EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Life without Gronk begins Thursday night for the Patriots here at MetLife Stadium, where Tom Brady and Co. will be looking for their second consecutive series sweep of Rex Ryan’s Jets.
This game marks the fifth time the Patriots will play on Thanksgiving (2-2 record). New England -- ranked first in the league in total offense -- is 4-0 in the AFC East and closing in on a 10th AFC East title in 12 years while the Jets' chances of playing in the postseason are dwindling.
Since the 2010 season, the Patriots are now a combined 18-0 in the second half of the regular season and with a win tonight, Bill Belichick will become the eighth coach in NFL history to record 200 wins. Brady is 17-5 vs. the Jets in his career as a starting QB.
Brady will miss injured tight end Rob Gronkowski, who leads the NFL with 37 touchdown catches since entering the league in 2010. The hope is that Brady’s other favorite target, Wes Welker, will help pick up the slack on the receiving end. Tight end Aaron Hernandez (ankle) is active tonight for the Patriots. The Patriots also hope to get added production from the tight end trio of Visanthe Shiancoe, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Daniel Fells in Gronkowski’s absence.
The Patriots' defense has 27 turnovers, including four last week, and leads the AFC. The secondary picked off Colts rookie QB Andrew Luck three times last week and returned two for touchdowns, including one by Aqib Talib in his Patriots debut. But the Patriots defense has also given up 289.7 passing yards per game, which ranks 30th in the AFC.
On the Jets side, much-maligned quarterback Mark Sanchez is coming off one of his best games of the season, beating the Rams last week in St. Louis by going 15-for-20 for 178 yards. Five weeks ago, Sanchez threw for 328 yards against New England and nearly rallied the Jets for a win.
On the defensive side of the ball, even without Darrelle Revis, the Jets rank fourth in pass defense, giving up less than 200 yards passing per game. Cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson have stepped up and been a force in the Jets secondary in Revis’s absence.
The Jets overall are healthier than they were the last time these two teams faced off in Foxborough. Linebacker Bart Scott is on the mend after suffering from turf toe for most of the season, and Bryan Thomas is recovered from an early season hamstring injury. Running back Bilal Powell is 100 percent after missing action with a shoulder injury and Joe McKnight’s ankle injury has almost fully healed. Nose tackle Sione Po'uha has returned after missing time with a lower back injury. Wide receiver Clyde Gates is also healthy after battling shoulder issues.
The Patriots' run defense -- ranked 10th overall in the NFL – will have to contend with a healthy trio of Jets running backs (Greene, McKnight and Powell).
Kickoff: 8:20 p.m.
Records: Patriots 7-3; Jets 4-6
Recent head-to-head: Patriots 29, Jets 26 (OT) on Oct. 21, 2012; Patriots 37, Jets 16 on Nov. 13, 2011. Series record: Patriots 54-52-1
TV/Radio info: WHDH-TV Ch. 7 (Al Michaels on play-by-play. Cris Collinsworth will provide the analysis for NBC); 98.5 FM The Sports Hub (Gil Santos, Scott Zolak).
Projected starting lineups:
Patriots offense: WR Wes Welker, LT Nate Solder, LG Donald Thomas, C Ryan Wendell, RG Dan Connolly, RT Marcus Cannon, TE Aaron Hernandez, WR Brandon Lloyd, QB Tom Brady, RB Danny Woodhead, RB Stevan Ridley.
Jets offense: WR Stephen Hill, LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson, LG Matt Slauson, C Nick Mangold, RG Brandon Moore, RT Austin Howard, TE Dustin Keller, WR Jeremy Kerley, QB Mark Sanchez, FB Lex Hilliard, RB Shonn Greene
Patriots defense: LE Rob Ninkovich, DT Vince Wilfork, DT Kyle Love, RE Jermaine Cunningham, LB Don’t’a Hightower, LB Jerod Mayo, CB Aquib Talib, CB Kyle Arrington, S Steve Gregory, S Devin McCourty
Jets defense: DE Muhammad Wilkerson, NT Sione Po’uha, T Mike DeVito, OLB Bryan Thomas, WILL Bart Scott, MIKE David Harris, OLB Calvin Pace, CB Kyle Wilson, CB Antonio Cromartie, S LaRon Landry/Eric Smith S Yeremiah Bell/Eric Smith
Patriots inactives: TE Rob Gronkowski, DE Chandler Jones, G Logan Mankins, CB Marquice Cole, RT Sebastian Vollmer, OL Markus Zusevics, DE Jake Bequette
Jets inactives: QB Greg McElroy, RB Kahlil Bell, DC Aaron Berry, DT Damon Harrison, C Caleb Schlauderaff, OG Hayworth Hicks, TE Hayden Smith
The National Anthem will be performed by the Newark Boys Chorus. Rocker Lenny Kravitz will provide the halftime entertainment.
Here's a list of Globe reporters to follow on Twitter during today's game:
Michael Whitmer (@GlobeWhitmer); Christopher L. Gasper (@cgasper); Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard); Shalise Manza Young (@ShaliseMYoung).
Enjoy the game. And Happy Thanksgiving!