By Steve Silverman
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If you listened to the experts this summer, you heard many longtime NFL observers talk about the possibility of a 16-0 regular season for the New England Patriots followed by the team’s sixth Super Bowl championship.
Those same experts also talked about the possibility — or even likelihood — of the Jets going 0-16. Those estimates were based on the team’s apparent glaring lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball.
However, a quick check of the standings heading into the Week 6 meeting at MetLife Stadium shows the teams tied for first place in the AFC East with 3-2 records, along with the equally surprising Buffalo Bills.
The prognosticators appeared to get both the Patriots and Jets wrong. There’s plenty of time for the Pats to find themselves, and for the Jets to once again fall apart, but as of now, these teams are equals.
“You are what your record says you are,” Bill Parcells famously said, a quote that became part of his NFL credo.
The biggest issue for the Patriots through the early part of the season has been shockingly poor play on defense. New England had the No. 1 scoring defense in the league a year ago, but this year it is tied for 30th with the Tennessee Titans, allowing 28.4 points per game. Only the Indianapolis Colts are worse, giving up 31.8 per game.
The reason for the downturn has been two-fold. The Patriots have not put significant pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and they have not done a good job in coverage.
The Pats are also last in yards allowed, even as they are first in yards gained and third in points scored.
That’s a formula for disaster in the NFL, no matter how good a team’s offense is.
Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia were hoping that end Trey Flowers would be the breakout star of the defense after recording 7 sacks last year, and 2 1/2 in the postseason. Flowers has 3 1/2 currently, and is on pace to produce double digits, but he is not getting enough help from his teammates other than fellow end Deatrich Wise, who has 3 sacks.
The Pats have gotten rid of stars like Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins in recent years, and they are paying the price for those moves this year.
As for the secondary, former Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler and ex-Bill Stephon Gilmore are simply not in sync. The Pats been giving up tons of passing yards and points, with receivers running unabated seemingly all the time.
The Pats were somewhat better during their 19-14 win at Tampa Bay last week, but the problems have not gone away. They were simply awful in their Week 4 home loss to Carolina, a team that had shown no offensive capabilities up until that game.
Kelvin Benjamin had 104 receiving yards and Devin Funchess caught two TD passes, and it’s likely that neither one of those receivers is going to the Pro Bowl.
The Jets are supposedly devoid of offensive talent, but they have a decent running game with Bilal Powell and Elijah McGuire.
Wideouts Robby Anderson and Jermaine Kearse may have seemed like laughable options during the preseason, but both are laying it on the line each week and their production has been pretty good, all things considered. They each have 220 receiving yards and have combined for four touchdowns.
Quarterback Josh McCown and his receivers should take their cues from the success that Carolina had against New England.
The Jets’ defense has had a few halting moments this season, and it will be difficult for this unit to hold up under the pressure it will feel against Tom Brady. All the more reason for ends Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams to step up.
Brady has already been sacked 16 times, and he has been pummeled on numerous other occasions.
The experts had written off the Jets and anointed the Patriots, but neither of those designations mean anything at this point.
The Pats are a troubled team, while the Jets have a purpose.
Things could get very interesting in a division that seemed like a foregone conclusion before the first pass was thrown in early September.
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