PREVIEW: Patriots (7-3) @ NY Jets (4-6)

The Jets play host to the New England Patriots in the Thanksgiving nightcap game that will surely help any turkey-glutton football fan in avoiding the mandatory post-meal nap.

Clawing to their playoff hopes the Jets are facing a must-win game on a short week as they look to capture back-to-back wins since winning their first two games of the season. The Patriots, fresh off their 59-24 drumming of the Indianapolis Colts, are looking to all but secure their ninth division title in ten years.

At 4-6, the Jets currently find themselves in the ten spot in the hunt for the AFC playoffs — on the outside looking in with the likes of San Diego, Tennessee and Cincinnati. With the sour taste of a would-be win left in their mouths following the October 21 29-26 OT loss, Rex Ryan and the Jets have even more motivation to defeat New England on Thursday.

Mark Sanchez had what was perhaps his best game of the season in New England — who’s secondary is, at best, opportunistic and, at worst, leaky. At Sanchez’s best, he’s passing in and out of the pocket, spreading the ball around to his receivers. At worst he’s turnover prone.

If he’s at his worst Thursday, expect the Jets to be in a long day. While the Bill Belichick’s defense has ranked among the bottom half in the league in recent years — they consistently rank tops in the league when it comes to takeaways. When the Patriots win the turnover battle they are 35-10 (including the playoffs) since 2010. When Sanchez has a turnover in a game the Jets are 16-21 since 2009 and 2-5 through 10 games in 2012.

WHEN: Thursday, November 22, 2012 @ 8:20 pm EST (can be seen on NFL Network or ESPN Radio).

WHERE: East Rutherford, NJ / MetLife Stadium (capacity: 82,500)

SERIES HISTORY: 108th meeting; Patriots lead regular season match-up 54-52-1

LAST MEETING: Patriots 29 — Jets 26 F/OT (10/21/12 @ Gillette Stadium)

NOTABLE: The winner of the turnover battle has won six of the eight games (including postseason) between the two franchises since Rex Ryan joined the Jets in 2009. The only exceptions came on 09/20/09 when the two teams broke even in the turnover battle and the Jets won 16-9 and again on 10/09/11 when the Patriots overcame a minus one in the category to win 30-21.

Jeremy Kerley (heel/hamstring) said he feels ready to go Thursday, but will he be the x-factor? (JetsInsider.com Photo).

HEAD COACHES:

  • Patriots – Bill Belichick / 13th Season with Patriots / 162-62 with New England / 199-107 overall as an NFL head coach (including postseason).
  • Jets — Rex Ryan / Fourth Season with Jets / 36-28 (including postseason).

INJURY REPORT:

  • PATRIOTS — DNP - Rob Gronkowski (forearm/hip), Chandler Jones (ankle), Logan Mankins (ankle/calf). LIMITED - Ron Brace (elbow), Patrick Chung (shoulder/hamstring), Dan Connolly (back), Steve Gregory (hip), Aaron Hernandez (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (hamstring), Brandon Lloyd (knee), Nick McDonald (should), Brandon Spikes (knee), Sebastian Vollmer (back/knee), Wes Welker (ankle), Tracy White (foot). FULL — Julian Edelman (hand), Kyle Love, (knee), Jerod Mayo (elbow).
  • JETS — LIMITED – Sione Po’uha (back), Kenrick Ellis (knee), Joe McKnight (ankle), Bart Scott (toe), Jeremy Kerley (heel/hamstring), Aaron Berry (quad). FULL - Bilal Powell (shoulder), Mark Sanchez (low back), Brandon Moore (hip/foot), Matt Slauson (knee), Mike DeVito (finger), Clyde Gates (shoulder), Jeff Cumberland (wrist), Tim Tebow (ribs), Calvin Pace (shoulder), Stephen Hill (ankle), LaRon Landry (heel), Nick Mangold (thumb).

KEY MATCH-UPS:

  • Mark Sanchez vs. Himself — It’s been a tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for Sanchez all season. At times he’s proven he can make every throw on the field. And at others he’s looked like a monstrosity — looking lost, flat and shown an inability to hold on to the football. It’ll take a mentally tough Sanchez to overcome the obstacles an opportunistic Patriots defense (led by ball hawk Rob Ninkovich) and steal a victory. As Sanchez stated Monday, the preparation for a short week is 100% mental.

It really is a mental battle all week. We have to prepare well mentally … Ninkovich is one of the best at [creating turnovers], it seems. He’s really getting after the quarterback. He’s getting after the football and that’s really their whole defense. That’s kind of their M.O. and they’ve always played well.

  • Ellis Lankster vs. Wes Welker — Isaiah Trufant did a surprisingly excellent job at slowing down the speedy Welker in Gillette Stadium, however with Trufant on season-ending IR it was Lankster who stepped up in his absence. Lankster played well — getting two passes defended against St. Louis. He’ll have a far tougher task in clamping down Welker than any of the Rams’ receivers offered.
  • Muhammad Wilkerson vs. Nate Solder – #BeastMo is no longer a reference to going hard at the gym. Jets fans have gone to Twitter to show their love for their former first round pick. And what isn’t there to love about Wilkerson’s beastly game? In his last five games, Wilkerson has 37 tackles, two sacks, three passes defended, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery he returned 21 yards for a touchdown.

X-FACTOR:

  • Julian Edelman, WR/PR, Patriots — You know never know who’s going to be the x-factor for the Patriots as every week another player seems to have a big week. Coming off five receptions, 58 yards, 1 TD and a 47-yard rush, Edelman’s week may have come versus the Colts. Having said that however, I suspect Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady will be able to find the mismatch on the field and exploit it. In this case, Edelman on a slower linebacker.
  • Jeremy Kerley, WR, Jets — He’s the x-factor for the Jets week-in/week-out. Given that he has heel/hamstring issues, his effectiveness Thursday is questionable. Kerley has proven to be the deep threat the Jets desperately need against an iffy Patriots secondary.

THE PICK: The home team on Thursday night games have reaped the benefits through the first 10 weeks, earning a 7-3 record. Home teams are also averaging 20 more yards and three more points in Thursday match-ups. That said, the Patriots are 8-2 in November games since 2010 and look to be getting in postseason mode. Sanchez mistakes prove too costly, Jets lose the turnover battle and, thus, the game. PATRIOTS 31 – JETS 24

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