Thoughts on the upcoming Jets-Patriots game, a.k.a. The Payback Bowl, and other NFL Week 15 topics ...
• It was a snow game that truly launched the Patriots dynasty in the 2001 AFC divisional round playoffs against Oakland in old Foxboro Stadium, and we might just have our next freeze-framed moment on tap Sunday afternoon when the Jets visit Gillette Stadium to try and deny New England's bid to join the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only two teams in NFL history to start a season 14-0.
Nobody has figured out a way to stop the Patriots passing-game-led offense throughout late summer and all of fall, but a blast of wintry conditions in the form of the white stuff might just go a long way toward leveling the playing field in a game that New England is currently favored to win by a whopping 23 points. Look for that number to plummet dramatically if the early forecasts that are calling for five to eight inches of snow mixed with some rain become the consensus.
You'd feel even a smidge better about the Jets' chances to stay in the game if they weren't so dreadful against the run. If weather doesn't allow for the Patriots to throw the ball much, they can still take solace in knowing that New York is ranked 30th against the run, allowing 141.9 yards per game. New England's offense is averaging 113.7 yards rushing per game, which isn't bad, but it's only the 14th best figure in the league.
While the Patriots are reportedly 9-0 all-time playing in snowy conditions at home, they haven't played in a snow game in more than two years -- beating the Jets 16-3 at Gillette on Dec. 4, 2005. That means they've never experienced the challenge of playing in snow on their FieldTurf playing surface at Gillette, which was installed in November '06, just after the Jets beat New England 17-14 in a game where the chewed-up conditions of Gillette's grass field was a big storyline.
"Any time you play in a bad-weather game, your level of awareness and concentration has to go up,'' Patriots quarterback
• The Patriots taking the Jets for granted -- 3-10 record and all -- just won't happen. Revenge is an overused angle when it comes to pregame chatter in professional sports, but this time, there's something to it. If you thought there was tension between these two head coaches and their teams last year, when all the controversy swirled around an icy post-game handshake, the antipathy and motivational levels are in another league post-Spygate.
The Jets are the team that spawned this all. They were the spark that ignited the Patriots' Sherman-esque march through the NFL this season, with everyone in the New England organization believing that New York ratted them out to the league regarding their video-taping practices in the first half of their season-opening meeting in the Meadowlands.
The loss of a first-round draft pick, the $750,000 in league-issued fines, the taint to their three-time Super Bowl-winning legacy, the embarrassment of being labeled "cheaters'' and having
Don't tell me the Patriots haven't been waiting 14 weeks for this one to arrive. This is a team that can whip itself into an on-field fury over a tepidly offered guarantee of victory by a little-known opponent -- no less than Tom Brady and
"I'm telling you that we're going to approach this game like we approached the last one and the one before that,'' droned Patriots head coach
No, that's just all you want to tell us, Bill. There's a big difference. And for the record, I do believe that part about approaching this game like you approached the last one (see: guarantee, by Smith, Anthony). And then some.
• With apologies to Frank and Liza, it's up to you, New York, New York. With the winless Dolphins having a zero percent -- that's right, zero -- chance of pulling the upset next week at frosty Gillette Stadium, the Jets on Sunday and the Giants in Week 17 at the Meadowlands are the only impediments to the Patriots recording the first 16-0 regular season in league history.
After here's the irony: For the past six weeks or so, everybody's been asking if the Patriots will continue to play it pedal-to-the-metal for the perfect season, even after they lock up the AFC's top playoff seed and homefield advantage throughout the postseason? (To which my answer has been "Absolutely yes.'')
It's actually the Giants (9-4) who are more likely to rest people in that Week 17 home game against the Patriots. New York should have the NFC's No. 5 seed locked up by then, and will be in the mood to protect its key players in preparation of a first-round road playoff game, probably at Tampa Bay. New England, having earned a first-round bye, will likely play its starters longer in an attempt to keep them sharp for the Jan. 12-13 divisional round.
• It has been a snowy December already in New England -- we got 10 inches dumped on us on Thursday afternoon and evening -- and if next week's Dolphins-Patriots affair should be played with that form of precipitation falling, it would serve as a 25th anniversary of sorts for the Snow Plow Game.
It would be undoubtedly all too much for Shula to take, seeing the Patriots go to 15-0, the Dolphins fall to 0-15 (yes, we're assuming a loss this week at home against Baltimore), and the specter of New England's 3-0 victory over Miami on Dec. 12, 1982 being invoked. Patriots kicker
Shula today still can turn purple in the face at the merest mention of Meyer or that game.
• I suppose nothing in the hiring and firing season should be stunning any more, but the brazenness of how
Not Petrino. He told Falcons owner
Speaking no doubt for most, if not all, Falcons players, veteran safety
You're getting a winner, Hogs fans. As in, no more calls, please. We have a winner in the lack of integrity sweepstakes.
• Atlanta's next head coach? Put me down for 49ers assistant head coach-linebackers coach
Then again, after obviously botching the Petrino hire last time around, the Falcons absolutely have to get this vacancy filled correctly. I guarantee you this: Seattle secondary coach Jim Mora is smiling this week, watching the Falcons flounder around once again.
Williams is suddenly a force, and you can't exactly say that about either
• Speaking of Houston, at 7-7 the Texans are in last place in the best division in the NFL, the AFC South. In the NFC, that record would put them nearly on the cusp of a wild-card berth.
• How cool is it that Buffalo and Cleveland are facing off this weekend in a game with AFC playoff berth implications? The last time that happened, I think
Before the season started, if I would have told you that