The New England Patriots (7-3) will look to take another step toward their 10th AFC East title in 12 years on Thanksgiving night when they square off with the New York Jets (4-6). The Patriots won the first meeting of the season by a field goal.
New England is coming off a statement victory over Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. The Patriots racked up 59 points, but lost star tight end Rob Gronkowski to injury. Tom Brady will have to find a new favorite target in the red zone for awhile.
The Jets should enter the game with some rare offensive confidence. Mark Sanchez had one of his most productive games of the season to lead New York past the St. Louis Rams. He'll need another strong performance to keep up with Brady and Co.
Here's a glance at all the important information for the Thanksgiving night cap followed by a complete preview and prediction as the division rivals fight for a key win.
Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
When: Thursday, Nov. 22 at 8:20 p.m. ET
Listen: WBZ 98.5 FM (New England) or WEPN 98.7 FM (New York)
Live Stream: NBCSports.com
Betting Line: Patriots -6 (Vegas Insider)
Key Injuries (via CBS Sports)
Patriots: Rob Gronkowski (out, forearm), Aaron Hernandez (questionable, ankle), Wes Welker (questionable, ankle), Chandler Jones (questionable, ankle) and Jerod Mayo (probable, elbow)
Jets: Bart Scott (questionable, toe), Calvin Pace (questionable, shoulder), Jeremy Kerley (questionable, heel), Mark Sanchez (probable, back) and Stephen Hill (probable, illness)
What's at Stake?
The Patriots have their eyes on two prizes. The first one is the division crown, which would clinch yet another trip to the playoffs. The second one is a bye in first round of the playoffs to give players like Gronkowski an extra week to recover if necessary.
As it stands now, the Patriots lead the division by three games. They should cruise to the division title barring a total collapse. New England is one game behind the Baltimore Ravens for the second seed, but does have an easier schedule down the stretch.
The outlook is simpler for the Jets, even though they are lagging behind in the standings. They have to go on an extended winning streak and hope some of the teams ahead of them fade. For those looking for a glimmer of hope, the schedule does get easier starting next week.
Fantasy Player to Watch: Julian Edelman
Gronkowski is out, Aaron Hernandez's status and potential role remains uncertain and Wes Welker has been fighting a nagging ankle injury. Those three factors point to a growing role in the offense for the versatile Edelman.
The fourth-year wide receiver made five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown last week. His role should increase even more while Gronkowski is out as Brady looks for another target during his nearly 40 pass attempts per game.
Edelman looked in line to garner a larger role when the season began, but an injury slowed his progress. Now that he's back to full strength, he should be a solid flex option the rest of the way, including on Thanksgiving against the Jets.
What They're Saying
Hernandez spoke highly of his fellow tight end, but understands the Patriots have one of the deepest receiving groups in the league to help lessen the blow, according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
"Obviously, it’s tough," Hernandez said. "He’s obviously one of the best players in the league, but we have a lot of players, and everyone has to step up to fill the void."
While Rex Ryan has always been known for his outspoken style, he's not giving the Patriots any bulletin-board material this week. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News passed along his toned-down thoughts.
"I think what we did in 2009 … was try to get better each day," Ryan said. "I thought we got better as the season went on. I think that's clearly what we have to do now.
"If the players can draw from it, then that's great. But again, we have a ton of work in front of us in a short amount of time preparing (for) clearly the best offensive team in the NFL."
Patriots Key Player: Tom Brady
From Welker to Jerod Mayo to one of the league's most underrated players, Rob Ninkovich, there is no shortage of options when talking about key players for New England. Yet, it always comes back to Brady one way or another.
The longtime Patriots quarterback will surpass 3,000 yards passing early in Thursday night's game and is on pace for another season with a QB rating above 100. He's perfected the team's offensive system and rarely has an off game.
He faces a challenge against the Jets, though. New York ranks fourth in pass defense, allowing just 200 yards per game. Given the Patriots' injury woes, Brady will have to be on top of his game to lead New England to another division win.
Jets Key Player: Quinton Coples
The Jets know better than any other team that the key to beating the Patriots is getting consistent pressure on Brady. They drafted Coples in the first round with that in mind, but he's failed to live up to the hype so far.
Coples has just two sacks in his first 10 games, and they both came against the Colts in Week 6. He's been shutout the other nine weeks. The North Carolina product must start showing signs of improvement down the stretch if New York is going to make a run.
As a team, the Jets rank 25th with 17 sacks on the season. No player has more than 2.5 sacks. Coples has to emerge as a reliable pass-rusher for the defense to reach its potential. If he doesn't do it this week, Brady will have a field day.
Patriots 27, Jets 17