AFC Divisional Playoffs
New York Jets (6) at New England Patriots (1), Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
Sunday, January 16, 2011, 4:30 pm EST, TV: CBS
Opening Line: Patriots -9
Current Line: Patriots -8.5
Opening Total: 45
Current Total: 44
Money Line: Patriots -400 / Jets +330
The rubber match between the New England Patriots (14-2) and New York Jets (12-5) promises to be one of the most talked-about playoff games of the year on Sunday. While many believe the NFL saved the best game for last in the divisional round, the Patriots (-8.5) hope to diffuse the drama of head coach Rex Ryan’s Jets and prove once again that they are the team to beat in the AFC.
Ryan has done his best to take pressure off his second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez and turn this game into another coaching matchup between himself and New England’s Bill Belichick. But the Jets will not win either one of those battles in what are two of the game’s biggest mismatches.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the clear choice for league MVP this year after throwing for 36 touchdowns and a career-low four interceptions. Only his record-breaking season in 2007-08 of 50 touchdowns and eight picks was better, when Sanchez was not even yet a starter at USC. Still, New York advanced further in the postseason than New England last year with Sanchez as a rookie after splitting two regular-season meetings, turning this into a true AFC East rivalry.
Sanchez enjoyed a much better second season overall but still has bad memories of playing in Foxborough with two of his worst career games there, including a devastating 45-3 defeat in Week 13. He completed 17 of 33 passes for 164 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions in the latest meeting after throwing for 136 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions at New England in a 31-14 loss last year.
Brady had struggled in the previous meeting against the Jets on the road back in Week 2, throwing half of his picks while trying hard to find wide receiver Randy Moss. The Pats lost that game 28-14 and got rid of Moss a little more than a month later, developing more of an inside-out passing game that helped lead to eight straight wins to close out the regular season.
While the quarterbacks will no doubt be the two players under the spotlight the most leading up to this game, the running backs will need to play a major role for the Jets to have a legitimate shot at pulling off the upset. The lethal combination of LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene was the difference in a 17-16 New York victory at Indianapolis last week, as the duo combined for 152 yards on 35 carries and scored both of the team’s touchdowns.
If the Jets can repeat that feat and keep Brady off the field by controlling the clock, they might be able to return to the AFC championship for the second year in a row. If not, this could be another blowout in New England’s favor. The team’s have split the last six meetings both straight-up and against the spread with the OVER going 3-1-1 in the past five games between the teams.
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