New York Jets (4-11) at New England Patriots (10-5)
I bet on the Patriots as 13-point favorites last week at home against the Bills. They nearly covered, holding a 24-6 lead with 2 minutes left in the game before allowing the backdoor cover, but I never really felt comfortable with that bet during the game. Both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski seem to be playing at less than 100% and part of the reason the Patriots didn’t cover is because Brady was pulled with 7 minutes left in the game, an unusual move by Bill Belichick. Gronkowski also played less than his normal snaps and was frequently subbed for on run plays for blocking tight end Dwayne Allen.
The Patriots are in a similar spot this week, as 13-point home favorites, about to go into a first round bye if they can take care of business, a much needed first down bye for a team that can still be dangerous if healthy. They’re not healthy right now though, so I’m hesitant to take them, but the Jets are not the Bills, who have a legitimately good pass defense, which contributed to the Patriots’ passing game struggles. The Jets’ offense has been better in recent weeks, since Sam Darnold returned from injury, but the same could be said of the Bills with Josh Allen before last week.
Unlike the Bills, the Jets’ defense has gone in the other direction since Darnold’s return. They rank 31st in the NFL in first down rate allowed over the past 4 weeks at 41.38% and the obvious culprit is the absence of linebacker Darron Lee, who was suspended for the final 4 games of the season. Lee helped hold Patriots running back James White to 1 catch on 5 targets in the previous meeting between these two teams and also helped on Rob Gronkowski, who was limited to 3 catches.
The Jets did beat the Bills in Buffalo a few weeks ago without Lee, but the Bills won the first down rate battle in that game by 2.66% and had one of their better offensive weeks of the season. On the season, the Jets rank 31st in the NFL in first down rate differential at -6.09%, only ahead of the Cardinals. We’re getting some line value with the Patriots, so they should be the right side this week, but I’m hesitant to bet on them because they could pull Brady late and allow the backdoor cover again.
New England Patriots 27 New York Jets 10
Pick against the spread: New England -13