Two rival AFC East teams will wrap up Thanksgiving with a game at MetLife Stadium, as the Patriots battle the Jets for the second time this season.
New England can put a stranglehold on the division as they are 7-3, and with a win they can put a huge dagger into the Jets season, who are 4-6.
New York is coming off a win in St.Louis last week, but it was one of the few bright spots in what has been a season of woe for Rex Ryan and the Jets.
The Patriots have dominated this season, as they have won 15 of the last 19 regular-season meetings including four straight, though the most recent one went to overtime as the underdog Jets fell 29-26 in Foxborough on Oct. 21.
That victory sparked the current four-game winning streak for the Pats, which tied a franchise record for points in a 59-24 home victory over Indianapolis on Sunday.
The Patriots maintained a three-game division lead – all other teams in the East including New York are 4-6 – but they suffered a significant loss with the injury to tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronk will miss four to six weeks after having surgery for a broken left forearm, and his loss will be noticed from the word go Thursday night.
The Jets are 4-6 for the first time 2009, the year they won five of their final six regular-season games to make the playoffs before reaching the AFC championship game.
Ryan thinks this team is capable of a similar run. New York does have the benefit of a weak remaining schedule after this contest, with games against Arizona, Tennessee, San Diego, and Buffalo – all teams with 4-6 records – as well as a meeting with 1-9 Jacksonville.
“Right now, we’re just swinging,” Ryan said. “We’re going to focus on our opponents, specifically, but anything we do, we’re behind where we have to be. We can only focus on ourselves and just find a way to punch it. We earned where we are and we just have to find a way to punch our way out.”
The win over St. Louis was New York’s second turnover-free game of the season, with one of Mark Sanchez’s most efficient performances playing a big role. He went 15 of 20 for 178 yards and a touchdown. It was the third game of the year without an interception for Sanchez, whose four lost fumbles include one in overtime that ended last month’s loss at New England.
Sanchez, the league’s 29th-rated passer, had 13 turnovers in the Jets’ first nine games.
“If you really take the positives from this game, build on those, continue to get better and improve, we can become a team that just doesn’t turn the ball over,” he said. “It could be our identity, if you want it to be and if you work at it.”
He’s facing a New England defense which has forced an AFC-leading 27 turnovers, including four last week. The secondary had three interceptions of Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck and returned two for touchdowns, including one by Aqib Talib in his Patriots debut. The Patriots are still allowing 289.7 passing yards a game, which ranks 30th.
New England has played well against the Jets on the road and at home, and while not having Gronkowski will be a loss for the Pats, they have enough weapons to get the job done.
Expect Sanchez to have another rough game vs his biggest rival, and for the Pats to way away with a hard fought but big win.
New England 27 New York Jets 20