The New York Jets are going to have to exploit matchups in their favor and cover up bad matchups that favor the New England Patriots if they expect to leave Sunday's game with a firm grip on first place in the AFC East. The Jets have more ground to make up given their injury situations, but with the lower expectations compared to those placed on the Patriots, the Jets also have more room to play fast and loose. Personnel usage is always interesting when any team plays the Patriots, and those individual matchups will determine the outcome of the game. The burden falls on Rex Ryan, Mike Pettine, Tony Sparano and Mike Westhoff to exploit the matchups that can tip the scales in New York's favor.
Nick Mangold versus Vince Wilfork: This is always a heavyweight collision, as Nick Mangold is one of the few linemen in the NFL that can take Vince Wilfork by himself. The Jets have to find running room to control the clock and keep this a tight game, and that is going to depend on Nick Mangold moving Vince Wilfork off the line of scrimmage.
Jets defensive line versus Patriots offensive line:The Jets have to pressure Tom Brady. The defensive line stepped up last week and got after Andrew Luck, and the Patriots offensive line isn't what it used to be. The Jets need to get after Tom Brady and make him uncomfortable all game. Quinton Coples, Aaron Maybin and Muhammad Wilkerson will play a big role in determining the outcome of the game.
Antonio Cromartie and the Jets kick return team versus Stephen Gostkowski and the Patriots kickoff team: The Jets are expected to be without Joe McKnight on Sunday, but Antonio Cromartie is a very capable replacement. Antonio Cromartie is dangerous anytime he's on the field, even when he's playing cornerback. Stephen Gostkowski is averaging just over 65 yards per kickoff this season, meaning he's putting the ball right at the goal line – a very returnable kick. As a team the Jets are averaging over 28 yards a return. Only two of those weren't by Joe McKnight, but as mentioned above Antonio Cromartie is just as capable of bringing a kick return back to the house. The Jets need to win the yardage battle on special teams and their kick return team will get to jump start either the first or second half, plus they will get the first crack at answering any New England scores.
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