Patriots vs. Jets: Five things to watch in AFC East battle Sunday

Al Bello

It will be a good old fashion rivalry game for Tom Brady and the Patriots this weekend as Mark Sanchez and the Jets come to town Sunday afternoon in Foxboro.

After allowing the Seattle Seahawks to come from behind and take a 24-23 win at CenturyLink Field this past Sunday, the New England Patriots, once again, find themselves at .500 with a 3-3 record through their first six games of the 2012 campaign. This week, the team will host their first divisional match-up of the season when coach Rex Ryan brings his 3-3 New York Jets to Foxboro.

Here are five things to watch for during Sunday's game at Gillette Stadium.

Antonio Cromartie is a game changer

For as much bashing as Antonio Cromartie receives around this part of the country, the man really is a tremendous athlete. Often hidden within the shadow of fellow cornerback Darrelle Revis, Cromartie isn't typically thought of as a shut-down corner. When matched up against Wes Welker, Cromartie has often struggled against the Patriots. However, this week, he'll likely be assigned the job of covering outside receiver Brandon Lloyd, which is something much more accustomed to his skill set. If "Cro" does line up against Lloyd for most of the game, I wouldn't expect to see big numbers from No. 85 this Sunday. Not only does Cromartie succeed on defense, but has recently been used as part of New York's offense. Now, the Jets won't likely be bringing him in for any blocking situations, so if the Patriots see that he comes in on offense, they'd be wise to expect a pass play, with Cromartie as the preferred target.

Don't expect a repeat performance from Shonn Greene

Last week against the Indianapolis Colts, running back Shonn Greene was without a doubt the star of the afternoon. The fourth-year tailback accrued 161 yards in the ground game and three touchdowns on 32 attempts - much to the chagrin of my fantasy football team -- leading New York to a dominating 35-9 victory. That effort was definitely out of the ordinary for Greene, a running back whose career-long rush is just 33-yards during a four-year NFL career. This week, he'll face a stout New England rush defense that's been amongst the best in the league this season. That's a recipe for disaster for a tailback who isn't exactly going to break anyone's ankles with dazzling jukes and spin moves. I wouldn't expect Greene to come anywhere close to his numbers from last week when the Jets come to Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

What will be the role of Tim Tebow?

Even before Rex Ryan's suggestion that Tim Tebow may see some time at running back this Sunday, the role of the former Denver Broncos quarterback has been up in the air. In the past, he's been used on fake punts out of the personal protector spot and to burn opposing special teams units who have been caught sleeping. I'd expect New York's versatile and enigmatic offensive weapon to be used in each of these roles on Sunday, as Ryan attempts to pull all the tricks out of the hat against one of his biggest rivals, Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick.

What will the Patriots' running game look like?

With Brandon Bolden missing practice for most of this week, after an early exit last week in Seattle, one wouldn't expect to see much of the former Ole Miss tailback this Sunday against the Jets. The recent re-emergence of Stevan Ridley's ball control issues has also created some question marks in the Patriots' backfield. Reserve back Danny Woodhead has enjoyed some success in the past against his former team and may very well see the bulk of the workload in the New England ground game this week. Or, we could finally see a detailed look at the talents of former second round draft pick Shane Vereen...... Yeah, I don't think so, either.

Jets MUST pass the ball to stay in this game

Running the football against the Patriots' defense isn't going to take the Jets very far. The front seven has been stout all season long, and should be good to go again this Sunday. If offensive coordinator Tony Sparano's game plan is to hand the ball off to Shonn Greene 35 times this week, the Patriots will have won the game by half-time. If the Jets hope to stay close with the Patriots and have a chance to take down their most-hated division rival, they must put the ball into the hands of much-criticized quarterback Mark Sanchez. The New England secondary has been the obvious weakness of this team all season, even allowing 293 yards passing and three touchdowns to rookie third-round draft pick Russell Wilson in last week's loss to the Seahawks. If Wilson can post numbers like that against the Patriots' defense, the more-experienced Sanchez should be able to do the same. Ultimately, the Jets' chances in this game will rely squarely upon the shoulders of quarterback Mark Sanchez and the passing game.

Prediction: New England Patriots take this one over the New York Jets, 34-23.



For more New England Patriots coverage, visit our team blog, Pats Pulpit.

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