PATRIOTS // JETS OVERVIEW
The Patriots are on the outside looking in right now in their quest for a first round bye — though if they take care of business the rest of the way, they’ll get there, as they have a Week 15 matchup on deck with the Steelers (who are currently ahead of them in the AFC standings). “Taking care of business” will otherwise be a matter of beating the Vikings at home and not slipping up in four games against bad division opponents — with a game against the Dolphins, a game against the Bills, and two games against the Jets on tap. The Jets, on the other hand, are at the opposite end of the spectrum — at 3-7, with head coach Todd Bowles probably still thinking he can save his job with a strong showing down the stretch. (Sorry, Todd. After what McVay did with Goff in Year 2 and what Nagy is doing with Trubisky in Year 2, there is legitimately a zero percent chance that this team does not at least try to see what can happen with a hot offensive name bringing along Sam Darnold next year.)
From a game flow perspective, this spot has an opportunity to be somewhat interesting for a Patriots team that ranks third in pace of play and fourth in plays per game, and that will be taking on a Jets team that plays at an above-average pace and allows the fifth most opponent plays per game. There is opportunity this week for the Pats to crack 70 total plays.
The Jets’ offense also has a solid matchup against a Patriots defense allowing the ninth most yards per game in the league — but unlike the Patriots (10th in yards per game, seventh in points per game), the Jets are ill-equipped to take advantage. There are 22 teams that have scored more points per game than New York, and there are 28 teams that have piled up more yards per game. Incredibly (and embarrassingly), three of the five worst teams in yards per game play in the AFC East.
Even on the road, the Patriots have been installed as 9.5 point favorites — against a Jets team that entered the bye with four straight losses, including a 41-10 thrashing at home in Week 10 at the hands of the lowly, Matt Barkley-led Bills.
PATRIOTS PASS OFFENSE
While the Jets have been eviscerated by wide receivers — allowing the second most catches per game, the fourth most yards per game, and the 11th most touchdowns to the position — they have been solid against the pass as a whole, allowing the eighth lowest yards per pass attempt in the league and ranking a respectable 13th in fewest fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks. The key for the Jets has been above-average containment of pass-catching running backs and absolutely elite coverage of tight ends (fewest catches and fewest yards allowed to the position), behind the solid coverage of second year strong safety Jamal Adams.
The Patriots have skewed slightly toward the run this year, ranking 18th in pass play rate, but with this team running so many plays, Tom Brady has still thrown the ball 35 or more times in all but one game this year. Tom Terrific is not having his most terrific season, with seven games of fewer than 300 passing yards, five games of one or zero touchdown passes, and a 17:7 TD:INT ratio on the year. The absences and ineffectiveness of Rob Gronkowski have especially taken a toll, rendering this squad fairly low-upside in terms of the way they can manipulate and space defenders.
The most effective way to attack the Jets this year has been from the slot, and all season we have been looking to hammer this defense with slot receivers who have a downfield role and can beat this team on crossing routes — a setup for which Julian Edelman is perfectly suited. Edelman has at least seven targets in every this year since returning from suspension, with double-digit looks in three straight. (Gronk missed two of those, but with the Jets facing the fewest tight end targets in the NFL and the second most wide receiver targets in the league, Edelman will have a chance to push for double digit looks once again, even with Gronk expected to return.)
In Week 10, Zay Jones did most of his damage against the Jets from the slot; in Week 9, Danny Amendola was the most effective Dolphins receiver in this matchup; in Week 8, Anthony Miller, Taylor Gabriel, and Josh Bellamy all made impact plays from the slot; in Week 7, Adam Thielen destroyed this team playing mostly in the slot while Stefon Diggs was shut down on the outside; and in Week 6, it was Chester Rogers from the slot for the Colts. Since joining the Patriots, Josh Gordon has played 309 snaps on the perimeter while lining up in the slot only 27 times. The Jets are above-average at defending both sidelines (they rank second in DVOA along the left sideline, where Gordon runs 62% of his routes), while they have been one of the worst teams at defending the middle of the field (especially the short middle). To his credit, Gordon has seen recent target counts (starting from Week 6) of 9 // 7 // 6 // 10 // 12, and with the Titans shutting down all perimeter targets in Week 10, the Patriots adjusted by pulling Gordon in closer to the formation and running him on more routes over the middle. He has a chance to hit in this spot, but he has seen better individual matchups.
If Gronk returns as expected: he has seen seven or more targets in four of his seven healthy games, and on DraftKings and FantasyDraft his price has dropped to places we haven’t seen in years — though given the Jets’ ability to take away tight ends, he will likely need a broken play or a touchdown in order to provide value, even at the thin tight end position. Gronk is underpriced for his role and his name value — but realistically, Ertz and Kittle are underpriced as well on DraftKings and FantasyDraft when compared to wide receivers priced around them. A bet on Gronk is ultimately a bet on him looking better than he has all year and beating one of the toughest tight end matchups in the league. Last year, he pasted the Jets for a 6-83-2 line in the first meeting between these teams, but when they met again in Week 17, Jamal Adams held him to zero catches on zero targets.
PATRIOTS RUN OFFENSE
The Jets have been roughly league-average against the run, ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed per carry while allowing the 11th most running back rushing yards in the league. Only six teams have allowed more rushing touchdowns to running backs, while only five teams have scored more rushing touchdowns than the Pats.
That final statistic is the key if considering Sony Michel, as he has been “all” or “partially” healthy for seven games this year, and he has totaled only four catches all season. A bet on Michel is a bet on him scoring multiple touchdowns and/or breaking off a long run against a defense that (it should be noted) has allowed the most rush plays of 20+ yards. As long as Michel is indeed fully healthy, he should push for 20 carries here — though there is some risk of the Patriots resting him late if this game becomes a blowout.
Joining Michel in the backfield is James White, who has averaged 8.57 targets per game and 5.14 carries per game when Michel has been active — with only one game all season below seven targets (that game was the Patriots’ matchup against the pre-Harrison Lions run defense that was all but begging to be hammered on the ground). Only nine players in the entire NFL have more red zone targets than White, and his 10 touchdowns keep him active on the fringes of the “elite fantasy RB” conversation. Expect another seven to nine targets in this spot for White, with the Patriots’ screen-heavy usage of him clearing upside for 60 to 70 receiving yards and a multi-touchdown game.
JETS PASS OFFENSE
With the Patriots getting no pass rush this year (30th in the NFL in sacks), they have found themselves facing the second deepest average depth of target in the league — though (bad news for rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and his embarrassing 55% completion rate) the Pats’ talented secondary has made up for this by allowing the second lowest catch rate in the league. This last statistic is going to make life difficult on a Jets passing attack that is low on talent and low on ability to catch passes in tight coverage.
If Darnold plays (which is currently the expectation), he will carry an 11:14 TD:INT ratio into this game, against a Patriots team that has the fourth most interceptions in the league, with only two games on his ledger this year of more than 229 passing yards. Darnold has only three multi-touchdown games, and he has failed to top 17 completions in all but three starts.
Darnold’s inaccuracy is hurting his pass catchers in a spread-the-wealth offense that has not pushed any wide receiver over 44 yards in more than a month. Even if gunslinger Josh McCown is under center this week, the matchup is not great for any of the primary wide receivers on this squad.
When healthy, this passing attack is led by Quincy Enunwa, who has target counts on the year in his start-to-finish games of 9 // 11 // 8 // 8 // 5 // 4 // 8. Disappointingly, Enunwa has played 72 snaps on the perimeter and only 30 snaps in the slot since returning from injury — setting him up to lock horns with Stephon Gilmore, rather than getting him on softer coverage against Jonathan Jones in the slot. Enunwa has been able to haul in only 53.7% of his targets on the year, he has scored only one touchdown this season, and he has topped 66 receiving yards only once.
Jermaine Kearse is the reason Enunwa has been pushed to the outside — which, of course, makes perfect sense given that Kearse has caught a whopping nine of 26 targets (34.6%) across his last four games. Given the inability Kearse has at this point in his career to be much more than a body on the field, he should have a tough time getting open against the Patriots’ man-heavy coverage scheme.
The Jets’ best bet for wide receiver production is for A) McCown to play, and B) Robby Anderson to return to the field. Anderson will likely be shadowed by Jason McCourty (who carries the 10th highest PFF coverage grade in the league this year, only seven spots behind Gilmore), with additional help deep from Devin McCourty. Anderson has not yet topped four catches in a game and he has topped 44 receiving yards only once (his 3-123-2 explosion against the Broncos) — but he does at least carry an upside role, and McCown has the take-a-shot tendencies to give him a chance to hit.
This passing attack wraps up with Chris Herndon, who has finally established himself as the leader of this tight end rotation, playing 78 of a possible 122 snaps (63.9%) across the Jets’ last two games, while seeing target counts of four and four. The Pats have been middle of the pack in yards and receptions allowed to the position, but only one team has allowed more touchdowns, creating a bit of upside for a player who has hauled in three of Darnold’s 11 touchdowns. Herndon might legitimately be this team’s best means of moving the ball.
JETS RUN OFFENSE
New England has been solid against the run this year, ranking 17th in yards allowed per carry and — as is the custom for the Pats — tightening up near the goal line. Even with Derrick Henry punching in a pair of touchdowns against them in Week 10, the Patriots have allowed the third fewest running back rushing touchdowns in the league.
The Jets will continue to feature a low-upside committee consisting of Elijah McGuire (9.5 touches per game since returning to the field) and Isaiah Crowell (11.5 touches per game in this stretch). Crow has topped 49 rushing yards only two times this season, and he has not topped two catches in a game. McGuire has gone for exactly 30 yards in each of his first two games while adding an average receiving line of 3-32-0. McGuire has been the far more effective back, and there is a chance he sees a bit more work this week after already out-snapping Crow 68 to 42 the last two weeks. With five and six targets across his last two contests, he also has a chance to pick up a few points through the air against a Patriots defense that is easier to attack with running backs than with wide receivers. Crow is a “hope for a broken play or a touchdown” option. McGuire remains an interesting point-per-dollar salary saver on DraftKings and FantasyDraft.
Unsurprisingly, Edelman is the player on the Patriots’ offense who stands out the most — and while we generally think of him as a guy to play on DraftKings/FantasyDraft for his full-PPR role while avoiding him on FanDuel, he does have a path this week to 90+ yards and a touchdown. In spite of missing the first four games of the year, Edelman has 11 red zone targets — only four fewer than team leader White.
I wouldn’t mind a shot on Gordon or Michel for their upside, though each is a lower-floor/high-ceiling bet in this spot. The same could technically be said for Gronk, though I’ll probably end up giving credit to Adams’ coverage here — attempting to get up to Kittle or Ertz if I decide to make room to pay up at tight end. As for White: he has shown a floor of 14 points on DraftKings/FantasyDraft and 12 points on FanDuel (outside of a single outlier game), with touchdown upside and yardage upside from there, making him an interesting piece at his price.
I don’t imagine I’ll have interest in any wide receivers on the Jets (even if McCown plays), but if this proves to be another week in which it makes sense to unlock salary by piling uncertainty onto a single roster spot, both McGuire and Herndon could prove to be worthy of consideration for the decent expected production and the savings they provide. McGuire’s greatest knock would be the fact that he takes away a valuable running back position without providing a clear shot at a 20-point game. Herndon would remove the opportunity to pay up for Kittle or Ertz.