NFL Preview - New England (11-3) at N.Y. Jets (3-11) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - If you focus on the math, it's nearly a "why bother?" proposition.
The New England Patriots have been held to fewer than 21 points exactly twice in 14 games this season.
Meanwhile, the New York Jets average just 16.4 points, and have been held to 20 or fewer to 10 times.
So when an 11-win New England team - fresh off clinching its 12th AFC East title in 14 seasons - heads to MetLife Stadium to meet a three-win New York team, it's understandable that nearly everyone but Jets coach Rex Ryan considers a Patriots victory a done deal.
"It's not hard for me to do," Ryan said. "I'm a confident person, and I think I'm a decent football coach and I think people who know the game realize that. So, I don't worry about it."
Ryan, by most accounts, is playing out the string of a six-year tenure that's likely to end shortly after the Week 17 finale in Miami. But he has managed to keep his team relevant in some areas, particularly the run game, where New York trails only Seattle with a 166.6-yard weekly ground average.
The Jets gashed New England for 218 rush yards in a two-point loss in Foxborough in Week 7, and their per-carry average of 4.74 yards is third in the league behind the Seahawks and Green Bay.
And, then, well ... there's Geno Smith.
The second-year quarterback could also be in the final days of an underwhelming run as starter. New York is second-to-last in the league with a weekly passing average of 168.9 yards, and Smith has thrown two touchdown passes and two interceptions in three games since regaining the starting role from Michael Vick, though his passer rating in those games is a pedestrian 78.2.
It won't help Sunday that his new favorite target - in-season trade acquisition Percy Harvin - is still questionable with the sprained left ankle he suffered two weeks ago at Minnesota. He played in last week's 16-11 win at Tennessee, but had no catches and managed a single run for 10 yards.
If he plays, he's like to get a dose of New England cornerback Darrelle Revis, who returns to New York for the second time - and first with the Patriots - since he was traded prior to the 2013 season.
"I'll probably just approach it like I did when I played with Tampa last year," Revis said. "Just treat it like another game."
Revis and the Patriots defense have been on their best behavior, regardless of opponent, for the better part of 10 weeks since a 41-14 loss to Kansas City in late September. In fact, New England has held foes to an average of 19 points since that loss, going 9-1 while defeating high-end opposition like Indianapolis (42-20 win) and Denver (43-21 win), and losing close to Green Bay (26-21).
The Colts, Broncos and Packers are three of the top five scoring offenses in the NFL.
"We have to play our best football to win," defensive end Chandler Jones said. "I truly believe that."
Two more victories - against the Jets, then at home with Buffalo in Week 17 - would give the Patriots home-field advantage for the length of their stay in the AFC playoffs. And if New England wins and Denver loses at Cincinnati on Monday night, the top seed will be clinched prior to next week.
Four of the last five games between the Patriots and Jets have been decided by three points or fewer, and New York won in overtime, 30-27, when New England traveled to New Jersey last season.
"I know the records are what they are, but we don't look at it like that," quarterback Tom Brady said. "We lost going into the Meadowlands last year."
Brady was held without a TD pass in that game - the only time that's happened to him in his last 25 regular-season starts. And in the last three games with the Jets, the Patriots have been limited to averages of 283.3 yards and 22.3 points.
"They've got a real good defense," Brady said. "We're anticipating their best game."
Of course, New England faced the seventh-ranked defense in the league last week against Miami and scored 41 points. That rout continued a stretch of seven games - since the initial meeting with the Jets this season - in which the Patriots have been at or near the top of the league with 36.4 points (first) and 419.9 yards (third) per game.
The usual game-week angst between the teams was toned down Monday when Ryan suggested New England's Bill Belichick was a "first-ballot Hall of Fame coach" when he retires, though Belichick ultimately responded in his typical low-key persona.
"It's a very flattering comment, but it sounds like Rex is just buttering me up," he said. "I know they're working hard, like they always do, to play us very competitively. We've really had a hard time with them, including the last time we played them. We're going to have to do a good job getting ready to go here, stopping a team that runs the ball well, that stops the run well, that's got a lot of explosive guys in the kicking game, that's well-coached, that's though (and) that beat us down there last year.
"We have our work cut out for us."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Grounded and Pounded
The fundamental task of establishing the edges and containing them will be front and center for the Patriots defense against the bruising Jets run game. The interior is manned by Vince Wilfork, Sealver Silga, Alan Branch and Dont'a Hightower, and if the outside holds up as well, it could force the game into the oft-scattershot hands of Smith at quarterback.
Move Those Chains
If they want to stay close with New England throughout 60 minutes, the Jets have to be successful in not only extending their own drives, but in getting the Patriots off the field on third downs. Shane Vereen was able to burn them too many times in the first game, while the defense was turning its attention to Rob Gronkowski. Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount also provide diverse options for Brady.
It's the same old story for the Jets these days. If they come in prepared and revved-up, then play their best game with few or no mistakes, they'll have a chance to hang with the Patriots and maybe win at the end. But with any deviation from that script - read: mistakes by Smith, misfires by the defense - it's got the chance to get ugly in a big way. That's more likely the script here, in Rex's final Jersey appearance.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Patriots 31, Jets 14