It doesn't have the look of a marquee matchup on the final Sunday of the NFL regular season: The 5-10 Jets, out of the playoff picture, at the New England Patriots, 12-3 and fighting for a win to secure homefield advantage throughout the postseason.
But the Jets are young and eager to show that the growing they've done this season will stand them in good stead against the Pats and will provide an always important springboard into more improvement in 2018. QB Bryce Petty, getting his third start of the year and his second career start against Tom Brady and the defending champs, has energy to spare.
"It's exciting to know that I'm going to be able to play. It's another opportunity to go out there and perform for these guys in here," Petty said. "All else is out the window. It's about this locker room, it's about these guys, it's about finishing strong."
Said Jets OC John Morton this week almost at the end of his first season of calling the plays for an NFL offense: "It's been a blast. Let's see if we can get a 'W' this game."
Here are seven final points to reflect on before HC Todd Bowles' Jets close out 2017 up Foxboro way:
1. Rivalry RarityThis series has gone the Patriots' way recently, especially at Patriot Place, where the Pats have taken six in a row since the Jets' 2010 playoff win to open a 62-54-1 lead. Interesting note: Sunday will mark the first time in the 58 years of the rivalry that the teams have finished the regular season against each other in New England. Twice they wrapped up in the New York area, with the Jets winning both — 1966 (Jets 38, Boston Patriots 28 at Shea Stadium) and 1998 (Jets 31, Patriots 10 at Meadowlands Stadium).
Best Photos from the Battle Between the Northeast Rivals
2. Grounded ApproachIn that '66 game, Jets greats Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer both rushed for 100-plus yards, with Boozer's 100 the first of his career. The Jets would love something close from the combined talents of Bilal Powell/Matt Forte/Elijah McGuire vs. New England's run defense (31st in the NFL in yards /carry allowed). Powell continues to impress: One more factoid about BP's impact: In the last two seasons, he ranks first in the league in percentage of runs of 10-plus yards (43 in 296 carries, 14.5%). Powell didn't play in the Jets' home game vs. NE this year.
3. Playing KeepawayA muscular rushing attack for the Jets will help Petty find WR Robby Anderson, who needs 61 receiving yards for 1,000. It will also limit the time Brady's offense has the ball — TB as usual is leading the NFL's quarterbacks in such categories as completions (367), passing yards (4,387), drive yards/drive (38.5) and drive yards/play (6.2). As for his injury status, "Achilles/Left Shoulder," it sounded serious when he didn't practice Wednesday. But he's come off the injury report for sensational starts many times and odds are he will again Sunday.
4. Gronk Like ColdIf the forecast holds, the temperature at kickoff will be 16° with a wind chill of 8°. The last time the Jets played in single-digit wind chill conditions was the 2010 AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh (17°/5° WC). Might the cold or a midweek illness put a freeze on the game of TE Rob Gronkowski, who has 60 catches for 738 yards and eight TDs in 12 career meetings vs. the Jets? Gronk says not likely regarding the weather: "Probably because of my roots, growing up in Buffalo, being always outside for games and stuff, I like the cold, I like playing in it."
5. Turnover Thaw?Somehow the Jets' turnover downturn — they have no takeaways in four of the last five games, the three TAs vs. KC being the only exception — doesn't figure to get turned around in Foxboro. But there's always hope. CB Buster Skrine had two takeaways in Game 7 vs. the Patriots, including an interception of Brady. And the Pats' all-everything QB is in an unusual slump, having thrown a pick in five straight games for the first time since 2002. If he has any more left in his right arm, the Green & White will be glad to take them off his hands.
6. Recipe for SuccessBowles' agenda for the Patriots includes "taking care of the football, not giving them short field position like we did last year, so that'll be the number one thing." Long field position is no guarantee — last week the Chargers' average drive start was their 16.5-yard line, the lowest by a Jets opponent in almost 30 years, yet they put together two 70-yard touchdown drives. Yet the Patriots' 38.8 average start, the second-highest Jets opponent field position on the road in more than 10 years, contributed to the 41-3 Christmas Eve crunching.
7. A Fateful FrameWill the Jets have a chance in this one? They may know by halftime. New England has scored 165 points in its second quarters this season, the most points by any NFL team in any quarter, and have allowed opponents 98. The Patriots have fashioned those points on 16 touchdowns, and they've scored at least 10 points in 12 of their 15 games. Last year at Foxboro they outscored the Jets by 17-0 in the second quarter. This year the Jets have been competitive in their second frames, being outscored by 87-86. They'll need to be again Sunday, or else.