The 11-3 New England Patriots and the 3-11 Miami Dolphins will revisit for a 1 p.m. kickoff at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
The last time the two sides met was at Gillette Stadium for a Thursday night in October. And a blocked 58-yard field goal by defensive lineman Chris Jones sent the Jets back to East Rutherford with a 27-25 loss.
This time, head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots will travel there looking to secure home-field advantage along with the AFC’s No. 1 seed. But for head coach Rex Ryan and the Jets, currently the No. 13 seed in the conference, the game holds a different meaning.
Here are a few notes to monitor before New England and New York line up for Week 16.
Jets Run into Siliga, Branch: The last time the two teams met, running back Chris Ivory was the difference. The 6-foot, 222-pound Tiffin standout took 21 carries 107 yards and got into the end zone for a touchdown, as New York’s offense took flight on the turf for 43 total rushes and 218 yards. Sealver Siliga was on injured reserve-designated to return at that time, and Alan Branch was a free agent. Both the 6-foot-2, 325-pound Siliga and the 6-foot-6, 335-pound Branch have since joined Vince Wilfork along Patriots’ on the defensive line since then. And all three have left a mark against the run, setting blocks back and occupying gaps as edge players have emphasized containment. “Branch is a big guy, Siliga is a big guy, Chandler [Jones] is more of an edge. But when you put them all together, it looks a little different than it did a few weeks ago,” Belichick said in his press conference Friday.
Third-Down Stand: New York’s offense controlled the football in Week 7, affording New England’s offense only 19 minutes of possession. The difference started and ended at the sticks, as the Jets ran for 13 first downs and picked up another 11 passing with quarterback Geno Smith to finish 9-of-16 on third down. The Patriots, conversely, ran for two first downs and picked up 12 passing with quarterback Tom Brady to finish 6-of-13 on third down. “It killed us,” Belichick said. “I mean, third down was a big problem for us in that game on both sides of the ball. It’s been a problem for us with them. We don’t have the ball very long on offense and we are out there on the field too long on defense.”
Harvin Making Room Offensively: Two days after the Patriots and Jets last played, New York acquired wide receiver Percy Harvin via trade. The former Seattle Seahawk, Minnesota Viking and Florida Gator has since recorded 45 offensive touches for 415 yards and two touchdowns, but he’s also recorded chances for his teammates. The 6-foot-3, 214-pound Eric Decker is one of them, having caught 13 catches for 189 yards in the last two weeks. How the Patriots disperse cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner will largely dictate that output this week.
Patriots, Jets and the Element of Pressure: New England’s offensive line has conceded a third-ranked 18 sacks through 14 games, while New York’s offensive line has conceded a 27th-ranked 44. Even so, expect to see both defensive fronts generate pressure in the 15th game of the campaign. The Patriots’ multiple pass rush has notched 11 sacks over the last three weeks, while the Jets’ 3-4 group of Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, green-dot linebacker David Harris and outside blitzers has notched six. “Really those front seven guys, they don’t come off the field too much,” Belichick said of New York’s defense earlier in the week. “They’re using a lot less nickel and dime than we’ve ever seen to try to keep those guys on the field as much as possible. They’re a pretty disruptive group.”
Three Early Outs for New England: Though 12 Patriots landed on the injury report as questionable for Sunday’s game, it has since been learned that three of whom – running back LeGarrette Blount, cornerback Kyle Arrington and wideout Julian Edelman – did not travel with the team to New Jersey and have been downgraded to out. With Blount coping with a shoulder injury, the Patriots’ backfield will turn to Shane Vereen and Jonas Gray. With Arrington dealing with a hamstring injury, New England’s defense will look to fill the nickel spot with either Logan Ryan, Alfonzo Dennard or rookie Malcolm Butler versus Harvin and fellow inside target Jeremy Kerley. And with Edelman working back from a concussion as well as a thigh injury, New England’s offense figures to fill out the passing game with receivers Danny Amendola and Brian Tyms along with tight end Tim Wright from “12” personnel.
Two Sides Cutting It Close: Dating back to Oct. 21, 2012, four of the last five games between the Patriots and Jets have been decided by three points or less, with the outlier being a 49-19 Patriots rout on Thanksgiving. New England has gone 4-1 in those games. But even with the AFC East decided, New York will be playing for something else on Sunday afternoon.