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3 things to watch for when Jets, Patriots do battle in Week 16

Without much to play for, the Jets still have much to prove Saturday.
The Jets and Pats always play each other tough.Getty Images

Saturday’s tilt with the Patriots will likely go as expected, with the Jets being on the wrong end of the scoreboard. And it’s not just because the Patriots (12-2) are superior — that’s already a known fact. But also because of the way the Jets (4-10) have essentially mailed it in two of the last three games with sorry, listless performances.

The only saving grace in avoiding what would be a six-game losing streak was a gritty win in San Francisco (1-13) two weeks ago, but they even needed overtime after being down 17-3 against the second-worst team in the league.

Changes are coming for Gang Green for sure. But before the roster gets burned to the ground and rebooted for next season, the Jets need to play out the string. Just two more games remain before a roster reckoning — and perhaps even a coaching staff upheaval — as the Jets (4-10) look to put a cramp in the Patriots’ style.

New England is in a battle for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, while New York is in full evaluation mode trying to see who’s worth bringing back next season and who needs to be discarded. One of the more pressing evaluations will be at starting quarterback, where Bryce Petty deemed that he’s ready to go — a rather gutsy and miraculous declaration considering he was nearly ripped in half by Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh just a week ago.

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Petty isn’t the only banged-up Jet, but at least he’s available. New York has had a spate of injuries that are unlike most teams in the league today. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Gang Green has used 70 players this season, which is more than any other team in the NFL to date. Compare that to last season when they used 60 players, and it’s easy to see why things fell apart. Last season’s starters were durable, missing just 20 combined games, compared to the 81 — and counting — this campaign. And with a league-high 22 players making the injured reserve list this season, it’s made head coach Todd Bowles’s job that much more difficult to field a competitive squad.

Unfortunately for the Jets, the Patriots care not for their ills. A Bill Belichick-led team won’t take anyone lightly, especially since the Jets nearly pulled off the upset in Week 12, dropping a last-minute 22-17 decision at MetLife Stadium. This tilt, however, is at Foxboro where Tom Brady and company are nearly unbeatable.

It’s going to be a long afternoon for Gang Green, but here’s hoping everyone makes it out in one piece, as Jets’ management is running out of players to properly evaluate.

Metro takes a look at other key storylines to follow, as the Jets make their final road trip of this miserable campaign (1 p.m., CBS).

What to watch:

1. Protecting Petty

The Jets have been one of the more snakebitten teams in the league this year, which only aided to their demise. By kickoff, Gang Green will have just one starting offensive lineman — left guard James Carpenter — remaining at his original position from the start of the season. The other four customary starting offensive linemen are on IR, including former All-Pro center Nick Mangold, who is out for the season and will have ultimately missed half this campaign. This game will feature the ninth different offensive-line combination for the Jets — an impossible predicament for any quarterback, let alone a second-year signal caller who is making just his fifth NFL start. The Jets are heading into Foxboro with possibly eight different starters on offense from the unit that opened the season against the Bengals. It was already an uphill battle for Petty and company, but with such turnover in the lineup, the neophyte passer may be in for another game featuring a lot of big hits and hurting.

2. Pick your poison

The Jets have had a difficult time stopping opposing running backs this season, and unfortunately for them, New England has a trio able to decimate Gang Green, starting with LeGarrette Blount, who is the bruiser of the bunch. Blount ranks seventh in the league with 1,060 rushing yards and leads the league with 15 rushing touchdowns — which is also a Patriots’ single-season record. The other two backs are more receiving threats, as James White and Dion Lewis will pose a problem for Gang Green’s banged up defense. White has the second-most receptions on the team with 53 (only behind wideout Julian Edelman) and has tallied 498 receiving yards. He’s also tied for second on the team with four receiving touchdowns, but has only tallied 143 rushing yards and has yet to rush for a touchdown, so he’ll be attacking the Jets through the air. Lewis is rounding into form since returning from an ACL injury in Week 11. He’s coming off a season-best output when he rushed for 95 yards on 18 carries in the win at Denver, last week. If he could do that against the elite defense of the defending champs, the Jets could be in for a long afternoon.

3. Not-so special teams

The Jets’ special teams unit has been a colossal disappointment this season, and not just because of the injury influx. Gang Green has struggled mightily in this area and are currently ranked last in the league by analytic site FootballOutsiders.com. Jalin Marshall, Nick Marshall, Jeremy Ross and C.J. Spiller have all taken turns for a kickoff return unit that ranks 15th in the NFL with a 22.4-yard average. Special teams coach Brant Boyer has seen roster turnover on his unit, highlighted last week when his kickoff return team featured eight players who weren’t even on the Jets at the beginning of the season. The punt team also allowed a blocked punt to be returned for a touchdown in that game, which could already be the beginning of the end for Boyer, despite this only being his first season on the job. Boyer was hired last offseason to improve the Jets’ struggling special teams unit, which finished ranked 25th under Bobby April. That performance cost April his job, and there are rumblings that Boyer could be one-and-done as well. A former special teams ace during a 10-year NFL career, Boyer, 45, knows this season hasn’t reflected well on him.

“It’s been my toughest year in coaching, by far,” said Boyer, adding that while injuries have affected his unit, it’s ultimately not an excuse. “It’s tough. I’m not going to lie. [But] that [injuries] is part of the profession. You’ve got to be ready when your number’s called. That’s part of being a professional in this league. I had to do it as a player. Todd [Bowles] had to do it as a player. There’s a lot of people that have had to do that — be ready when your number’s called. … It’s been a frustrating year. You have to be ready for the call, or else. I learned a long time ago that if they can fire Peyton Manning, they can fire coaches, they can fire anybody.”

Gang Green notes:

  • Leonard Williams was named as a first alternate to the Pro Bowl.
  • Running back Bilal Powell has 341 total yards from scrimmage in the last two games. He joins an elite group of Jets who have accumulated as much as 150 total yards from scrimmage in at least three-straight games — running back Freeman McNeil (four straight in 1985) and wideout Don Maynard (three-straight in 1968).
  • The Jets placed offensive lineman Brian Winters and linebacker Mike Catapano on IR.
  • Since special teams stalwart Mike Westhoff retired after 12 seasons with the team in 2012, the Jets have had four coordinators — a new one every season: Ben Kotwica (2013), Thomas McGaughey (2014), April (2015) and now Boyer (2016).
  • Defensive end Sheldon Richardson has been disciplined by the team for making a profanity-laced Snapchat video in the locker room two hours before losing to the Miami Dolphins, last Saturday night. Bowles refused to divulge details of the punishment, saying he wants to keep it in-house, but he did say the punishment was due to conduct “detrimental to the team” and that “the discipline has been taken care of.”
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