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Patriots Keys to Victory: Divisional Round vs. Jets

The return of rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes will help bolster the Patriots run defense versus the New York Jets on Sunday. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

Things played out quite nicely for the No. 1 seed New England Patriots (14-2) in the wildcard round of the AFC playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens, a team the Patriots would like to avoid for as long as possible, dismantled the Kansas City Chiefs 30-7, earning them a ticket to Pittsburgh. Meanwhile the New York Jets, who the Pats crushed 45-3 back in Week 13, slipped past the Indianapolis Colts 17-16, earning them a trip to Foxboro.

In all likelihood, the Ravens and Steelers will beat the living crap out of each other at Heinz Field on Saturday. The winner of that game will emerge emotionally drained, and with many bumps and bruises. If the Pats take care of business against the Jets on Sunday, they’ll be in a great position to make yet another Super Bowl appearance in the Belichick-Brady era.

Many fans and the media throughout New England are talking about the Patriots-Jets matchup as if a Pats victory is a foregone conclusion, and you can’t really blame them for doing so.

The Patriots absolutely destroyed the Jets 45-3 in front of a national audience on ESPN’s Monday Night Football in Week 13. Tom Brady put on a clinic in that game, throwing for 326 yards and four touchdowns. He finished the game with an astounding quarterback rating of 148.9, and made the Jets’ vaunted defense look like a bunch of amateurs.

The Pats defense roughed up Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, intercepting him three times. Sanchez ended the game with a QB rating of 27.8.

Perhaps even more impressive than their thrashing of the Jets in Week 13, is the fact that the Patriots haven’t lost a game since early November. In all of their victories since their loss to the Browns in Week 9, the Patriots offense has scored at least 30 points.

The Jets will look to their 28-14 Week 2 win over the Patriots for a little confidence, but that game, which took place nearly four months ago, now seems like ancient history.

Putting the onus on Mark Sanchez.

Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is not playing his best football at this point in the season. In Week 2 versus the Patriots, Sanchez had a stellar game, throwing from 220 yards and three touchdowns. Over the past six weeks, however, Sanchez has thrown just one touchdown pass and six interceptions.

Sanchez’s downhill slide began with his stinker of a performance in the blowout loss to the Pats. He followed that game up with a one-interception, zero-touchdown loss to the Miami Dolphins, and most recently played another subpar game against the Colts in the Wildcard round last Saturday.

With Sanchez struggling, the Jets will have to run their way to victory. They were able to do so in their win over the Colts last week. Running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene combined for 152 yards on 35 carries in that game.

The Patriots front seven must be ready for a heavy doss of LT and Greene on Sunday afternoon. Look for them to put eight men in the box early and often, and dare Mark Sanchez to try to beat them downfield.

Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, who is probably still having nightmares about Ray Rice’s 83-yard touchdown from last year’s Wildcard playoff game at Gillette Stadium, will be key in stopping the Jets’ two-pronged rushing attack.

Getting out to an early lead.

The Patriots have done a great job of jumping on their opponents early in games this season. Getting out to an early lead will be of the utmost importance against a Jets team that is not built to play from behind.

The Jets like to run the football and control the clock. The Patriots need to do what they do best on Sunday and turn the game into a track meet. If Tom Brady is able to connect on a couple touchdowns in the first quarter, the game will be all but over in the first half.

Prediction:

History will not be on the side of the Jets this weekend. Teams that met in games during the regular season that were decided by at least 35 points have met again in the playoffs just five times. In each rematch, the team that lost in the regular season lost again in the rematch by at least two scores. This is one of a hundred different reasons I like the Patriots to advance to the AFC Championship.

Patriots 28, Jets 17

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