Atlanta Falcons (6-7) at New York Jets (7-6)
Sunday December 20, 1:00: CBS.
A day after a vicious nor'easter, the New York Jets will hope to grind out a victory against the reeling Atlanta Falcons. Mark Sanchez will make his return from a one game absence in what will likely be snowy circumstances. Both Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are questionable for the Falcons. Dallas's win Saturday night officially eliminated the Falcons from playoff contention, so they might lean on the side of caution. The Jets need this win in the worst way, and a team that wants to have the smash mouth attitude on offense and defense and be an all-weather team needs to take care of business.
When the Falcons have the ball...
Both Matt Ryan and Michael Turner are listed as game-time decisions, so whatever happens to them will have a big difference on both their gameplan on offense and the Jets attack on defense. Turner seems less likely to play than Ryan, but if the weather is really that bad, they could choose to hold both out. My guess is Ryan starts, and Turner doesn't, so I'll go with that assumption.
Turner is a bruising workhorse. His backups, Jason Snelling and Jerious Norwood, have different skillsets. Norwood is a home run threat every time he touches the ball, whereas Snelling is more versatile, as he can run inside, outside, catch the ball, and block. Their offensive line is getting healthier, but the Jets should be able to snuff out the Falcons' run game, especially considering they know that is exactly what Atlanta will want to do.
Passing the ball will be difficult in the wintry conditions, but when they do, you can bet Ryan or Chris Redman will be trying to get the ball to Roddy White. The Jets will counter with Darrelle Revis, who has been the best cornerback in the game this season. Both players will have their hands full, but Revis has won virtually all these battles this year, so this shouldn't be too much different.
The Falcons' other big weapon, who will probably have a big impact on this game, is tight end Tony Gonzalez. In a game that will stress the short passing game through the air, Gonzalez is a great security blanket. The Jets may put Kerry Rhodes on Gonzalez, as Rhodes has the skillset to play with the future Hall of Famer.
This snow and wind will knock down both offenses, but the Jets' defense didn't need a whole lot of help. With Ryan and Turner both either out or less than 100%, the Jets should be able to dominate a Falcons' offense that has been inconsistent all season long.
When the Jets have the ball...
Mark Sanchez will be making his return, so all the attention will be on whether he can manage the game and manage the weather well enough to give the Jets a must-win victory. His first bad-weather game against Buffalo went horribly wrong, so look for the Jets to dial it down, especially with Sanchez coming off an injury.
That means a heavy dose of Thomas Jones, and a similar gameplan to last week against Tampa. Don't let the quarterback lose you the football game. That strategy was employed last week because the Buccaneers were inept and because Kellen Clemens was starting. This week, they again won't fully trust the quarterback, but the weather will have a lot to do with it.
Jones will get more carries on Sunday than he will in any game all season most likely. Shonn Greene has shown to have a fumbling problem in his rookie season, and that is simply unacceptable at this stage of the season with the magnitude of the games. So Jones will get the ball a lot, and look for Brad Smith to get an expanded package in the Wildcat/Seminole/MizzouTiger formation, getting direct snaps, and running the football from there. It's another offensive wrinkle to run the football out of, and it's a way to keep Sanchez from taking hits or from turning the ball over.
When the Jets do throw the ball, they probably won't take many chances. Dustin Keller, Braylon Edwards, and Jerricho Cotchery will do what they can to move the chains against a pretty bad secondary. The Jets receivers could win the one on one matchups outside, but it's unlikely that Brian Schottenheimer gives them many opportunities to make plays, and that should be fine.
The Jets are the number one team in the NFL when it comes to rushing the football, so there's no reason to get cute here. Give the ball to your workhorse, sprinkle in Greene, Smith, and Danny Woodhead, who has become the team's 3rd down back. The emphasis will be on taking care of the football, and putting enough points on the board to complement the defense. The Falcons' defense has been very mediocre this year, and the offense won't put up big points, but they should be able to control time of possession, and that's what Rex Ryan wants.
The Falcons' kicking game had been a mess with Jason Elam kicking. Now, former Buc Matt Bryant has the job after his UFL gig ended, and he's been a precise kicker throughout his career even though he doesn't have a strong leg. . Eric Weems has been an effective returner since getting the job, but he hasn't scored yet. None of the Jets' returners have done that well all year, but Jay Feely has been a very accurate kicker. That will be vital Sunday. Steve Weatherford and Michael Koenen are both average punters who will have to deal with the tough conditions. Koenen has the stronger leg; Weatherford is more accurate.
The Jets' defense should be able to impose its will on the Falcons' offense. The Jets will put Revis on White and dare either an injured Ryan or a backup Redman to beat them. The run defense has been stout since a couple of letdowns earlier in the year. The big question will be if the offense can put points on the board. If they can run physically impose their will on the Falcons and blow them out, that could be a confidence builder heading into Indianapolis next week. They will run the football as they have done every week all year, and they should be able to overmatch Atlanta.
Jets 20, Falcons 3