The headlines coming into this weekend’s matchup between the New England Patriots and New York Jets will surely focus on the “Zach Wilson vs Mac Jones” narrative, but in reality, this weekend’s contest will come down to so much more than that. The supporting cast for each team will play a major role when the two teams collide in Week 2.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a deeper look at how the Patriots and Jets stack up position group vs position group in order to discover who has the advantage going into Sunday’s game.
Positional matchups for Patriots vs. Jets
No significant advantage
Because both starting quarterbacks are rookies making only their second career start, it’s hard to give one side a significant advantage over the other. Last week, Wilson and Jones both flashed the talent that made them first-round picks in the 2021 NFL draft – and both had a few small miscues.
For Wilson, he rushed some throws early, but he was able to settle down and make some plays as the game went on. When looking at Wilson’s Week 1 stat line, keep in mind, he was being hounded by a relentless pass rush all afternoon. Constant pressure made it hard for the young quarterback to get in a consistent groove. That said, he had numerous “wow” plays. Wilson has a cannon for an arm.
On the other side of things, Jones opened the game with a costly fumble on an attempt to spike the ball into the ground in the face of pressure. Like Wilson, Jones bounced back after some early blunders.
Jones threw in rhythm, stood in the pocket, and took hits while delivering the ball on target. It was impressive how poised and accurate Jones was, considering this was his first career start.
It’s only been one game, but both quarterbacks look to have bright futures. As for the matchup this week, it will likely come down to which supporting cast does a better job of helping out their respective rookie quarterback.
New England has a pretty decisive advantage at running back. As we saw last week, Damien Harris is the workhorse for New England. Despite his costly fumble last week, it’s clear he’s the best rusher on either team by a wide margin.
Harris is flanked by a group of capable backs with a diverse range of skill sets in James White, Rhamondre Stevenson, J.J. Taylor, and Brandon Bolden. Taylor was a healthy scratch last week, but I think we see him suit up sooner rather than later.
Conversely, the Jets rushing attack is a full-blown committee – featuring the unimposing trio of Tevin Coleman, Ty Johnson, and rookie Michael Carter. Unfortunately for New York, this group is a committee because no player in this backfield has been able to separate himself from the rest of the pack.
Although neither group is particularly impressive, New York has the upper hand here. Led by former fifth overall pick Corey Davis, the Jets wide receiver group is the strength of their offense.
The likely Week 2 return of shifty slot man Jamison Crowder should provide a spark. Reliable third option Keelan Cole is also set to return on Sunday. Rookie Elijah Moore offers quality depth and good upside. Second-year man Denzel Mims has seemingly fallen out of favor with the team, but if he’s needed he did show some flashes last season.
While the Jets have a deep receiving group, the Patriots essentially have a three-man rotation with N’Keal Harry on injured reserve and return man Gunner Olszewski offering very little as a pass-catcher.
New England’s top trio of Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne is a solid but unspectacular group. The good news is that Agholor looked impressive last week in his Patriots debut.
If he can continue to play as he did against Miami, New England will have themselves a legitimate vertical threat in the offense.
Despite the modest usage in their Week 1 debut, New England’s tight end room is arguably the best in the league. We are yet to see the Patriots fully utilize the mismatches their two tight end sets are capable of creating. But, it’s only a matter of time before Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry have a monstrous performance.
The Jets roster a below-average group of tight ends, with Tyler Kroft the presumed starter and Ryan Griffin serving as a depth/rotational piece.
New England had a strong advantage here even before New York’s promising left tackle Mekhi Becton landed on injured reserve. It should be noted that the Patriots starting right tackle Trent Brown is also dealing with an injury of his own. Brown’s injury isn’t considered serious, but his availably for Week 2 is up in the air.
Even if Brown were to miss this weekend’s game, New England has enough depth and versatility on the roster to retain their advantage in the trenches. Michael Onwenu could simply shift out to tackle with Ted Karras being inserted at guard. New England could also elect to simply replace Brown in the lineup with Yasir Durant.
Last week the Jets starting offensive line let Wilson take far too many hits – giving up 6 sacks and 14 pressures. Bottom line, the Patriots have one of the better offensive lines in the league, while the Jets unit is below average.
Interior defensive line
Both New England and New York have solid interior defensive lines. It’s a close call, but the Jets have the advantage. Quinnen Williams is a budding star for New York. The Jets also have former first-round pick, Sheldon Rankins, and together they form a dynamic 1-2 punch. Not to mention, Folorunso Fatukasi is a nice piece on the defensive line as well.
New England’s interior features a formidable mix of veteran players that seemingly fly under the radar. Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux lead the group. The only rookie among the bunch is Christian Barmore. Barmore has impressed in a rotational role.
The Patriots are deeper here, but the Jets have the higher-end talent.
New England has a definitive advantage at the edge/linebacker spot. In fact, most would consider this the deepest and most talented position group the Patriots have on the roster. Headlined by prized offseason addition Matthew Judon, this versatile group is seemingly the perfect mix of impact veterans and young, ascending talent. Josh Uche is a player to watch at edge, as he feels poised to have a breakout season.
As for the Jets, they’re led by former Pro-Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley. Additionally, former safety Hamsah Nasirildeen is a key rotational piece at linebacker. At edge, the Jets feature a trio of Shaq Lawson, Bryce Huff, and John Franklin-Myers.
Even in the absence of Stephon Gilmore, this matchup favors the Patriots. Yes, the outside cornerback spot opposite J.C. Jackson remains a vulnerability for New England, but their ability to match up against a team’s number one receiver with Jackson while containing their opponent’s slot receiver with Jonathan Jones allows the Patriots’ schematic flexibility to mask their deficiency on the boundary.
All that said, New England having the advantage here has a lot to do with the Jets corner group simply lacking talent.
Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, and Michael Carter II are the Jets starting corners. Keep in mind, Echols and Carter are both rookies. New York’s cornerback group intimidates no one, but because they are all so young they do have some upside. At the end of the day, the corner spot is a weakness for both teams, but the Patriots group has more high-level players.
New England’s well-rounded group of safeties is both steady and reliable. Devin McCourty is still playing like a top free safety in the NFL while being a team leader. Both Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips can be used all around the field in a variety of roles. Phillips, in particular, had a superb game in Week 1.
For New York, safety Marcus Maye is the best defensive back on their roster. At the second safety spot, New York has a lot of question marks. Lamarcus Joyner was expected to be in that role, but he will miss this Sunday’s contest after suffering a torn tendon in his elbow against the Panthers.
Third-year player Sheldrick Redwine or former Patriot Adrian Colbert will get the start at free safety on Sunday. Because New England has three starting-caliber safeties compared to New York’s one, it gives the Patriots a huge advantage.
The Patriots prioritize and invest in special teams more than any other team in the league. New England’s special teams unit, anchored by standouts Matthew Slater and Justin Bethel, is once again on track to be amongst the best in the league.
The kicking game in New England is excellent as well. It’s expected Nick Folk will once again be called up from the practice squad to kick on Sunday. Folk was perfect on field goals and extra points last week. Additionally, Jake Bailey is arguably the top punter in the game. There’s not a lot to dislike here for the Patriots.
I’m a big fan of Robert Saleh. He’s a great defensive mind and he’s a culture setter, which is exactly what the Jets need. Still though, Bill Belichick is the G.O.A.T of coaches. It’s nearly impossible for me to give anyone a coaching advantage over Belichick. I would also add that I think Josh McDaniels will be able to attack this New York defense.
This article was edited by Luke Ervin.