New England have home field advantage to play for in the final week of the regular season, but whether that's enough encouragement to cover a three score handicap against the Jets is another question, writes Mark Kirwan....
"As it stands, the Steelers can still pip the Patriots to first place in the AFC. Memories of two seasons ago will linger in the northeast, when Denver stole home field and, eventually, knocked off the Pats at Mile High Stadium in the Conference championship game, so New England know they have something to play for this week."
New York Jets @ New England Patriots
Sunday December 31, 18:00 GMT
TV - Live on Sky Sports Action and Main Event
Patriots playing for home field advantage
Death, taxes and the Pats winning the AFC East. This is the ninth season in a row New England have won their division, and fourteenth in fifteen. More striking, this is the eighth year in a row they will have a bye on Wildcard weekend.
With dominant play comes high expectations. New England have ambitions greater than securing a playoff spot or a bye, with home field advantage all the way to Minneapolis a big prize still up for grabs this week.
As it stands, the Steelers can still pip the Patriots to first place in the AFC. Memories of two seasons ago will linger in the northeast, when Denver stole home field and, eventually, knocked off the Pats at Mile High Stadium in the Conference championship game, so New England know they have something to play for this week.
Have the Patriots peaked?
Their play in general this season seemed to peak in Mexico city with their demolition of the Raiders. Since then they've suffered a shocking defeat to Miami and have been fortunate in the last two weeks to beat an improving Steelers and tough Buffalo side, with video replay calls and Antonio Brown's injury helping in difficult spots.
Tom Brady has thrown an interception in each of his last five games, and is averaging less in pass completion percentage, QB rating, and yards per game in December than any other month this season. Brandin Cooks in December has seven total receptions.
Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell could be back this week, and they still have Gronk, which is unusual at this point of the season. Dion Lewis in the backfield has emerged in recent weeks, and he'll likely see a lot of action in a very cold Foxboro.
Ideally, the Pats would use this game to get their playoff lineup clicking, but that may not be easy in the conditions.
Jets lack threat without McCown
The most off-putting aspect of the Jets is their offensive leadership. Josh McCown was named Jets MVP by his teammates this week as he was having the season of his career at 38 until he broke his hand in week fourteen.
Since then he's been replaced by Bryce Petty. He went 2-for-9 when he stepped in against the Broncos, and has not improved much since. One touchdown and three interceptions, and under 150 yards on average through the air in tough games against the Saints and Chargers does not instill confidence.
The Pats defence is not as good as either of those units, but Petty is overmatched in most circumstances, and it would be a surprise if he makes the Jets' roster next season.
Despite the issues in New York, coach Todd Bowles has defied expectations this year. It looked as though the Jets were tanking and the coach would be cleared out with several high profile veterans come the end of the season, but the Jets have played competitively for the most part, and the defence has continued to try each week.
Their win total for the season was 3.5 games with most bookies in September, they passed that some weeks ago and could've had a few more wins on their record with some breaks going their way.
The Patriots go into this game -16.5 point favourites. I can see why they're so favoured in this situation, as it is not clear how New York is going to score with Petty behind centre, but this is an in-division game, the Pats offence has not been the powerhouse recently it was earlier in the season, and huge spreads like this do not appeal at any time. My recommendation on the Handicap market is to take the Jets +16.5 points. I would expect New England to win, but I do not like them trying to cover three scores.
For a more manageable handicap, I think the Patriots -3.5 in the First Quarter Handicap market on the Sportsbook is more interesting as I'd expect them to come out and try to win the game early. For this reason, first half markets in general are also worth a look on this game.
I do not expect the Jets to score much, and the likely game conditions has seen the Patriots issue a weather warning those attending the game. Such conditions are not conducive to heavy scoring. For these reasons I would look at the Under 43.5 on the Total Points market.
For Touchdown market interest, I would consider New England D/ST on First and Anytime Touchdown markets, at 17/1 and 16/5, because of the likely difficulties handling the ball and the Petty factor at QB.
1pt on the New York Jets +16.5 or more in the Handicap market @ [1.82] on the Exchange
1pt on the New England Patriots -3.5 in the First Quarter Handicap market @ Evens (Betfair Sportsbook)
1pt on Under 43.5 points in the Total Points market @ [1.97] on the Exchange
0.25pt on New England D/ST in the First Touchdown Scorer market @ 14/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)
0.5pt on New England D/ST in the Anytime Touchdown Scorer market @ 16/5 (Betfair Sportsbook)