The good news is, the Patriots have 22 players on their injury list — twice as many as the Jets.
The bad news is, none of them are named Brady or Gronkowski. Or, for that matter, Gostkowski.
New England comes into Sunday’s contest at Met Life Stadium bruised and battered — and seemingly ripe for the picking, especially for a Jets squad that needs every W in can get in its hunt for a playoff berth.
But they’re still the Pats. In Tom Brady, they may well have the greatest quarterback who ever played. In Rob Gronkoswki, Brady may well have the best target any QB ever has, though Joe Montana and Steve Young may beg to differ.
With the Brady-Gronk connection complemented by the usual patchwork of running backs and receivers — who are somehow much more effective in New England than they are playing for anyone else — the Pats have been a scoring machine.
Lately, though, they’re stopping opponents from scoring more effectively than in years past. New England ranks sixth in the NFL in both points and yards allowed, and is tied for the league lead in sacks, with 47 through 14 games.
In recent seasons, Bill Belichick has replenished the D with an infusion of young talent upfront, including LBs Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower and DL Chandler Jones. The secondary has felt the loss of CBs Darrelle Revis (hey, that name sounds familiar) and Brandon Browner, but Super Bowl 49 hero Malcolm Butler is faring well in a much-expanded role in his second pro campaign.
In short, beating the Pats will be absurdly difficult, even with the raucous support of the post-Christmas Gang Green crowd.
But there hasn’t been a more opportune time to do so in a while. The Amish Rifle is firing on all cylinders — and scrambling like Michael Vick when necessary. Chris Ivory is running through people again, while Brandon Marshall is playing about as well as any receiver out there. And Eric Decker couldn’t be better as the #2 option. The o-line, meanwhile, has been solid all year, allowing just 20 sacks and buttressing one of the better running games in football.
The Jets have been even stronger on the other side of the ball, allowing just 16 points a game during their current four-game win streak.
Muhammad Wilkerson has been, in a word, dominant. Good timing, with this being the contract year and all.
Does the home team have what it takes to defeat the 12-2 Pats? Probably. Will they do it? Probably not. They can and should keep it close. But then there’s the difference-maker, Stephen Gostkowski, very possibly the best kicker in NFL history. The 10-year vet has successfully converted 77% of the 50+ yard field goal attempts he’s tried over the course of his career (including 4-of-5 in 2015). By comparison, former Pat and future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri is below 60% from that range.
But the fact is the Jets need the win more, and, if they play like it,anything is possible.