NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (3-2) AT NEW YORK JETS (3-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 114th regular-season meeting. Patriots lead series, 59-53-1. They have won five of the past six, including 22-17 last November and 41-3 last December.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Jets have scored just seven first-quarter points through five games this season; so, even if they can put up a field goal or two early, it should allow them to maintain a balanced offense at least through the first half.
If they fall behind and have to start passing on most downs, that's where Josh McCown begins to make mistakes. New England will mix more zone looks into the plan. McCown has shown the ability to keep plays alive at times with his legs. He also has had the benefit of a complementary running game that's averaging 4.5 yards per carry heading into this matchup with a struggling Patriots run defense that's allowing five yards a rush. New England must tackle better regardless of whether DT Alan Branch, who was a healthy scratch a week ago, returns to the mix.
If the Patriots can keep New York from big plays -- a big if for a New England defense that has allowed 21 pass plays longer than 20 yards and six runs longer than 10 yards -- it should give Tom Brady and Co. more than enough time to build a lead and control the flow of the game. But if the big-play problems persist, this could turn into another dogfight in the long rivalry.
Defensively for the Jets, it's extremely simple: Hit Brady, or else. Brady has been hit 32 times in five games, but even at 40 years old, he rarely makes mistakes -- he has one interception and two lost fumbles this season. The Jets have five interceptions during their three-game winning streak, but getting one off Brady will be a tall task.
The Patriots are going to throw the ball, early and often. Brady has attempted at least 35 passes in each game this year, leading the NFL's No. 1 offense and No. 1 passing attack. There's probably little reason to change the approach against a Jets defense that starts a pair of rookies at safety and has tallied just seven sacks in five games. Brady should get TE Rob Gronkowski back on Sunday and have the versatile corps of targets to spread the Jets out both vertically and horizontally.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Jets QB Josh McCown vs. Patriots pass defense. All five quarterbacks who have faced the Patriots' 32nd-ranked pass defense this season have thrown for 300 yards, and they have combined to throw 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions. The veteran McCown has been solid to open the year as the placeholder at quarterback for the Jets, helping to lead New York to three wins by completing 71.4 percent of his passes. Working with a solid running game, McCown has yet to top 250 yards passing and it will be interesting to see whether he finds as much room to work as previous opposing passers have against a pass defense that feels like it's moving in the right direction even if the numbers don't yet show it.
--Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Jets rookie Ss Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. Brady has gotten off to a fast start, leading the NFL's No. 1 passing attack while putting up numbers better than everyone not named Alex Smith. This week he takes on a Jets pass defense that has been middle of the road through the first month-plus, and he will likely target New York's rookie safeties. Brady and the Patriots' passing attack can challenge a pass defense and young safeties in so many ways, with Gronkowski, versatile WRs Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan, and pass-catching back James White. New York's talented young defensive backs appear to have bright futures, but they could be in a for a day of learning against Brady and Co.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORT
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
--Out: CB Eric Rowe (groin)
--Questionable: RB Rex Burkhead (ribs)
NEW YORK JETS
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Jets K Chandler Catanzaro. He has had quite the last two weeks, as he hit the winning field goal in overtime against the Jaguars and set a franchise record with a 57-yard field goal against the Browns. He is 10-for-12 on field goals this season and hasn't missed any of his eight extra points. He seems to be gaining confidence by the week.
FAST FACTS: Patriots QB Tom Brady aims for his fifth game in a row with 300 passing yards. In the past 13 meetings with the Jets, he has 3,500 yards (269.2 per game), 26 TDs and four INTs. He threw three TD passes and no INTs in the last meeting. ... Patriots RB James White ranks first among NFL RBs with 29 catches in 2017. He has nine TD catches since 2015, tied for most among NFL RBs. ... Jets QB Josh McCown completed 23 of 30 (76.7 percent) with two TDs last week. His passer rating has been over 100 in three of the past four games. ... Jets WR Jermaine Kearse had a TD catch last week. He leads the team with 220 yards receiving and three TD catches. ... Jets LB Demario Davis had a sack last week. He has eight-plus tackles in three of the past four meetings with the Patriots. He leads the team and is tied for the NFL lead with 46 tackles.
PREDICTION: The surprising Jets will push the Patriots but fall short in the end.
OUR PICK: Patriots, 27-23.