The chance to earn back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history should be motivation enough, but the New York Jets will be entering Sunday's Divisional Playoff with the New England Patriots with a little additional incentive.
It was no contest when these two bitter rivals last squared off at New England's Gillette Stadium, with the division-champion Patriots dealing their fellow AFC East members a stunning 45-3 defeat on Dec. 6. The loss was the Jets' most lopsided in 24 years, dating back to a blowout at Miami by the same score on Nov. 24, 1986.
That victory was also part of an incredible tear of eight straight wins to close out the regular season for New England, which garnered the top overall seed for the AFC tournament and a bye for last weekend's Wild Card Round. The Patriots have beaten five 2010 postseason participants during the streak and scored at least 31 points in every game over that stretch.
The Jets, on the other hand, lost three times in a four-game span beginning with that Week 13 fiasco, but have since righted the ship. Gang Green tuned up for the playoffs with a 38-7 trouncing of Buffalo, then outlasted reigning AFC title-holder Indianapolis in a 17-16 squeaker in the opening round to advance as a sixth seed.
The recent surge appears to have given the brash Jets their trademark swagger back. The club produced plenty of headline material for the Gotham tabloids in the days leading up to Sunday's showdown, with head coach Rex Ryan terming the game "personal" between he and counterpart Bill Belichick and cornerback Antonio Cromartie declaring his disdain for Pats quarterback Tom Brady in an expletive-filled tirade.
New York backed up its words last week, keeping Peyton Manning and a dangerous Colts' offense at bay with a sound defensive strategy and a potent ground game that churned out 169 rushing yards, 95 of which came in the second half. Young quarterback Mark Sanchez shook off some early struggles to skillfully lead a late drive capped by kicker Nick Folk's go-ahead 32-yard field goal as time expired.
The Jets held Indianapolis to a modest 312 total yards and kept Manning and his charges out of the end zone over the final two quarters, but face a greater challenge on Sunday from the high-powered and precise Patriots, who amassed a league-best 518 points over the course of the 16-game schedule.
New England has averaged 37.4 points per game during its unbeaten run and committed only a single turnover in those eight outings. Brady hasn't thrown an interception in the team's last 11 tests and enters Sunday's matchup riding an NFL-record run of 335 consecutive pass attempts without a pick.
Brady carved up the Jets for 326 yards and four touchdowns on 21-of-29 passing in the Week 13 rout, but the leading MVP candidate was intercepted twice in a 28-14 loss to New York at the Meadowlands in early September.
The star signal-caller also owns a stellar 8-1 career playoff record at home, though that lone blemish did take place via a 33-14 loss to Baltimore in last year's Wild Card Round. That setback is also the Patriots' only one in their last 32 tilts at Gillette Stadium when Brady has been under center.
The Jets have their own strong track record in road games, however, having gone 14-6 as the visitor in Ryan's two-year tenure. That includes a trio of wins in postseason play.