Sunday, January 24, 2010

AFC Championship Prediction

Today is the day you've all impatiently been waiting for. I couldn't handle the anticipation, so I went down to Atlantic City to play poker all day because I couldn't think of anything else to take my mind off the game because I would just go nuts.

But enough about me, because I'm sure all of you have been thinking about this game all week. Sixty minutes to the Super Bowl. Sixty minutes to validating everything the Jets have done this season. Sixty minutes until proving that a non-conventional, old school football team can still win in this league. Sixty minutes to finally shutting up all the doubters who have constantly ragged on this football team (Mike Francesa and half of ESPN, I'm talking to you). Just sixty minutes.

Or more if there's overtime. But let's not think about that just yet. It will be hard enough to beat Peyton Manning and company for sixty minutes, much less more.

Look for this game to play out like most of the Jets games lately against high quality teams, meaning they will probably get off to a slow start. The Jets' gameplan is to keep the score down, control time of possession, and win the game late after grinding down the Colts' defense. The dome will be rocking early, so expect the offense to take time to feel its way into the game, just as it has lately.

The key will be surviving the first half within a score. Stay in the game. Keep that doubt in the Colts' heads. Remember, all the pressure is on them. They need to win this game to validate the asinine decision Bill Polian made to take out their key players the last two weeks of the season and cost the Colts not just a chance at a perfect season, but momentum as well. And Peyton Manning has lost many big games in the past: his postseason record rests at just 8-8, including a 41-0 blowout at Giants Stadium in the 2002 playoffs against the Jets.

If the Jets can stay within a score and head into the half with a score something like 13-7, the Jets will be ecstatic. Chances are, they will get the ball in the 2nd half, and from there, they will need to make a big play to swing the tide of the game and field position. Steve Weatherford's punt inside the five followed by Jim Leonhard's interception had that effect last game, and from there, doubt crept into the players' and fans' heads, and the Jets manhandled the Chargers from there. Gang Green will want to follow the same blueprint.

The chess match between Rex Ryan/Mike Pettine and Peyton Manning will be fascinating to watch. Manning was effective the first time around between these two teams, so the Jets will try to confuse him more this time around. It's almost impossible to sack him regularly, but you know the Jets will throw a bunch of different looks at him to try to force a turnover.

Offensively, Mark Sanchez is facing a Colts' defense which is good but not great. It held the Ravens to 3 points last week, but starting cornerback Jerraud Powers is doubtful, and Sanchez may be playing at a higher level than Joe Flacco, though not by much. Maybe the Jets take a shot deep against the rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey. We all know Braylon Edwards has the ability to get open deep, the question is whether or not he can catch the ball when it's thrown to him. The Jets also run the ball better, and they are committed to it. The Ravens managed over 4 yards per carry last week, but they got behind big early and had to abandon the run. If the Jets can stay in this game close enough where they can keep running the ball, they should have success there, especially late in the game.

One player who really needs to step up is Thomas Jones. Shonn Greene has gotten a ton of publicity lately and deservedly so, but Jones was the lead back all season, and he'll get a lot of carries in this one, and he needs to be better than he has been in the past two games. Greene will get his fair share of carries, but both backs need to be effective for the Jets to win this game.

And when it comes down to it, I do expect the Jets to win this game. There are such positive vibes around the Jets right now. They believe they can win, and they've been proving it lately. Indianapolis will be their toughest task all season, but they played them tough in week 16, and they've proven they're a 4th quarter team now. Why can't they pull out another late win? They're playing with much more confidence and at a much higher level. And right now, as cliche as it sounds, they seem like a team of destiny. Is that a way for a homer Jets fan to justify picking his team to go to the Super Bowl? Perhaps. This team doesn't have much margin for error, but what they do have is a formula that has been successful, and if that formula can work against San Diego, a team that many felt was the AFC favorite coming in, then it can work against Indianapolis, too.

Jets 20, Colts 16