FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The long weekend is over for the New England Patriots.
Let the hype begin.
The Patriots are preparing to host the New York Jets next Monday night in a game that will put the winner in control of the AFC East.
“They give you a lot to get ready for,” New England coach Bill Belichick said in a conference call Monday.
Perhaps Belichick, master of the understatement, won’t be the best source for excitement in the next week, but there should be plenty of others as this game approaches.
Much more is riding on it than the first meeting in Week 2, when the Jets won 28-14 at the Meadowlands. Both teams are 9-2 and the winner will take the lead in the AFC East as well as the overall conference standings with just a month to go in the regular season.
Belichick politely complimented the Jets and their accomplishments in the nine games since the rivals last met. While the overall records are identical, New York currently holds the tiebreaker with the head-to-head victory and is also 3-0 in the division. But that only gives the Jets a technical edge in the standings, which the Patriots can turn around with a win at home.
That’s why Belichick says games take on a new meaning after Thanksgiving.
“I think it’s just obvious. There’s fewer games, (and) a lot of teams are packed closely together. Each game becomes more important, more critical and has bigger impact on the final standings,” he said. “Right now, you just want to put yourself in good position where you’re in contention.”
Both Belichick and Jets coach Rex Ryan can say that. Even with a loss next week, both teams would be in good position for a wild-card berth, so a third meeting in the playoffs isn’t out of the question.
“Whatever they’ve had to do, they’ve done it. They’ve really done a good job in clutch situations,” Belichick said of the Jets. “We know there will be some wrinkles there one way or another and we’ll have to adjust to them Monday night.”
Both teams have had a bit of a break since playing on Thanksgiving, plus a bonus day thanks to the Monday night scheduling. Extra days this late in the season give the players more recovery time, which is especially welcome as the prime-time showdown approaches.
It also means more time for the hype to build, something New England quarterback Tom Brady is already trying to keep in check.
“It’s after Thanksgiving. Now we’re going to see what kind of football team we have,” Brady said Monday during his weekly appearance on WEEI radio. “We’re going to see what other good football teams are, and what it takes to be a good football team. It’s not easy this time of year.”
In 2007, Brady led the Patriots to a 16-0 regular season, only to end with a loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, erasing all the joy that had built up during what had been a perfect run. So, Brady isn’t about to let anybody get too excited about being 9-2 the first week of December.
“There’s always a part of me that knows, ‘Man, you can lose. You can have a really bad game and lose,’” said Brady, who added he is trying hard to get his point across to younger teammates who haven’t been here before. “Man, listen, we haven’t done anything. Literally nothing. Zero. Nine wins? Nine wins is nothing.”