Five thoughts on the game:
1. Mismatch at quarterback: On the stat sheet, this might be the most lopsided matchup of the year. Brady is the No. 1-rated passer in the league (123.3) and Fitzpatrick (67.6) is the lowest. Heck, it might be one of the biggest mismatches in league history based on passer rating. Belichick is looking at a different statistic, telling anybody willing to listen (no doubt, his players) the Jets have averaged 26 points in Fitzpatrick’s past three games.
2. Will boobirds fly?: The fan base has turned quickly on Bowles, in part, because of his decision to stick with Fitzpatrick, leaving Bryce Petty on the bench. The crowd won’t have much patience — the boos will start early if Fitzpatrick gets off to a slow start. The over/under on the first “We Want Bryce!” chant is the first three-and-out series. Fitzpatrick is handling the situation well, as he appeared relaxed during the run-up to the game. He will get the old Geno Smith treatment if he doesn’t give them something to cheer about — quickly. The Jets are 1-3 at home, so there haven’t been many feel-good moments.
3. Sweet 16: Cheating scandals notwithstanding, the Patriots have become the model franchise. Get this: A win by New England would clinch their 16th straight winning season, tying the San Francisco 49ers (1983-1998) for the longest streak since the merger in 1970. That is a staggering run of consistency, the likes of which we may never see again.
4. Paging Brandon Marshall: He’s on pace for 69 receptions and 962 yards, a major decline from last season’s numbers — 109 and 1,502, both franchise records. He has gone five straight games without a touchdown and five straight under 71 yards, his least productive stretch since his 2010 season with the Miami Dolphins.
5. Baby steps: The Jets’ pass defense, an embarrassment in September and October, is showing signs of improvement. Since Week 8, it ranks second in completion percentage (55.5) and yards per attempt (6.0).
The Vikings’ loss Thursday came after a backbreaking interception from Bradford, who has mostly avoided picks this season. It was only his third interception of the year, but it came in a game where his defense had held the Lions to 13 points with Bradford doing little to hold the lead or add to the offensive ledger. He finished the game 31-for-37, but those throws generated just 224 yards, with 119 of those yards — more than 50 percent — coming after the catch.
Smith, 37, continued to defy Father Time last week with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, giving him 1,000 receptions for his career. And ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley wrote in this Week’s NFL Nation Insider Buy/Sell fantasy column that Smith will “do everything in his power to finish off his legacy on a strong note,” since Smith is supposedly planning to retire for real this time.
Smith is owned in only 76 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues, but Hensley believes he is worth starting down the stretch — especially this week. When Smith last faced the Bengals last year, he caught 13 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns.