Patriots have something to gain, Jets nothing to lose
The New England Patriots have clinched the AFC East title and would like to land a first-round bye in the playoffs, but they'll need to beat the New York Jets on Sunday and hope for the best.
At 10-5, the Patriots enter the final week of the regular season trailing the Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) and the Los Angeles Chargers (11-4) for the best record in the AFC. The Houston Texans (10-5) lurk one more game (by a tiebreaker) behind New England, which just needs to win to land the second seed.
Home-field advantage could be important for the Patriots. On the road, they've gone 3-5 this season. A No. 2 seed ensures New England of no away games until the conference final.
The Patriots' offense faces a Jets defense that has two talented cornerbacks in Trumaine Johnson and Morris Claiborne. New England will try to get Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett involved in the passing game before the playoffs start.
"We still have a good passing offense, have good receivers, tough guys," Patriots running back James White said. "They block, catch. Every week is not going to be 400 yards passing. You've got to tough it out, slug it out. You've just got to find different ways to win."
The path to victory might be with a ground attack led by White, Rex Burkhead and rookie Sony Michel. The Jets are giving up 4.6 yards per carry.
"When you can run the football in this league you can do a lot of things on offense," White said. "It opens everything else up. The offensive line did a great job of setting the tone. Sony's running hard, Rex is running hard. I try and do my part if I get some carries. We all try and go out there and execute and if you're running, I think everything else is working too."
"They look the same," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "They just plug and play. I mean, (Chris) Hogan's a good receiver, (Phillip) Dorsett's a good receiver, obviously (Julian) Edelman. They're not losing too much with those guys having played in games before.
"They run the ball well and they're throwing it well so they look just as efficient as they have been."
The Jets will try to finish on a positive note after almost knocking off the Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers the past two weeks.
New York rookie quarterback Sam Darnold returned from injury and has thrown six touchdown passes and one interception for a passer rating above 100.
When the Patriots last played the Jets in New York, veteran Josh McCown was the quarterback in place of the injured Darnold. New England's defense played well that day, holding the Jets to 13 points.
"He's gotten better. He's gotten better," Patriots safety Patrick Chung said of Darnold. "It seems like he's calmed down a little bit. He's making the right throws, he's making good decisions, he's doing it really fast and he's athletic enough to make plays. I mean, he's definitely come along."
Since returning from the sprained right foot, Darnold has completed 66 percent of his passes for 764 yards, six touchdowns and a passer rating of 106.2. Each time he had the Jets holding a lead with less than three minutes left, but New York lost two of those games.
"I'm happy with myself and the way I've been playing," Darnold said. "But wins and losses are the only things that matter. But I feel like I'm making improvements and improving every single week."
Before sitting out for three weeks, Darnold threw seven interceptions, completed 47.3 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 43.3.
Darnold also appears to be making better reads while showing perhaps more mobility than some might have thought.
"He's continuing to get better," Bowles said. "He's got a good head on his shoulders. He's maturing. You like what you see.
"We didn't know what point he would get there. You just want him to keep growing from the week before, and he's doing that. You're kind of happy to see where he's going and you just want to see him continue to get better."
Updated December 26, 2018