Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham have been splitting games as the starting outside linebackers throughout this season. Ninkovich finished the season as the starter and had 2 sacks against the Buffalo Bills. He has sporadically shown playmaking ability at different times this year, the highlight being his 2 interception performance against Miami in week 6. Ninkovich had 4 sacks, 2 interceptions and 62 tackles on the season. He is definitely the forgotten man among the starting linebackers but has held up his end as a solid fit in Belichick's system.
Calvin Pace for the Jets has been a similar cog in the Jets system as he brings unspectacular reliability to the team. He posted his lowest sack total in 4 years with 5.5 after being suspended for the first 4 games of the season. Pace is not an explosive or fast player and lacks top level play-making ability which has resulted in him coming off the field often allowing Jason Taylor to take his place.
Guyton v Scott;
Gary Guyton has quickly become one of the elder statesmen of a very young defense. He has led by example through the whole year with consistent performances. Guyton is a fast hard hitting linebacker that is able to match-up to tight ends and play zone coverage expertly. He had 2 interceptions during the regular season returning the first for a touchdown. Guyton lost his starting job to Brandon Spikes during the season due to injury but reclaimed it once he returned. He is not a big statistical performer but like many of the Patriots defenders; he is reliable and a perfect fit in the Patriots' defense.
Bart Scott earned a huge contract from the Jets after years of brilliant dynamic performances in Baltimore. Scott has lost his ability to scare opposing players and has become nothing more than a run stuffing linebacker for the Jets. Scott is brilliant against the run but is slow and a weakness in coverage. He can no longer beat blockers and hunt down the quarterback or run the field stride for stride with a wide receiver. His instincts have not been lost as he aged but they are not good enough to cover his exposed flaws.
Mayo v Harris;
The two most important players for their respective defenses are both defensive captains and signal callers. Mayo is a roaming linebacker with great speed and instincts. He had a huge 175 tackles on the season which is a testament to his consistency. Similarly to Guyton, Mayo excels in zone coverage. He can match up with any opposing player and also dominate his gap as a run stuffer. Mayo is one of the best middle linebackers in the league and has shown great leadership as one of the youngest defensive signal callers. Mayo is a dynamic player that has no significant weaknesses.
David Harris is the little known but vital piece of the New York defense. Harris is a quiet leader that leads by example. He can stuff the run just as well as his teammate Bart Scott while playing coverage as seamlessly as Guyton or Mayo across the field. Statistically he didn't have a great season this year and his struggles have been a reflection of the defense as a whole. Harris importance to the defense cannot be overstated and his ability on the field will be evident no matter what his stat line reads.
Banta-Cain v Thomas;
The most significant difference between the Jets' front seven and the Patriots' front seven comes from this matchup. Banta-Cain brings an explosion and game changing ability that none of the Jets' players can contribute. Banta-Cain has been limited by injuries this season which has resulted in him starting only 6 games. Banta-Cain is a premier pass rusher who can create turnovers. He had 5 sacks and 1 forced fumble in his limited time this year. He can change games with his big plays and speed but is lacking in coverage and against the run. His pass rushing is exemplary to the point he can beat a blocker in many ways but will always struggle to be the whole package for the Patriots.
Bryan Thomas is not a big name for the Jets but is a solid performer. Like the rest of the Jets front seven he lacks great pace and explosion. He had 6 sacks in 14 starts this year but only 39 tackles. He is the weakest of the Jets linebackers against the run but the best starter(not including Jason Taylor) blitzer off the edge.
Rob Ninkovich Gary Guyton Jerod Mayo Tully Banta-Cain 6/10 7.5/10 9/10 8/10 Calvin Pace Bart Scott David Harris Bryan Thomas. 6.5/10 7/10 9/10 6/10