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Takeoff delayed

New York Jets (4-4) at New England Patriots (6-2)
1 p.m., Ch. 4. Line: Patriots by 11

When the Patriots run

New York's run defense has been abysmal this season and it's not likely to get any better today. Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney have been running roughshod over defenses and if the hosts get out to an early lead, Dillon and Maroney will be called upon to milk the clock. Limited carries have kept Dillon feeling frisky through four quarters, while Maroney's combination of speed and power (you get the feeling he'd just as soon run over defenders than around them) is rare. Despite the line's inconsistent blocking, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more productive duo than Dillon and Maroney . The Jets' main run-stuffer is middle linebacker extraordinaire Jonathan Vilma. This 6-foot-1-inch, 230-pound beast's hits leave lasting impressions. When teams attack the middle, Vilma uses his raw power to plug holes. When teams go outside, Vilma uses his speed to hunt down unsuspecting ball carriers. One of the more interesting and entertaining battles today will be Logan Mankins vs. Vilma. Mankins's strength and surly attitude will serve him well. Tackles Dewayne Robertson (he's strong but inconsistent) and Kimo von Oelhoffen (he's quick but inconsistent) have underachieved this season.

Edge: Patriots

When the Patriots pass

Tom Brady is coming off one of the worst performances of his career. That's bad news for the Jets. It's rare for Brady to have back-to-back subpar outings, so look for him to bounce back in a big way. Brady should have plenty of time in the pocket as the Jets haven't shown the ability to pressure the quarterback (they have a mere 13 sacks). The great unknown is which Patriot receiving corps is going to show up. Against the Vikings, Reche Caldwell and Doug Gabriel appeared ready to become go-to guys. Against the Colts, they looked timid. New York has a pair of above-average corners in Andre Dyson and Justin Miller. Dyson (5 feet 10 inches, 183 pounds) can be overaggressive but is so fast he is able to recover and still be in position to make plays. Ditto for the 5-10, 196-pound Miller. These two, along with nickel backs David Barrett and Hank Poteat, can hang with New England's receivers. They'll get help from safeties Kerry Rhodes (an exceptional hitter with good range) and Erik Coleman (a hard-nosed player with tremendous instincts). The Patriots should be able to exploit the middle, where the Jets lack a defender to match up with tight ends Benjamin Watson and David Thomas.

Edge: Patriots

When the Jets run

One of the biggest question marks in an offseason full of them in Hempstead, N.Y., was, "Who's going to replace Curtis Martin?" Halfway through the season, Eric Mangini is still looking for a workhorse, though veteran Kevan Barlow and rookie Leon Washington have done a solid job addressing that question and preventing defenses from teeing off on Chad Pennington. Washington, a fourth-rounder out of Florida State, was expected to shine as a return specialist but instead has excelled out of the backfield. The 5-foot-8-inch, 202-pound Washington lacks size but has tremendous acceleration. He runs low so he's not easily knocked off his pins. Barlow has excellent size (6-1, 234) and runs with a nice blend of speed and moves. Myriad injuries throughout his five-plus years have kept Barlow from becoming a household name outside his own house. Rookie first-rounders D'Brickashaw Ferguson (left tackle) and Nick Mangold (center) were thrown into the fire from Day 1 and have yet to look out of place. The rooks sandwich Pete Kendall, who is still one of the most underrated and most ornery guards in the game. This trio had best be on its best behavior today as it faces the best front three in the game. Richard Seymour, Vince Wilfork, and Ty Warren combine brains and brawn to overwhelm blockers and plug gaps. Inside 'backers Tedy Bruschi and Junior Seau clean up any leftovers.

Edge: Patriots

When the Jets pass

It wasn't long ago that Chad Pennington was considered an elite NFL quarterback. While injuries have taken their toll (he has a slow release and a weak arm), Pennington has always been more cerebral than physical. He reclaimed his starting job in camp because he almost always makes the right decision. Pennington is well prepared and not easily rattled. The 6-foot-3-inch, 225-pounder reads defenses well and thrives in the short and intermediate passing game. He's never been a deep threat, so if he faces a lot of third-and-longs, he's in for a long afternoon. Pennington has one of the top receivers on the planet in Laveranues Coles. A 5-11, 193-pound spitfire, Coles has it all: speed, elusiveness, toughness, and above all a knack for getting open. About the only knocks on Coles are that he can disappear for stretches and he's not exactly an enthusiastic blocker. Jerricho Cotchery has emerged as a solid and dependable No. 2. Cotchery (6 feet, 207 pounds) is quick, has good hands, and can be electric after the catch. Tight end Chris Baker has excellent hands but too often gets lost on game day. It's imperative for Patriot pass rushers Rosevelt Colvin and Mike Vrabel to disrupt Pennington's timing to protect the injury-ravaged secondary. Corners Asante Samuel and Ellis Hobbs can hold their own, but not having big-hitting safeties Rodney Harrison and Eugene Wilson roaming free allows the Jets to take more chances.

Edge: Jets

Jets' key player

Jerricho Cotchery
Third-year veteran continues to surprise teams with his quickness and penchant for making tough catches.
How he beats you: By outworking you. Cotchery has gone from a special teams afterthought to a budding star by working hard in the weight room and the film room.
How to shut him down: By knocking him down. He doesn’t have a good initial burst, so chuck him at the line to throw off his timing.

Jets' keys to victory

1. Standby passengers: Linebackers Eric Barton and Victor Hobson have to help Jonathan Vilma plug the gaps and slow the Patriots’ running game.
2. Air traffic control: A near flawless performance from Chad Pennington is a must. Take what the defense gives you and don’t get greedy.
3. Early arrivals: A big kickoff return by Justin Miller (he’s averaging 29.7 yards) could set the tone or change the momentum.

Patriots' keys to victory

1. Security checkpoints: Turnovers are killers, and not all those interceptions last Sunday were Tom Brady’s fault.
2. Cabin pressure: Defense has to close in on Pennington or he’ll pick this JV secondary apart.
3. Ground transportation: Running the ball is your strength. Don’t let Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney rot on the sideline.

Prediction: Patriots 34, Jets 17

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