David beat Goliath. James "Buster" Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. But can the hapless Jets pull off a similarly improbable upset and derail the Patriots' quest for a perfect season? The oddsmakers don't think so. New England opened as 27-point favorites, arguably the biggest point spread ever for an NFL game. But it's more than just the talent disparity that they're looking at. There's the perceived feud between head coaches Bill Belichick and Eric Mangini, and the suspicion that the Patriots' coach would love to run up the score against his prodigal protégé.
Do the Jets have enough firepower to prevent a lopsided score, or even to win? They did upset a vastly superior Steelers team four weeks ago. That victory had more to do with Pittsburgh's self-destruction than any triumph by the Jets, though, and a repeat of that perfect storm seems unlikely.
JETS (3–10) at PATRIOTS (13–0)
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL You have to be able to score points to beat the Patriots, who average an astronomical 38.6 points per game. Since Kellen Clemens took over as quarterback, the Jets haven't been able to put many points on the scoreboard. If you throw out his start against the hapless Dolphins, Clemens has led the Jets' offense to just three touchdowns in his other five starts.
The Patriots appear to be vulnerable against the run, and recent opponents have tried to pound it right up the middle. Thomas Jones is coming off a strong performance against the Browns, but he'll need to be even better for the Jets to have any chance to win on Sunday.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS HAVE THE BALL Tom Brady will come out throwing and won't stop until the final gun sounds. When a quarterback is playing this well, why would you consider any other strategy? Defenses have focused on stopping him, but Brady is still completing more than 70% of his passes. He's also thrown 45 touchdown passes, the third highest single-season total in NFL history, and just four shy of Peyton Manning's all-time record.
Much has been made of how much the revamped receiving corps has helped Brady. The additions of Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth have made a huge impact, but the biggest key may be the strong play of the Patriots' offensive line. They've done a great job protecting Brady — yielding just 16 sacks — and giving him time to throw from the pocket.
When their passing game is clicking, the Patriots don't even pretend to make an effort to run the ball. Against the Steelers last week, they attempted 46 passes and ran just 9 times. Running back Laurence Maroney is capable of posting big numbers, but he hasn't been given more than 15 carries in a game since September.
KEY TO THE GAME A Jets win would be the biggest upset in franchise history — bigger even than Namath's guaranteed victory in Super Bowl III. They'd need Clemens to play like Brady and Jones to be completely dominating. Neither seems likely.
Lahman's Pick: Patriots 49–14