The smack-talking, snack-eating New York Jets have the type of airtight defense that we thought the Red Sox were going to have, they have a cornerback with a more famous island than Manhattan, they have an entertaining, bombastic, beefy coach.
What they don't have is a quarterback.
That remains the single biggest and most important difference between Team Hard Knocks and your New England Patriots, as they prepare to meet on Sunday in suburban New Jersey.
We can compare and contrast poker face Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Vociferous Rex Ryan, the Jets coach with a bigger mouth than the Lincoln Tunnel, until we're blue in the face. We can talk about Darrelle Revis and Randy Moss and imaginary isles all week. We can talk about who has the better and more boisterous fans in the Border War.
But when it comes to quarterback there is no comparison.
The Patriots have a future Hall of Famer in Tom Brady and the Jets have Mark Sanchez, who to borrow a term Revis applied to Moss, is a "slouch" next to TB12. Both Brady and Sanchez have appeared in GQ, both hail from California, both play quarterback in the AFC East. That's pretty much where the similarities end.
Brady, the TMZ QB, is a bonafide icon with three Super Bowl rings, an MVP award and the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season. Everything from his haircut to his ride is scrutinized because he's just that good on the field. Brady is so revered that he can come out and criticize his own fans for not being loud enough and the silent supporters go into self-flagellation.
Sanchez is a Broadway Brady wannabee. The most memorable moments of his career so far are him eating a hot dog on the sidelines during a game, and coming to a press conference with copious, Ellsbury-esque notes. He's getting called out by the only real franchise quarterback in Jets history, Joe Namath, who via Twitter ripped into the Jets offense for their performance Monday night in a 10-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Football is a very complex and intricate game, but what's pretty simple about today's NFL is that it's a quarterback league. If you want to win a championship you need a competent QB. Until another one of the AFC East teams develops a legitimate, reliable, playmaking passer this is still the Patriots division
Maybe someday Sanchez will be that quarterback. Right now, he's not.
Ryan dubbed Sanchez the "Sanchize" last year as a rookie. After the J-E-T-S loss in their season-opener Sanchez needed to be sanitized because he and the rest of New York's offense stunk.
Sanchez was 10 of 21 for 74 yards. He guided an offense that had just six first downs and was 1 of 11 on third down.
Granted he was playing against a tremendous defense, but so was Ravens QB Joe Flacco, who managed to throw for 248 yards and help his team go 11 of 19 on third down. Flacco was intercepted, but that was primarily because he was actually trying to use the forward pass, unlike Sanchez, who looked like he thought the movie "Sideways" was a documentary on the Jets passing game.
It's pretty obvious that Ryan and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer don't trust Sanchez to make plays -- at least for their team. They want him to be a caretaker QB, instead of the careless one he was as a rookie. Sanchez had 20 interceptions and 10 fumbles (three lost), before he played some efficient, encouraging football during the Jets' playoff run.
Sanchez was asked yesterday what he expected from himself in his second year, a time in Brady's career in which he led the Patriots to a Super Bowl with a game-winning drive.
"Just making better decisions, like I did last week," said Sanchez. "I was pleased that I didn’t give them a chance to even come close to intercepting the ball. As long as I’m not throwing interceptions, we’ve got a chance to win every game, whether it’s the last drive or we’re winning from the first play and jumping out early. ...Last week wasn’t our best start, so we need to pick that up. I think the decision making is the most important."
Notice there was nothing in there about making plays.
It was all about avoiding mistakes, which Sanchez made a lot of the last time these two teams played, a 31-14 Patriots' victory at Gillette Stadium last November. Sanchez tossed four interceptions that day and had a fumble. Patriots cornerback Leigh Bodden, who had three of his five picks on the season that game, should be paying Sanchez royalties on his new contract.
If we've learned anything from the Indianapolis Colts it's that the only way to beat Brady and Belichick consistently is to light up the scoreboard like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
The Patriots are never going to tell you that Sanchez isn't capable of that. They're the anti-Jets, so they threw a bunch of bouquets No. 6's way.
Belichick glossed over the Baltimore game and cited the fact the Jets went to the AFC Championship Game last year with Sanchez. He didn't mention that on the way there Sanchez completed 24 passes in two games, or one fewer than Brady had last week against the Bengals.
Safety Patrick Chung, who went to Oregon and faced Sanchez at Southern Cal, was asked how much Sanchez has grown from college.
"All I can say is he's good," said Chung. "I can't really see him unless I'm on the field with him going against him. I know he's good. He wouldn't be starting if he wasn't good, period. He can make the throws. He has a strong arm. Obviously, he's there for a reason."
Because the Jets don't have a Tom Brady. And until they do this isn't much of a rivalry.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.