Football on NBC. As Mills Lane used to say, “let’s get it on.”

Look for Part III of “Jets vs Patriots: A Deeper Look at Two Rivals” Saturday