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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
Wildcard Round
January 3, 2007

Saturday, January 6th
Sunday, January 7th
Kansas City at Indianapolis, 4:30 PM New York Jets at New England, 1:00 PM
Dallas at Seattle, 8:00 PM New York Giants at Philadelphia, 4:30 PM

Prediction: NYJ 14, NE 20

This should be the fun game of the weekend. The Jets were expected to hold down the AFC cellar this year since they were rebuilding and appeared to have a curious lack of known weapons on offense. By the end of the year, the offense is not much better but first year HC Eric Mangini has followed the Patriot model of making something out of nothing and the Jets defense has quietly been among the best this year - only NE, BAL, CHI and JAX allowed fewer points than the Jets. The Patriots ended the season on a strong stretch but lost to these Jets14-17 in week 10. This will be the third time that Mangini faces his old team this year and the game is highlighted by the fact that HC Bill Belichick will not even speak Mangini's name since he left. The upstart new coach beat the teacher last time and the chance to knock him out of the playoffs would be the ultimate prize for Mangini.

New York Jets (10-6)
1 23-16 @TEN 10 17-14 @NE
2 17-24 NE 11 0-10 CHI
3 28-20 @BUF 12 26-11 HOU
4 28-31 IND 13 38-10 @GB
5 0-41 @JAX 14 13-31 BUF
6 20-17 MIA 15 26-13 @MIN
7 31-24 DET 16 13-10 @MIA
8 13-20 @CLE 17 23-3 OAK
9 Open Bye - - MON
NYJ at NE Rush Catch Pass
QB Chad Pennington 0 0 200,1
RB Cedric Houston 60,1 10 0
RB Leon Washington 30 30 0
TE Chris Baker 0 10 0
WR Laveranues Coles 0 40 0
WR Justin McCareins 0 30 0
WR Jerricho Cotchery 0 60,1 0
PK Mike Nugent 0 FG 2 XP -
Pregame Notes: The Jets are no offensive powerhouse to be sure, but with a defense that has held seven of the last eight opponents to 14 points or less - the offense doesn't need to do that much. The creative Mangini has come up with enough offense to reach a 10-6 record and the team is improving with a 6-2 record over the last half of the season. The crowning glory came in week ten when Mangini won in New England and Jets are currently on a three game winning streak.

Quarterback: The amazing thing about Chad Pennington is not that he has thrown for 17 touchdowns this season or that he only had three games without at least one score. It is that he has lasted for an entire season. The fragile one has managed to start every game this year and the continuity at quarterback is a whole new feature for the Jets season.

Pennington threw for 168 yards and one score in New England this year and had 306 passing yards and two scores in the home game against the Jets in week two.

Running Backs: After playing with several different arrangements, the Jets have settled on Cedric Houston as the primary back with Leon Washington as the third down player. This week will be the first time that Houston has played against the Jets this year while Washington only had 35 yards on nine carries as a visitor in week ten. This will be a new backfield from what the Patriots experienced in the first two meetings.

Wide Receivers: While Justin McCareins will turn in a couple of catches per week, this unit is all about Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. Coles had a monster game in week 15 but has been banged up the last two weeks and only had two catches for minimal yardage in those match-ups. Coles had six catches for 100 yards and a score in week two against the Patriots but only managed five catches for 29 yards in week ten. Cotchery turned in 121 yards and a score in the first meeting and then had six receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown in the second meeting with the Patriots.

Tight Ends: Chris Baker only had one catch in either meeting with the Pats this year but he just scored last week for the third time this season.

Match Against the Defense: Third time for these teams to meet but this time the Patriots will likely be without both S Rodney Harrison and NT Vince WIlfork. Both injuries have a bearing on the Pats ability to stop the run and they have allowed each primary runner to gain at least 94 yards in each of the last four games since WIlfork was injured. The Pats are more than motivated in this game since the Jets already beat them last time so expect just moderate rushing here.

Pennington has had some success against the Pats but their secondary has been improving as the season progresses. Look for no more than one passing score here which even by itself will be a challenge. Cotchery has scored in each of the last two meetings and Coles is banged up, so expect Cotchery to be the most likely to score.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM    QB   RB   WR   TE   PK  DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points NYJ 26 19 12 28 18 19
Preventing Fantasy Points NE 2 6 11 1 6 12


New England Patriots (12-4)
1 19-17 BUF 10 14-17 NYJ
2 24-17 @NYJ 11 35-0 @GB
3 7-17 DEN 12 17-13 CHI
4 38-13 @CIN 13 28-21 DET
5 20-10 MIA 14 0-21 @MIA
6 Open Bye 15 40-7 HOU
7 28-6 @BUF 16 24-21 @JAX
8 31-7 @MIN 17 40-23 @TEN
9 20-27 IND - - MON
NEP vs NYJ Rush Catch Pass
QB Tom Brady 0 0 230,2
RB Corey Dillon 80,1 0 0
RB Lawrence Maroney 70 10 0
TE Dave Thomas 0 20 0
TE Daniel Graham 0 20 0
WR Jabar Gaffney 0 40 0
WR Reche Caldwell 0 60,1 0
WR Troy Brown 0 50 0
PK Stephen Gostkowski 2 FG 2 XP -

Pregame Notes: The Patriots lost in week ten to these Jets but only dropped one other game for the rest of the season including road wins in Jacksonville and Tennessee. This game has more meaning than merely a playoff tilt, it is about the younger Mangini leaving his post in New England and even "tampering" with the Deion Branch negotiations in the preseason which eventually led to Branch leaving for Seattle. There is an amazing amount of bad blood between these franchises now which only makes for an even more interesting game. Were the Jets to pull off an upset, the post game interviews would be fascinating if in fact Belichick even showed up.

Quarterback: Tom Brady threw for 220 and 255 yards in the two meetings against the Jets this year and scored once in each. But Brady has been playing better in the final weeks and has not had an interception in the last four outings after being intercepted once in each of the Jets games.

Running Backs: Corey Dillon ran for 80 yards and one score in the first game against the Jets and had 98 yards in the second meeting on only 11 carries. Laurence Maroney is back these last two weeks and running well and he had 65 yards and touchdown in the week two meeting but only 37 yards back in week ten. Maroney is over his torn rib cartilage and should show up more this week.

Wide Receivers: The wideouts did not gain more than 51 yards in the first meeting but Reche Caldwell came up with 90 yards on nine catches and one touchdown in the second meeting. Other than Caldwell, none of the wideouts for the Pats have accounted for much in any game this year.

Tight Ends: Ben Watson gained 39 yards in the first meeting but only 16 in week ten. He has not played in the last three games and could miss this week as well. He has an unspecified knee injury with an unspecified prognosis with an unknown return.

Match Against the Defense: The Patriots want to win this game in the biggest way but the Jets defense has been very tough under the ex-defensive coordinator Mangini who knows a little too much about his ex-employers scheme and personnel. The Jets rushing defense started the year out poorly but has vastly improved in recent weeks. In the last eight games, only one running back has rushed in a touchdown and the workload will be split between Maroney and Dillon. Look for one rushing score but anything more would be an accomplishment against this improved defense.

Brady should do no worse than his previous outings against the Jets and the game plan will likely call for more rushing now with a healthy backfield. I like one passing score in this game that could favor any of the wideouts by design. Caldwell is the best bet but that alone could prompt another wideout to be used for the score.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM    QB   RB   WR   TE   PK  DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points NE 11 4 19 5 19 11
Preventing Fantasy Points NYJ 12 25 13 18 5 5