The New England Patriots have the No. 1 seed within their grasp and can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by beating the visiting New York Jets on what is expected to be a frigid Sunday afternoon. The Jets are a bitter rival of the Patriots, who had to overcome a 14-point deficit in a 24-17 win over New York in Week 6.
New England knows the value of securing home field — it has advanced to the Super Bowl in five of the six seasons in which it had the No. 1 seed and hoisted the Lombardi Trophy three of those times (2003, 2014, 2016). Coach Bill Belichick was peppered with questions about the Patriots’ surprise signing of veteran Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison earlier this week but left no doubt where his focus is. “Well, we’re playing the Jets this week,” Belichick said. “I don’t really know what that has to do with it. Maybe I’m missing something. I don’t know.” New York, which has dropped three in a row and eight of 10 since a three-game winning streak, has struggled on the road this season with its lone victory coming over winless Cleveland (17-14) in Week 5.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Patriots -15.5. O/U: 44
ABOUT THE JETS (5-10): Starting quarterback Josh McCown was lost for the season in Week 14 at Denver and backup Bryce Petty has struggled in his place, completing only 47.4 percent of his passes (36 of 76) for 312 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. Christian Hackenberg, a second-round pick out of Penn State in 2016, has yet to take a snap in the NFL but reportedly has been working with the first team in practice this week and may see the field against New England. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins had eight catches for 46 yards and a TD in the first meeting while Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson combined for eight receptions for 155 yards. Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson is expected to be inactive for the third straight game.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (12-3): Tom Brady leads the NFL with 4,387 yards passing, but he has four touchdowns and four interceptions over the past three games and completed only 52.8 percent of his passes in the earlier matchup against the Jets. One potential concern for New England — star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who snagged both of Brady’s scoring passes in Week 5, was not at the portion of practice open to the media on Thursday, although he’s not listed on the injury report. Running back Dion Lewis was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week after scoring twice and setting season highs with 129 yards on 24 carries in last week’s 37-16 win over Buffalo. The Patriots rank among the bottom fourth in the league with an average of 119.7 yards rushing allowed.
1. Brady has 11 TD passes and zero interceptions in his last five home games versus New York.
2. Jets RB Bilal Powell, who missed the earlier matchup, has rushed for a TD in three of his last four games.
3. The Patriots have won lost 11 of the last 13 regular-season meetings.
PREDICTION: Patriots 26, Jets 16