Here's a key matchup to watch in the divisional-round game between the Patriots and Jets:
Patriots TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski vs. Jets safeties Eric Smith and Brodney Pool
In the reinvented Patriots offense of 2010, Tom Brady turned a couple of rookie tight ends into legitimate playmakers in the league. The two combined for 87 catches for 1,109 yards and 16 touchdowns. Gronkowski was second among rookies and led the team with his 10 scores.
In the Week Two meeting at the New Meadowlands Stadium, Hernandez went off for 6-101 receiving, tearing apart the Jets' defense over the seam in favorable matchups. Gronkowski had just one catch for 14 yards. In the Week 13 beatdown in Foxborough, Hernandez had three catches for 51 yards, including a touchdown, and Gronkowski was held to just one grab for 12 yards.
Gronkowski is one of Brady's favorite targets in the red zone. At 6-foot-6, he posts up defenders to get position, whether it is for a first down or a touchdown. Hernandez is the athletic one who can beat you out of the slot and in the open field. He also has been the recipient of some end-around plays.
With a large focus from the Jets likely being on WRs Wes Welker and Deion Branch, considering those two had most of the receiving yards in Week 13, the safeties will have the tough task of covering the rookie tight ends. ILB Bart Scott could also factor into covering one of them. Without FS Jim Leonhard, Brady went after Smith in the Week 13 matchup, and if Smith winds up on Hernandez or Gronkowski, look for Brady to take advantage. The Jets' best cover men, CBs Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis, will be stuck keeping their eyes on the receivers, leaving the tight ends in advantageous situations for the Pats.
Pool, a 6-2, 214-pound hard-hitting safety, is the key. He can take the tight ends out of the equation, but look for Brady to avoid him and go after Smith or a linebacker, similarly to how he avoided Revis in Week 13.