Welcome to the seventh installment of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-but-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots' weekly matchup that runs right here every Friday at noon. This Sunday, the 3-3 Patriots host the 3-3 Jets, who have proven surprisingly resilient given the injuries to Darrelle Revis, Santonio Holmes, and the apparently undiagnosed ones to the throwing arms of all of their quarterbacks. Let's get to it.
THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN TOM BRADY THAT I'LL BE WATCHING
1. Devin McCourty: I'm fascinated by Bill Belichick's impassioned defense of the third-year cornerback. It's rare that Belichick singles out any one player for praise, particularly one who by all appearances to the relatively untrained eye is struggling mightily. It suggests one of two things. The problems with the Elvis "Toast" Patterson Tribute Band that is the Patriots secondary is not McCourty's fault, and there have been times when safety help he was waiting for never arrived. Or, the coach figures a vote of confidence is what McCourty needs more than anything else to succeed again as he did as a rookie. Either way, this much we all know: Kyle Arrington has been much worse with far less criticism.
2. Dustin Keller: The Jets' talented tight end and Mark Sanchez's security blankey has had his moments against the Patriots through the years, including 7 catches for 115 yards and a score in the second game of the 2010 season, a 28-14 Jets win. He's been out with a hamstring injury for much of the season, finally returning last week in the rout of the Colts. His importance to the Jets offense was explained nicely by Conor Orr in the Newark Star-Ledger last week when he noted that Keller was involved in some relevant way in 15 of Sanchez's 26 touchdown passes last season:
Whether it was catching the touchdown (five), drawing a double-team on the same side of the field as the receiver who caught the touchdown (six), drawing a triple-team while another receiver was able to break completely free in the end zone (two), selling a play action to keep a linebacker from dropping into coverage (one) or altering a route to draw a corner out of covering the backfield (one), he managed to operate in strength behind the scenes.
It'll be interesting to see how the Patriots attempt to cover him, because even if he's not at full strength, he's capable of exposing Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo.
3. Tim Tebow: Because CBS won't give us a choice. He'll continue to lead the league in camera-time-to-playing-time ratio (CTTPTR! I invented a stat with an acronym! Take that, Barnwell!) I look forward to his incomplete pass off the back of Jason Hill's head and his five carries for seven yards.
IS IT ME, OR WAS CHRIS BERMAN SLIGHTLY LESS ANNOYING 18 YEARS AGO? Believe it or not, the answer is yes. This 1994 clip from "NFL PrimeTime'' -- the must-see postgame wrapup show until the NFL Network and NBC's "Football Night in America'' came along -- serves as a reminder of why Berman was once so popular before he essentially became a lifelike caricature of Fred Flintstone. He narrates the highlights with energy and humor ("You'd have to be an idiot to think the Jets could lose this game at the Meadowlands," he says, right before the Jets lost that game at the Meadowlands), and he even avoids multiple opportunities to refer to a certain Jets defensive back as James Hasty Pudding.
But Boomer is not the reason I'm including this clip. I'm including it because it includes a wildly eclectic mix of players, including the other Boomer -- Esiason, who was the Jets quarterback at the time, as well as Art Monk, the original Mark Ingram, Rob (Rod Tidwell) Moore, and Dan Marino doing Dan Marino things such as ripping off his chinstrap and throwing absolute lasers.
And I'm also including it because it's the game the Dolphins beat the Jets with the fake spike. I still cannot believe the Patriots lost to Pete Carroll. That's my grievance of the week, by the way, and probably will remain that way until Belichick gets another shot at the Khaki Koach again
ALTERNATE GRIEVANCE OF THE WEEK Wait, wait, I've got another one. Actually, this is a prologue to an inevitable grievance. You can bet Jim Nantz and Phil Simms are going to talk about the absence of Revis pretty much every time Brady completes a pass to a wide receiver. And what he brings, or brought, to the Jets should be acknowledged -- he's a great player. But his ability and contributions don't quite match the hype -- I believe ESPN referred to him as the best player in franchise history when he was injured, which is absurd given that Hall of Famer Curtis Martin ran for over 10,000 yards in his eight seasons in New York. Revis is talented, and he's had his moments, and they miss him, but let's put it this way -- I've never seen him have a game against the Patriots like Seattle's unsung Richard Sherman had last week.
COMPLETELY RANDOM FOOTBALL CARD
Jets running back Shonn Greene had the game of his NFL life last Sunday, running for 161 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts. He won't come close to that against the Patriots' stout run defense Sunday -- one-third of that output seems about right Sunday. But the Jets will need him, mostly because they don't have any other alternative. Backups Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight are injured. Tebow is supposed to see some time at running back, which is probably closer to his natural position than quarterback, but he's not exactly going to be John Riggins back there, or even Tim Riggins for that matter. Maybe Freeman McNeil is available?
PREDICTION, OR REX RYAN IS FAMILIAR WITH THE AGONY OF DEFEAT, AND LET'S SEE YOU BEAT THAT FEET REFERENCE, WELKER.
After whiffing on last week's prediction and enduring the well-deserved slings and arrows, it's tempting to get out of the prediction game. But then I thought, did we give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? And then I thought Shaughnessy probably has copy rights to references to "Animal House." And then I thought, aw, the hell with it, there's no way they're losing to the Jets and I'll get my redemption. So here it is: Mark Sanchez will surpass 82 yards passing for the first week in a row, Brady will surpass 82 yards in the first quarter, and the Patriots quarterback will improve to 17-5 career against the Jets with little drama. Patriots 37, Jets 13
(Last week's prediction: Patriots 31, Seahawks 13. Final score: Patriots Defensive Backs 24, Patriots 23. Season record: 3-3.)
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.