5 things to watch as Jets face Patriots in Week 18

There’s not much to play for on Sunday as the Jets and New England Patriots were both eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.

However, it’s a rivalry game and players from both teams will be keen to finish the year strong, even if it’s just as an audition to play elsewhere next season.

Here are the biggest stories to watch as the Jets look to finish the season with a win...

Will this be Bill Belichick’s last game in New England?

Reports indicate that the Jets’ long-term nemesis could be coaching his last game with the Pats on Sunday. While the Jets might see him again if he goes on to coach elsewhere, this could be the final chapter in a period of dominance for New England over its AFC East rivals.

The Jets have lost 15 games in a row to the Patriots, so there are plenty of fans, coaches and players who would love to put an end to that streak on Sunday and wave Belichick off with a loss.

Rough weather is expected

Weather forecasts indicate that bad weather is expected in the Foxborough area on Sunday afternoon. It might even be a snow game.

The Jets have had some rough weather in several of their games this season, including some of their best wins, so they could be well-equipped to beat New England in those conditions.

If it’s a tight contest, the kicking game should be important, so kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Thomas Morsteadeach of whom was named as a first alternate for this year’s Pro Bowl during the week – will get a chance to play a major role.

Will New England be able to run the ball effectively?

The Jets have placed four defensive tackles on injured reserve in recent weeks and can be vulnerable to runs between the tackles, especially whenever Quinnen Williams leaves the game. Establishing a running game could be important on Sunday, especially if the weather is as bad as expected, so Ezekiel Elliott could play a pivotal role.

If the Jets can stop the run, that will force New England to throw the ball, which was their downfall last Sunday when Bailey Zappe threw three interceptions against the Buffalo Bills. Despite being named as a Pro-Bowler again this week, Sauce Gardner still hasn’t intercepted a pass this year, so he’ll be extra eager to get on the board.

Opportunities for young players to get some playing time

With players being released, phased out or unable to play, this opens up playing time for some Jets players who haven’t played much this season. This could be a good opportunity to prove that they might be ready to make bigger contributions next season and could even factor into the team’s offseason strategies.

With Dalvin Cook having been released, rookie running back Israel Abanikanda should get more touches. Tight end Kenny Yeboah will get to be the number two again with Jeremy Ruckert confirmed to be out, and rookie Zack Kuntz could also make his debut.

Rookie receivers Xavier Gipson and Jason Brownlee also deserve to get some targets. On defense, the team would obviously like to see rookie pass rusher Will McDonald finish the year by showing some more flashes of potential.

Will this be the last game as a Jet for some key contributors?

The likes of Mekhi Becton, Jordan Whitehead, and Bryce Huff are all free agents at the end of the season, so this could be the last time we see any of them in a Jets uniform. Of the three, Huff has probably had the best 2023 season, but the emergence of Jermaine Johnson and McDonald’s potential could mean that the team opts to move on from him if the bidding war gets too expensive.

Whitehead has been a key leader in the secondary and leads the team with four interceptions. However, he’s also had some high-profile mistakes in his two years with the team, so the decision whether or not to bring him back could be a complicated one.

Becton will start a career-best 16th game at left tackle on Sunday and has played well at times, but his high numbers for penalties and sacks allowed are a cause for concern. He will hope to have a mistake-free game to end the season on a positive note.