Monday, November 29, 2010

The Significance of Monday's Jets-Patriots game

The Jets and the Patriots provide one of the NFL's best rivalries every time they step on the field. But rarely does this rivalry have the significance of the game next Monday night in Foxboro.

With both teams at 9-2 with just 4 games to go after this game, whoever wins the game will be in the AFC East driver's seat. If it's the Jets, they would essentially have a two game lead on the Patriots. A Patriots win would give them the lead with a slightly easier schedule to come, so it would be very difficult for the Jets to make up the ground necessary.

Jets' remaining schedule: MIA, @PIT, @CHI, BUF (24-20)
Patriots' remaining schedule: @CHI, GB, @BUF, MIA (23-21)

The winner of this game would move to 10-2 and have the inside track on the division AND the conference. The winner of the AFC East and the winner of the AFC North will fight it out for the no. 1 seed in the AFC. Pittsburgh and Baltimore, both 8-3, battle this week, so that division will have a lot more clarity after this week as well. If Baltimore wins, they would own the tiebreaker over New York. The Steelers-Jets tiebreaker will be determined on December 19 when the two teams meet in Pittsburgh.

But none of that matters if the Jets can't win this week. If the Jets don't win the division, they would be the no. 5 or no. 6 seed in the playoffs, looking at a likely trip to Indianapolis or San Diego (unless Jacksonville and Kansas City can really hang onto their division titles).

If the Jets lose, all hope is not lost for the division, but with the schedules listed above, it won't be easy. The best case scenario for the Jets, assuming they ran the table in their last four (no easy assumption) would be if the Patriots dropped either the game against Buffalo or Miami. That way, the Jets would win the division through the divisional record tiebreaker. The next tiebreaker after that, common games, is irrelevant because the only two non-common games the two teams played had the same result (wins). After that comes conference record, which the Jets would win right now, since one of their two losses is against an NFC opponent (Green Bay).

But all that assumes the Jets can sweep two remaining divisional games, as well as beat two tough teams in Pittsburgh and Chicago on the road. The Jets need to treat this Patriots game as their Super Bowl for the time being. Jets fans haven't had a chance to see a home playoff game since the 41-0 destruction of Peyton Manning and the Colts in January, 2003. Beat the Patriots, and chances are, the Jets will be hosting the divisional round at the New Meadowlands Stadium after enjoying a week off.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

NFL Picks - Week 12

We're creeping ever closer to the end of the season, and my picks are falling off as the weeks go on. A 1-2 week last week drops me to 17-12-1. Still 5 over .500, which is nice, but my goal was for at least 30 wins, and I need to start picking winners for that to happen.

Oakland -2.5 over Miami
Oakland is a hard team to trust, but with Tyler Thigpen at quarterback and flying all the way across the country, the Raiders are the pick here. Pittsburgh ran up the score on Oakland last week after Richard Seymour hit Ben Roethlisberger in the face. But the Raiders actually have the better quarterback and the better running game. Throw in the lack of Brandon Marshall in Miami, and the Dolphins just simply aren't as good as the Raiders. Give me the home team giving less than a field goal.
Raiders 24, Dolphins 16

Jacksonville +7.5 over New York Giants
The Jaguars are playing better football than you think. Somehow, they lead the AFC South at 6-4 and are on a three game winning streak. The Giants look more impressive on paper, despite their 6-4 record, which is why they are favored by so much, but the best playmaker in their offense, Hakeem Nicks, is out. Without Nicks and Steve Smith, the Giants' offense isn't that scary. Eli Manning has thrown a lot of passes off his receivers' hands for interceptions, and that could continue with unproven players like Derek Hagan and Duke Calhoun getting extensive playing time. Both teams will want to run the ball and control the clock. The Giants are better at the point of attack, but their offense won't be able to pull away.
Giants 19, Jaguars 14

Cleveland +10.5 over Carolina
The Browns are a solid football team. They've played hard under Eric Mangini. But they still aren't talented enough to give double digit points to anybody. Jake Delhomme is back at quarterback against his former team. He's more likely to turn the ball over against the Panthers than Colt McCoy would have been. Carolina's defense isn't that bad. It's the offense that is atrocious. But the running game has improved over the last couple of weeks. The Panthers were actually competitive last week for a while. Unlike Baltimore, Cleveland doesn't have the playmakers to pull away and make it a late blowout.
Browns 17, Panthers 10

Friday, November 26, 2010

Jets Feast on Bengals, 26-10 on Thanksgiving

It wasn't always pretty, but the Jets used a big 2nd half to cruise past the Cincinnati Bengals 26-10.

The first half performance was forgettable at best, as the team left to boos down 7-3 to the lowly Bengals (2-9). But as usual, the Jets received the ball in the 2nd half. From there, they proceeded to dominate the football game and put it out of reach.

Brad Smith was the hero in this one. Smith had a 53-yard touchdown run on an end-around early in the 3rd quarter to give the Jets the lead back rather quickly. The defense forced a three-and-out, but Sanchez threw an awful interception to Rey Maualuga. Luckily, Bengals kicker Aaron Pettrey missed the field goal. The Jets went three-and-out again, but the ensuing punt grazed Bengals WR Andre Caldwell's leg, and James Ihedigbo was alert enough to dive on the ball. Two plays later, Sanchez found Santonio Holmes in the endzone for a 13-yard strike.

The rest of the game was an offensive struggle for both sides. Both defenses capitalized on field position, with the Bengals blocking a punt from the Jets' 1-yard line, setting up a short field goal. But Smith quickly answered with an 89-yard kick return for a touchdown, giving the Jets a 14 point lead. Then midway through the 4th quarter, the Jets sacked Carson Palmer in the endzone for a safety, essentially icing the game with 6:52 left.

This game wasn't perfect, especially offensively, but the defense showed up in a big way in the 2nd half. The Bengals had just 163 total yards of offense and Palmer had two interceptions. Smith and Ihedigbo also made big plays on special teams.

But the offense was a problem. Sanchez had a poor game, going 16 for 28 for just 166 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. However, he left a lot of plays on the field by making poor throws, and as a result, the Jets failed to string too many drives together and only scored on one of their two red zone opportunities.

The Jets opted to play conservatively, keeping the ball on the ground and keeping the Bengals' offense off the field. Shonn Greene, Brad Smith, and LaDainian Tomlinson combined for 174 yards rushing. Neither Greene nor Tomlinson averaged 4 yards per carry, but they consistently would gain at least a couple. Smith's 53-yard touchdown pads those numbers a bit as well.

Next is New England. The defense appears mostly ready for them, but is the offense? The passing game wasn't in sync, and the rushing game was mostly average. And the penalties keep continuing: 8 for 64 yards in this game. Still, as good teams need to do, they did enough in the 2nd half not only to win, but win comfortably. Kind of like the Patriots earlier in the day, who, like the Jets, trailed at halftime, only to win by double digits.

With both the Jets and Patriots at 9-2, the winner takes command of this division with just four games to go after it. If the Jets win it, they would also own the tiebreaker, giving them a dominant lead. But the Patriots are dominant in Foxboro. This is going to be the most important regular season game before Christmas in years. The Jets better be ready.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Jets vs Bengals preview

New York Jets (8-2) vs Cincinnati Bengals (2-8)
Thursday, November 25, 2010
New Meadowlands Stadium
Line: Jets -8.5

After yet another roller coaster victory, the New York Jets hope to put together a more convincing performance on Thanksgiving day and give their fans something to be thankful for. The Bengals are coming off a second half collapse at home to the Buffalo Bills, allowing 35 points in the 2nd half alone. The Bengals have nothing to play for at this point, but in front of a national audience, they should show up and play pretty hard. If the Jets are looking ahead to next week's epic showdown with New England, they could potentially be picked off.

When the Bengals have the ball..
The Bengals have transformed from a run-heavy offense to a pass-first offense this season. Much of that has to do with the addition of the mercurial Terrell Owens. T.O. has been a revelation this year with his personal play, but the team results have been awful. And with Chad Ochocinco on the other side wanting his fair share of passes, it's no surprise that Owens and Ochocinco have combined for 211 targets in the first 10 games. By contrast, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, and Jerricho Cotchery combine for 190. When Palmer goes back to pass, it's usually to one of his top two receivers. And that's good news for this Jets' defense.

It's no secret that the biggest strength of this defense is the cornerback play. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie is the best cornerback tandem in the league. It's the rest of the pass defense that has let the Jets down this season. If Palmer forces the ball to his top two receivers, who will almost certainly be covered by the Jets' dynamic duo, he'll have a tough time moving the ball. Slot receiver Jordan Shipley and rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham are nice secondary targets. If Palmer tries to exploit mismatches against the Jets' safeties, linebackers, and other cornerbacks, he'll have more success.

Unless, of course, the Jets don't give him time to make all of his progressions. That hasn't been the case this season. The Jets keep blitzing, but they have barely provided any pressure all season. The Bengals' offensive line is poor. While Palmer hasn't gotten sacked a ton this year, good defenses have been able to apply pressure and force mistakes. Revis and Cromartie are good enough to capitalize on those mistakes, if the Jets can find a way to get in Palmer's face.

That offensive line has also failed to create many holes for Cedric Benson. After resurrecting his career last season, Benson only averages 3.7 yards-per-carry this season. The Jets have been great against the run all season long, including last week for the most part against Arian Foster. The Jets allow just 90.3 yards-per-game on the ground and 3.5 yards-per-carry. Cincinnati also doesn't make big gains on the ground, and the Jets have only allowed 4 runs of over 20 yards (none over 40), so that probably won't start now.

This game could become a blowout if the Jets can start forcing turnovers. That's been a problem for this year, especially getting interceptions. The defense has forced 9 fumbles this year, tied for the NFL lead but just 5 interceptions, 2nd worst in the NFL. That's been the missing element of this defense for two years, and rather than improve, it's become a bigger problem. The biggest reason for that is the lack of a pass rush (just 17 sacks all season, 26th in the NFL). That's the key to this game for Gang Green: figure out how to get the pass rush working again, so Tom Brady doesn't have all day to sit in the pocket next week, and Palmer locks down on his main target this week.

When the Jets have the ball...
During the Bengals' 6 game losing streak, they've allowed 22 or more points every week. This past week was the worst showing of the year by this defense, allowing 35 2nd half points to the Bills at home. It's very possible this defense has quit and will throw in the towel if the Jets start of strong. The pass defense, led by cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, are strong, but the Bengals may have the worst pass rush in the NFL. Sanchez should have time to make his reads and find the open man.

Cincinnati's run defense is just as bad. The linebackers are fairly slow and undisciplined, so the Jets should get back on track on the ground. The Bengals allow 4.4 yards-per-carry and the most 20+ yard runs in the NFL (13). Only one has broken for more than 40 yards, but it just shows the Jets can get to the 2nd level when running the ball. Look for the Jets to try to run the ball a little more early this week, even getting Brad Smith involved in the Wildcat. It was extremely successful last year against the Bengals, so it's definitely worth trying again this time around. Shonn Green and LaDainian Tomlinson will also take turns getting their shots at this defense.

Sanchez will have to take care of the ball, though. Cincinnati has 12 interceptions on the year, and Hall and Joseph can make plays on receivers. But they aren't shut-down cornerbacks, so Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes will win their share of battles. Sanchez had one of the best games of the season last year in the playoffs against the Bengals, getting Dustin Keller involved a lot. Keller has been largely forgotten over the past several weeks. This could be a good time to unleash him again.

But the Jets must first convert their drives into touchdowns, not field goals. The Jets have been poor in the red zone all year at getting 7 instead of 3, and that's something that must improve, especially with next week's showdown with New England on the schedule. The Jets have enough weapons. It's just a matter of playcalling and execution.

At first I was worried about a letdown for the Jets, looking ahead to New England. But this Bengals team has all but given up, and the Jets are a terrible matchup for them. They have the cornerbacks to beat Ochocinco and Owens, and while the pass rush hasn't been good, the Jets will send enough numbers to fluster Palmer a little bit. Meanwhile, after Cedric Benson ran all over the Jets in the playoffs last season, you can bet the Jets will be ready for him, despite his subpar year. The Bengals defense has not been very good this year, and the Jets are almost certain to score 20+ points. And if they get ahead, this Bengals team is likely to implode like last week.
Jets 27, Bengals 13

Monday, November 22, 2010

Another week, another stunner: Jets shock Texans 30-27

Another week, another improbable victory

After blowing a 16 point 4th quarter lead, Mark Sanchez found Santonio Holmes in the endzone with 10 seconds remaining to give the Jets a 30-27 victory.

For most of the game, it looked like the Jets were the better team, but not by enough to get a comfortable lead. The Jets failed to convert in the red zone in two of their three first half opportunities, only giving themselves a 13-7 lead at the break. When Sanchez found Holmes for a 41-yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter, it looked like things might finally be easy. The Jets took a 23-7 lead early in the 4th quarter, and it looked like the Jets would win fairly comfortably.

Not so fast. Houston marched down the field quickly to kick a field goal. Then Shonn Greene fumbled. All of a sudden, Joel Dreessen was running wide open down the left sideline into the endzone, and it was a 6 point game. With nearly a touchdown lead, the Jets still had their chances, but a special teams penalty put the Jets back at their own 9 yardline, and the offense was soon forced to punt.

The Texans got the ball back needing a touchdown, down by 6 with 6:09 to go. In 7 plays, Matt Schaub efficiently moved the ball 62 yards to the Jets' 11 yardline. Arian Foster took care of it from there, punching the ball into the endzone with 2:18 left.

Needing just one point with two time outs left, the Jets still had a great chance to win. But another special teams penalty pinned the Jets back at their own 23. Two plays later, Sanchez was hurried and threw an ill-advised interception to linebacker Kevin Bentley. With just two time outs left and the two minute warning past, it looked dire for the Jets. But the defense held, limiting Houston to a field goal.

With 49 seconds left, Sanchez took over. He twice checked down to Tomlinson to get chunks of yardage, to get into Texan territory. After an incompletion, Sanchez found a streaking Edwards down the sideline for a huge 42 yard gain to set the Jets up with a chance. The next play, Sanchez hit Holmes on a well-timed fade in the endzone to win the game.

It shouldn't have come down to that. That's obvious. But good teams find ways to win games they have no business winning. The Jets should have won this game easily with a 16 point lead in the 4th quarter, but after blowing it, the team had the cool to find a way back and find a way to win the game. Houston is a team that has a history of blowing games late. The Jets used to. Today showed the Jets may have finally moved past that.

The communication issues on defense need to be fixed. There have been problems all year long with blown coverages, with today's game having the most blatant one all year when Dreessen was left wide open. That simply can't happen. Neither can Schaub's next drive, where he took his team 73 yards without even having to deal with a 3rd down.

This also marks the 5th straight game the Jets failed to get an interception. For a defense that wants to make big plays, they make very few. They forced another fumble today, but opposing quarterbacks are rarely pressured, so they continue to have time to make precise throws against the Jets' secondary. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie are great cornerbacks, but without pressure, it's hard for either to make interceptions, and it's easier for quarterbacks to check down to other options.

The offense also has its fair share of issues, particularly in the running game. Sanchez again was hit and miss in the passing game, but when the game was on the line, he delivered again. Against the worst pass defense in the NFL, he should be putting up good numbers though.

The bigger issue is the lack of a running game. Greene and Tomlinson combined for just 78 yards on 27 carries, and Greene's fumble today caused this game to turn. He doesn't fumble enough where he's earned a big reputation as a fumbler, but that is his 2nd this year. Tomlinson made some plays in the passing game, but there just weren't many holes to run through.

Damien Woody's absence was clearly felt. He injured his MCL early in the game. Backup Wayne Hunter was an obvious downgrade, but the line still needs to do a better job creating holes. If Woody misses significant time, that's a big blow. He isn't ruling himself out for the Thanksgiving game against the Bengals, but considering he didn't return to the game Sunday and the short week of rest, it would seem unlikely he would suit up.

Despite all the warts, the Jets played very well in spurts. Both sides of the ball are creating as many questions as they are answering, but despite it all, the Jets still have the best record in the NFL at 8-2. Unfortunately, New England keeps winning also, beating Indianapolis Sunday. The two teams are on a collision course for that game Monday December 6th. Like the Jets, the Patriots will play on Thanksgiving, traveling to Detroit. If both teams take care of business Thursday, that game will likely decide the division, especially if the Jets win and sweep the season series. However, if the Jets don't play better, and play for all 60 minutes, they probably won't be able to beat New England.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Week 11 NFL Picks

After a 1-2 week, my record stands at 16-10-1. Time to end my mini cold streak with 3 winners this week.

Lions +6.5 over Cowboys

Detroit has a ridiculously long road losing streak, but this is a fade on Dallas instead of a ringing endorsement of the Lions. Dallas should not be a touchdown favorite on anyone at this point. Calvin Johnson should make enough plays to keep this close, and Dallas has no answer for Ndamukong Suh.

Detroit 24, Dallas 21

San Diego -9.5 over Denver

Coming off a bye, the Chargers are due for a dominant performance. Offensively and defensively, San Diego has great numbers. Denver can throw the ball, but on the road, their defense will get torched. Look for Philip Rivers to put up a big number.

Chargers 38, Broncos 24

Oakland +7.5 over Pittsburgh

The Steelers have no offensive line, and Oakland is hot. The bye is a good thing for the Raiders, who needed to get Nnamdi Asomugha, Louis Murphy, and Zach Miller all healthy. The Raiders won this matchup last year and should have a chance this year. At the very least, they will keep it within the number.

Steelers 20, Raiders 17

Week 11 NFL Picks

After a 1-2 week, my record stands at 16-10-1. Time to end my mini cold streak with 3 winners this week.

Lions +6.5 over Cowboys

Detroit has a ridiculously long road losing streak, but this is a fade on Dallas instead of a ringing endorsement of the Lions. Dallas should not be a touchdown favorite on anyone at this point. Calvin Johnson should make enough plays to keep this close, and Dallas has no answer for Ndamukong Suh.

Detroit 24, Dallas 21

San Diego -9.5 over Denver

Coming off a bye, the Chargers are due for a dominant performance. Offensively and defensively, San Diego has great numbers. Denver can throw the ball, but on the road, their defense will get torched. Look for Philip Rivers to put up a big number.

Chargers 38, Broncos 24

Oakland +7.5 over Pittsburgh

The Steelers have no offensive line, and Oakland is hot. The bye is a good thing for the Raiders, who needed to get Nnamdi Asomugha, Louis Murphy, and Zach Miller all healthy. The Raiders won this matchup last year and should have a chance this year. At the very least, they will keep it within the number.

Steelers 20, Raiders 17

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Houston Texans at New York Jets Preview

Houston Texans (4-5) at New York Jets (7-2)
Sunday November 21, 2010, 1:00 PM EST
New Meadowlands Stadium
Line: Jets -7

After back-to-back close road wins, the Jets return home hoping to give the home fans something to cheer about. While the Jets feel a little lucky after the close calls, the Texans are anything but. Houston is coming off a loss on a Hail Mary on the last play of the game to Jacksonville. Now at 4-5, the Texans' season is on the brink of collapse. The Jets hammered the Texans week one last year in Houston, so they will be looking for revenge, too.

When the Texans have the ball...
Houston remains one of the more potent offensive teams in the NFL. Arian Foster leads the NFL in rushing, averaging 5.3 yards-per-carry in the process. He's the focal point of the Texans' offense, which has undergone a shift to a more run-oriented unit. Foster also has 10 touchdowns this year, making him a prolific point scorer.

Foster will meet his match in the Jets' run defense. Nobody has rushed for 100 yards on the Jets since Maurice Jones-Drew last season, so the odds are stacked against Foster, who has rushed for over 100 yards in five of his nine games. He's a big back at 6-1, 227, and he has deceptive speed and one-cut ability that fits the Texans offense perfectly. However, the only time he faced a good run defense all year, the Giants shut him down to the tune of 25 yards on 11 carries. The Texans were forced to abandon the run early in that game, but the way they play defense, that happens a lot.

When Houston does throw the ball, Andre Johnson is typically on the receiving end. Johnson may be the best receiver in the game today after leading the league in receiving yards back to back years. However, just as the Jets have an answer for Foster, they certainly have one for Johnson, with star cornerback Darrelle Revis finally back at peak form. Johnson had just 35 yards against Revis last year, and the Texans' passing offense isn't nearly on last year's prolific pace. The Jets will put Revis on Johnson all game long, but unless Foster gets going early, Revis will probably have safety help a lot, as the Texans' supporting cast hasn't really stepped up.

With tight end Owen Daniels out, the Texans' other weapons are Kevin Walter, Jacoby Jones, and tight end Joel Dreessen. Walter is a big possession receiver but not a gamebreaker. Jones was expected to take a step up this year, but he's been a disappointment. At 6-2, 210 with blazing speed, Jones is a threat, but he's not a good route runner, and he's been dropping way too many passes this year. Dreessen was a former Jet draft pick who is your run-of-the-mill tight end. Nobody here really is that scary.

Last year, the Texans struggled to get anything going against the Jets. While Foster adds a new dimension to the offense, the rest of the team hasn't really been clicking. Quarterback Matt Schaub hasn't been bad this year, but he's not an elite quarterback. If the Jets can successfully negate Johnson and Foster, Schaub will have a very long day. It will be no easy task, especially if the Jets struggle offensively and keep the Texans in the game, but this should be a great matchup for this Jets' defense.

When the Jets have the ball...
New York has been a mess offensively this year. Mark Sanchez has been up-and-down and the running game isn't what it was last season, but despite all that, the Jets still average over 23 points-per-game. Houston, on the other hand, has been the elixir that cures all opposing teams' offensive woes. The Texans may be the worst defensive team in the NFL. Opponents average the 2nd most points per game, the 2nd most yards per game, and the 2nd most yards per play against Houston's defense.

Most of that futility comes from the pass defense. Opposing quarterbacks average over 300 yards passing per game, with 22 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions. Sanchez must be licking his chops to see what Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes can do against this Texans' defense. Both receivers should be able to get open at will. Look for Holmes to continue to break out, as his quickness and ability to run quick slants and get open will cause nightmares for the Texans defense.

Look for the Jets to throw the ball early and often and try and get an early lead. That's the best way to beat Houston. And it won't just be with the receivers on the outside. Houston has allowed over 100 more yards to opposing tight ends than anyone in football. Dustin Keller will be able to get separation and make some plays.

The Jets still will run the ball, but more in the 2nd half to wear down the Texans once they have the lead. The Texans allow 4.1 yards-per-carry on the season, so they aren't terrible against the run. They also haven't allowed a 40+ yard run all season, so it's unlikely the Jets break open a huge run. Still, the Jets should have some success. And just as the Texans don't force turnovers in the passing game, they have only forced one fumble all season to opposing runners. Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson won't have breakout games this week, but they should be able to have success and move the ball when they have to.

The "playmaker" on Houston's defense is Mario Williams. The former #1 overall pick is a physical specimen who often commands a double team, but Houston doesn't have enough talent to make plays when Williams is bottled up. D'Brickashaw Ferguson is one of the best pass blocking left tackles in the NFL, and he'll have to be up for the challenge.

The Jets should be able to throw the ball pretty well on Houston. Everyone has. The question will be how well Sanchez plays. If he's on his game, this will get ugly. If he's inaccurate and making poor decisions, the Texans have enough offense to keep this close. But there should be plays to be made on the field. He just has to make the throws accurately and not turn the ball over. Typically, that goal is easier said than done, but against this defense, he should be able to have a very good game.

The Jets have been winning close games, while the Texans have been losing them. But Houston's last game could demoralize them. With a 4-5 record, their season is slipping away, and this has never been a team known for its mental toughness. The Jets want to come in and out-physical teams and assert their willpower. The Texans are a team that can wilt when things start going wrong. There are a few stars on this team who can make plays. But the Jets should have the personnel to neutralize them. Look for the Jets to get an early lead and have one of their more comfortable wins of the season.
Jets 31, Texans 13

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NFL Playoff Picture: Week 11 Edition

The byes are over, and now every team has played 9 games. Let's take a look at this previous week and how the results went for the Jets.

Jets 26, Browns 20 - A big AFC win for the Jets. At 7-2, Gang Green is tied for the best record in the NFL, but if they aren't careful, they can slip to the #5 seed. That's because of the next score on this list.

Patriots 39, Steelers 26 - New England and New York are going to go wire-to-wire to determine who wins this division. The Jets hold the tiebreakers now with a 3-0 divisional record and a head-to-head win over the Patriots, but if New England beats the Jets on Monday, December 6th, both those tiebreaker advantages immediately disappear. Pittsburgh on the road was arguably the most difficult game on the Pats' schedule, so winning it now puts the pressure back on the Jets. For the Jets to win the division, they will most likely need a win over either the Steelers or the Patriots on the road, both difficult tasks. If the Jets do win the division, however, Pittsburgh's loss helps a little, as it drops them to 6-3, a game behind the Jets.

Dolphins 29, Titans 17 - A huge win for the Dolphins. They lost both of their quarterbacks, but Tyler Thigpen isn't much of a downgrade. Miami was all but done with a loss here. While their playoff hopes are still in deep trouble considering their two game deficit and head-to-head losses to the Jets and Patriots at home, the Dolphins will have chances against both their AFC East rivals later in the season. Both games will be on the road, but with three winnable games coming up before traveling to the Meadowlands, you can't count out the Dolphins just yet. Tennessee had an outside shot at getting a bye in the playoffs, but at 4 losses, they now need to win out to have a chance.

Falcons 26, Ravens 21 - This result and the Patriots' result ensured that the only two 2-loss teams in the AFC were the Patriots and Jets. This was the best result of the week for the Jets as the Ravens already hold the tiebreaker between the two teams. Baltimore still has to battle with the Steelers for the division title. Right now, the Ravens hold the tiebreaker with the head-to-head win. Regardless, the Jets want to remain ahead of the Ravens because of that week one result, whether it's for seeding or for a wild card spot.

Colts 23, Bengals 17 - If the Jets want a bye week, the Colts will be a factor. At 6-3, the Jets are a game ahead right now, but you can never count out Peyton Manning.

So let's look at the standings.

AFC East (overall, division, conference)

New York: 7-2,  3-0, 6-2
Remaining Opponents: HOU, CIN, @NE, MIA, @PIT, @CHI, BUF
4 games home, 3 games away
Combined Record: 31-32

Having edged out the Browns last week, the Jets now have two games in a row at home against teams they have no excuse losing to. If the Jets get to 9-2 as expected, they should be a lock for the playoffs. While the schedule gets much more difficult the next few weeks, a home game against the Bills in week 17 should be an easy win, putting the Jets at 10 wins and likely into the playoffs. If the Jets split the other four games, they have a good chance of winning the division. If one of those wins are against New England, and the Jets get to 12-4, the Patriots would have to win the rest of their games for the Jets not to win the AFC East.

New England Patriots: 7-2, 2-1, 6-2
Remaining Opponents: IND, @DET, NYJ, @CHI, GB, @BUF, MIA
4 games home, 3 games away
Combined Record: 33-30

With the Steelers out of the way, the Patriots' schedule doesn't look as daunting as it did previously. The three toughest tests on the schedule are all at home, where the Patriots rarely lose. However, there are only two teams you can classify as pushovers, and the Lions aren't that bad at home. If the Patriots win this week, the Jets-Patriots game should essentially decide the AFC East. If the Jets win, they own the tiebreaker and a one game lead, assuming both teams win the next two games. From that point, the Patriots have a slightly easier schedule, but with four games left, it would be very difficult for the Pats to leapfrog the Jets.

Miami Dolphins: 5-4, 1-2, 3-4
Remaining Opponents: CHI, @OAK, CLE, @NYJ, BUF, DET, @NE
4 games home, 3 games away
Combined Record: 31-34

Miami can ill-afford to lose any games the rest of the season. Losing tonight to Chicago won't end their season, since it's an NFC loss, but after that, the Dolphins pretty much need to run the table. With four losses already, all in conference and two within the division, they have a steep uphill climb. But with games still on the schedule against the two teams ahead of him, the Dolphins have a chance to pass them. It's unlikely the Dolphins get the wins they need on the road in December, but if they do, the rest of their games are all winnable, particularly when Buffalo and Detroit come to Miami between the two divisional games.

It's all still a little too complicated to look at seeding, but for argument's sake, here is the race for the #1 seed in the AFC.

1. New York Jets: 7-2, 5-1
2. New England Patriots: 7-2, 6-2
3. Baltimore Ravens: 6-3, 6-2
4. Indianapolis Colts: 6-3, 4-2
5. Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-3, 4-2
6. Oakland Raiders: 5-4, 3-2

The Jets will have head-to-head tiebreaker possibilities with New England, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh. The Jets already beat the Pats once, but they will play again later in the year. Same goes for Baltimore over Pittsburgh, except the rematch will be in Baltimore. That's bad news for the Jets, who don't have the tiebreaker over the Ravens after Baltimore's win in week one. The Jets-Steelers week 15 matchup will determine who holds that tiebreaker.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reflection: Jets hang on to beat Browns 26-20

Another week, another tight road victory. Except this time the script was flipped, as the Jets blew a late 20-13 lead only to pull the game out in overtime 26-20.

The game probably shouldn't have come down to overtime, after kicker Nick Folk missed three of his five field goal attempts, including a 47-yarder in overtime that would have won the game with 4:51 to spare. Instead, the Jets needed 14:44 of the 15 minutes allotted in overtime to find the game-winning points on a strike from Mark Sanchez to Santonio Holmes.

Sanchez's day was up-and-down again, but he showed pocket presence and escapability to make big plays late in the game to help the Jets win. He almost wasn't around to play the end of the game after he hurt his right calf on a sack in the 4th quarter. But despite the injury, he made some big plays escaping the rush, including a first down strike in overtime to Jerricho Cotchery, who made a great diving catch, which was made more spectacular by the fact that he injured his groin earlier in the play, only to dive and make the catch when Sanchez called on him.

Once again, the game was put on Sanchez's shoulders late as the Jets were only average running the ball. Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson combined for 38 carries for 129 yards but didn't break open any plays longer than 10. Brad Smith was a healthy change-of-pace, totaling 39 yards on his 5 carries behind center.

Sanchez spread the wealth throwing the ball, finding eight different receivers, with Cotchery and Holmes catching touchdown passes. Braylon Edwards added 59 yards on 4 catches in his return to Cleveland. He was booed every time he was near the ball by the Browns fans who clearly don't forget the way things ended for him in Cleveland.

The defense, for the most part, was solid. The Browns posed an interesting challenge to the Jets. The Browns don't rely on their receivers that much, so Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie were barely factors. But one of the few times a receiver did make a play, former Jet Chansi Stuckey fumbled along the sideline in Jets' territory in overtime, giving the Jets new life.

While the defense was able to force a big turnover in overtime, the way the Jets reacted to taking a 7-point lead with 2:35 to go was poor. The kickoff was returned all the way to the 41 yardline, when McCoy went to work. He completed four passes to first downs to his tight ends before finding Mohamed Massaquoi on a quick slant in the endzone to tie the game.

Then, instead of going for a score with 35 seconds left and three time outs, the Jets sat on the ball and opted for overtime. Sanchez attempted one pass, then handed off to Tomlinson for 5 yards and went into the break. I understand not wanting to give the Browns another chance, but running just two plays when all you need is about 35 yards to have a chance was a poor decision by the Jets' brass.

The Jets once again won the coinflip in overtime, but this time, the offense couldn't strike on the first drive. Cleveland went down to the Jets' 36 yardline before Stuckey fumbled. The Jets answered with a nice drive, but Folk couldn't hit a 47-yard field goal. After a Cleveland three-and-out, the Jets drove into Cleveland territory. However, on 3rd and 14, Sanchez threw an interception to rookie Joe Haden at the 3-yard line.

The Browns could have run the ball three times, conceded that they probably weren't going to score, and finished the game in a tie. Instead, they tried a pass on first down, which gave the Jets enough time to get the ball back if they could force a three-and-out. They did, almost sacking McCoy in the endzone for a safety, so the Jets got the ball back with 24 seconds left at the Cleveland 37. The Jets opted for a quick slant to Holmes to get into field goal range, but Holmes broke free and ran into the endzone for a touchdown. It was the second straight week the former Super Bowl MVP came up clutch in overtime.

Once again, the Jets did not put it all together, but they found a way to win when it mattered. Even though they couldn't make a big stop late in regulation, Drew Coleman's forced fumble on Stuckey as well as a pair of three-and-outs gave the Jets just enough extra chances to put the necessary points on the board. The run offense was average and the passing game wasn't consistent enough. However, all that matters is the win, and at 7-2, the Jets could lead the AFC East at the end of the night if the Patriots fall to the Steelers.

Houston should be a welcome sight for this Jets team. Their offense fits the Jets' style perfectly, as the Jets can be physical and take Andre Johnson out of the game. Defensively, the Texans may be the worst team in the league, especially on the road. The Jets will probably miss Cotchery next week, as it sounds like he could miss several weeks with his groin injury. Left guard Matt Slauson also might not play, as he left today's game with knee swelling. Rob Turner took his place. Sanchez should be fine, despite his calf strain.

Still, the Jets have plenty of weapons left at their disposal, there's no excuse this offense can't put up at least 3 touchdowns next week. This team needs another big week to show just how good they are, especially at home, where the Jets are just 2-2.

NFL Picks - Week 10

After a 1-1-1 week last week, my season record now sits at 15-8-1. Had a hard time narrowing this week's picks down to three, but with the games less than an hour away, time to pull the trigger!

Houston over Jacksonville, pick-em
Neither team can stop the pass, but the key is that the Texans simply have more talent. Coming off two tough losses in a row to Indianapolis and San Diego, Houston's backs are against the wall. So are Jacksonville's, but they don't have Andre Johnson. Houston will win this game because they have more ways to beat you offensively. Expect this game to be a shootout, but Jacksonville can't get to the quarterback or pass quite well enough to keep up with the Texans, who will eventually pull away.
Texans 34, Jaguars 28

Minnesota -1.5 over Chicago
The Bears are the worst 5-3 team in the league. Minnesota is 3-5 but has played a murderer's row of opponents. Of course, the Cardinals last week weren't one of them, but the Vikings found a way late to win that game. Chicago will have trouble with what Minnesota brings to the table: a disruptive defensive line and a star runningback. The Vikings will be able to run the ball and keep Cutler under pressure. Cutler will hit a few deep passes but not enough to outduel the Vikings, who will dominate the point of attack.
Vikings 24, Bears 20

Jets -3.5 over Browns
I'm really not that big of a fan of this game with the spread, but I don't like this week's games that much. The Browns won't be able to score that much. The only way they can win is if the Jets beat themselves because the Jets won't be physically overmatched like New England. The Browns are riding high after back-to-back wins over good teams. They won't be sneaking up on anyone. The Jets simply have a ton more talent than the Browns do that I'm confident they will win, hopefully by more than 3.5 points.
Jets 20, Browns 16

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jets vs Browns Preview

New York Jets at Cleveland Browns
Sunday November 14, 2010, 1:00 PM, EST.
Cleveland Browns Stadium

After escaping Detroit with a win last week, the Jets travel to Cleveland to face another team they are supposed to beat on the road. However, don't expect the Jets to take Cleveland lightly. Not after almost losing to Detroit last week. Not after Cleveland spanked Tom Brady and the Patriots last week. And definitely not with Eric Mangini and Rex's brother Rob Ryan on the other sideline.

The Browns are a team that relies on smart, high character players who play together. They're unlikely to beat themselves, unless the Jets can rattle rookie quarterback Colt McCoy. Instead, they play solid defense and run the ball as well as anyone behind a strong offensive line. Peyton Hillis has been a revelation as one of the most punishing runners in the sport this year. If the Jets tackle well and do the little things correctly, they should win handily. But if the Jets commit a million penalties and turnovers, they will be in a world of trouble.

When the Jets have the ball...
LaDainian Tomlinson and the Jets' running game has not been as strong in recent weeks, so it's widely expected the Jets will give Shonn Greene many more reps this week against a surprisingly good Cleveland run defense. The Browns have some big bodies up front and solid veterans behind them at linebacker that combine to make a run defense that only allows 3.9 yards-per-carry. More impressively, the Browns have allowed just one touchdown on the ground all year. Just 14.7% of opposing hand-offs have gone for first downs. Only the Jets have a better number in that category.

If the Jets plan on just running the ball down the Browns' throats, they could be in for a frustrating day. The way to beat the Browns is by passing the ball. While Cleveland does have 9 interceptions this year, they struggle to put consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Eric Mangini will come up with a scheme that will give Mark Sanchez some problems, but he should have time to throw. As long as he goes through his progressions and doesn't lock on his first read, he should be able to find open receivers, as Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, and Dustin Keller have a talent and experience edge over most of the Browns' outside players. Keller, in particular, could be in line for a big day, as the Browns haven't been great against the tight end all year.

Sanchez will be the biggest key to this game. It's unlikely the Browns dominate the game from an offensive perspective. But if Sanchez doesn't play well, the Browns can control field position with Josh Cribbs and a dangerous return game. As mentioned earlier, the Browns' run defense is stout in the redzone, so the Jets will rely on their quarterback to put touchdowns on the board instead of field goals. Look for the Jets to attack the Browns' aging linebackers with Keller or for Braylon Edwards to make a big impact against his former team. The Browns will frustrate the Jets at times, but the Jets will make enough plays when they have to.

When the Browns have the ball...
On paper, the Cleveland offense doesn't look like much, but this team has an identity, and they are able to run the ball as well as anybody. Peyton Hillis has 644 yards and 7 touchdowns, averaging 4.8 yards-per-carry. He is a powerful back at 6-2, 250 pounds, so gang tackling will be key. Pursuit usually isn't a problem for this Jets' defense, as the Jets usually fly around the football.

The Browns know they aren't the most talented offense. This is a team usually focused on getting one first down at a time and not making mistakes. Colt McCoy is a mobile quarterback, and the Browns have some other decent players on this offense that can create occasional mismatches. Hillis has good hands, and he has the ability to make plays in the passing game against linebackers. McCoy also has two athletic tight ends at his disposal in Ben Watson and Evan Moore. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie will mostly be matched up against Mohamed Massaquoi and Chansi Stuckey. Cribbs is also a wild card in this offense who can line up under center and get the ball via reverse or through the air.

The Jets have enough talent on defense, but the Browns have the offensive line and players to give the Jets' defense some problems. McCoy can get out of the pocket and run for first downs, and Hillis is a force to be reckoned with. The Browns probably won't be able to move the ball well enough through the air to put many touchdowns on the board, but if the Jets struggle on offense and keep this game close, the Browns could easily sneak up and win this game offensively.

This is a big gut check for the Jets. Cleveland is coming off wins against New Orleans and New England, so they are riding high. The Jets, on the other hand, haven't played particularly well in weeks. But unlike the Patriots and Saints, the Jets won't take the Browns lightly. The Jets have too many weapons and too many ways to win this game. As good as Hillis is, he will meet his match against the Jets' run defense. Cleveland will move the ball at different points in this game, but not consistently enough to win. However, if the Jets beat themselves with dumb penalties and multiple turnovers, Cleveland will be more than happy to take this game. I'll give the Jets the benefit of the doubt and say that the defense won't allow the Jets to lose this game. McCoy simply doesn't have the big play weapons that Sanchez does, and between Keller, Edwards, and Holmes, one will step up and give the Jets just enough to win.
Jets 20, Browns 16

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

2nd Half AFC East Playoff Preview

Halfway through the season, the best teams are beginning to distance themselves from the pack. For the Jets, 6-2 is impressive, but remember, the Jets were 8-3 in 2008 and failed to make the playoffs, so there's still a long way to go. However, it's not too early to start looking at the playoff picture for the Jets, starting with the AFC East.

New York Jets (6-2, 3-0, 4-1)
Remaining Opponents: @CLE, HOU, CIN, @NE, MIA, @PIT, @CHI, BUF
4 games home, 4 games away
Combined Record: 30-34  

Six of the remaining eight Jets games are very winnable. Cleveland, Houston, Miami, and Chicago are average teams that have enough players to be competitive, but the Jets are better than all of them and should be able to win at least three of those matchups. Buffalo and Cincinnati have combined for two wins all year. While both teams have been playing hard, the Jets need to sweep those teams, considering both games are at home. That leaves two road games against upper echelon NFL teams that the Jets should be battling with for the division and for seeding purposes. If the Jets can split those two games, it would go a long way towards ensuring the Jets not only make the playoffs but also have a bye in the first round.

Projection: 12-4 (6-2 last 8 games). This is somewhat on the optimistic side, but I'll pencil in losses to New England and Pittsburgh for now.

New England Patriots (6-2, 2-1, 5-2)
Remaining Opponents: @PIT, IND, @DET, NYJ, @CHI, GB, @BUF, MIA
4 games home, 4 games away
Combined Record: 34-31

The Patriots have three games I would term very difficult games, but luckily, two are at home, and the Colts are so banged up, it's hard to say if they're an elite team like usual. Their opponent this week, Pittsburgh, certainly is, and on the road, that will be a very tough game. Normally, I'd mark Detroit as an easy game, but on the road at Ford Field, that could be a tough game for the Patriots, even without Matthew Stafford. This is a harder schedule than the Jets. Both teams face each other, Pittsburgh, Miami, Buffalo, and Chicago, but the Jets face Cleveland Houston, and Cincinnati while the Patriots battle Indianapolis, Detroit, and Green Bay. From New England's perspective, that game against the Jets on Monday, December 6th will probably determine the division. If the Jets win, they own the tiebreaker, and given the two team's schedules, it will probably be difficult for the Patriots to make up 1.5 games.

Projection: 12-4 (6-2). I'm marking down losses to Pittsburgh and Detroit. New England hasn't lost at home since 2008, so I think they'll have just enough to beat a banged up Colts team. I just think that the Lions' offense matches up well with the Patriots' defense, and Ndamukong Suh will be a force.

Miami Dolphins (4-4, 1-2, 2-4)
Remaining Opponents: TEN, CHI, @OAK, CLE, @NYJ, BUF, DET, @NE
5 games home, 3 games away
Combined Record: 32-33

Miami needs to start winning games soon. They do have five of their last eight games at home, but right now, the Dolphins are 0-3 at home, so that might not be that important. If the Dolphins can beat a tough Titans squad at home this week, they'll have a chance. If not, having 5 losses with road games still to come against the Jets and Patriots will be too much to overcome. However, a win this week, and the next three games are winnable. Flying across the country to Oakland isn't easy, but the Dolphins have dug a hole for themselves where they must win games like that. Miami must go 6-2 minimum on this schedule to have a chance, and that means going at least 3-1 in their next four games. The December 12th game against the Jets will probably be do-or-die for Miami. However, if the Dolphins can get a win, the next two games are not difficult. That could possibly set up a week 17 Dolphins-Patriots game where the winner gets into the playoffs and the loser is out.

Projection: 8-8 (4-4). This Dolphins team is a notch below the elite in the AFC. As a result, I'm marking down losses to the three teams better than them: Tennessee, New York, and New England, as well as a road loss to Oakland on the west coast.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Jets Shock Lions 23-20

In a game that was eerily similar in many ways to one three weeks ago against Denver, the Jets once again escaped with a road victory, 23-20 over the Detroit Lions. The Jets made a million mistakes and in many ways did not deserve to win this football game, but in crunchtime, Mark Sanchez and the defense made just enough plays to win.

Sanchez was again hot-and-cold, locking on targets and making poor decisions and throws for the majority of the game. He did hit Braylon Edwards in stride on a 74-yard touchdown bomb late in the first half to give the Jets the lead at halftime. But he also ended a promising third quarter drive with a badly underthrown interception.

This was a bizarre game from the start. The Jets' defense, which allowed just 3 points all year in the 1st quarter (all last week), allowed an opening drive touchdown to Matthew Stafford and the Lions. It was deja vu all over again, as the Jets could not get off the field on 3rd and long. On the first drive alone, the Jets allowed conversions on 3rd and 10, 15, and 9, with the last one coming on an illegal contact penalty on Brodney Pool. Finally, Stafford found tight end Brandon Pettigrew in the endzone for a touchdown.

The Jets' first positive drive was midway through the 2nd quarter, after Sanchez found Holmes for a 31-yard gain. That drive ended in a field goal after Sanchez audibled too late and wasn't ready for Nick Mangold's snap. The Jets' first real strike came on the bomb to Edwards with one minute left in the half, which gave the Jets a 10-7 lead into the half.

That was the last we would see of the Jets' offense until late. The defense allowed a touchdown on the Lions' first drive of the second half to lose the lead, with another stupid mistake being at the root of the score. The Jets originally held the Lions to a 21-yard field goal, but Trevor Pryce roughed up kicker Jason Hanson, hurting Hanson's knee in the process. Stafford then ran the ball into the endzone on the next play. However, with Hanson banged up, Ndamukong Suh had to kick the extra point. He clanged it off the post, a missed point which ended up costing the Lions dearly. Still, the Jets had more to regret, as they should have been off the field with the score 10-10, instead of trailing 13-10.

Nate Burleson then scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter on a 3rd down play to extend the Lions lead to 10. Burleson burned Drew Coleman often throughout the game, finishing with 113 yards and a touchdown. Rex Ryan's team also burned two time outs on that failed goalline stand, as the Jets lined up with 12 men on the field on two separate occasions.

Those time outs ended up being very important. Trailing by two scores, the Jets couldn't get back on the board until there was just 2:46 left on the clock. Really, there were about 3 minutes left on the clock, but it took the referees 14 seconds to decide whether or not to grant the Jets a touchdown on Sanchez's sneak, and they didn't put the time back on the clock. With just one time out remaining for the Jets, that could have been a major issue.

Ryan opted to put faith in his defense, kicking the ball deep. But returner Stefan Logan returned the ball to the 34-yardline, giving the Lions okay field position. One first down would have won the game, but even running the ball three times would leave the Jets barely over a minute left to try to get the game-tying field goal. The defense held on the first two down, and on third down, the Lions inexplicably threw the ball. With Stafford knocked out of the game with a shoulder injury, the Lions called a screen pass with third-string quarterback Drew Stanton, who made a bad throw, and the clock stopped with about 1:50 left, rather than running off 40 more seconds.

Sanchez took advantage of his last chance to tie the game. On 3rd-and-9, he threw a bullet to Dustin Keller, who made a stellar catch to move the chains for 11 yards. With some help from the Lions' defense committing a late hit penalty to move the Jets into field goal range, Sanchez engineered a drive to the Lions' 18-yardline where Nick Folk kicked the game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime.

The Jets won the toss, and almost immediately, Sanchez hit Holmes over the middle on a crossing route. Holmes shook a defender and by the time he was brought down, he traveled 52 yards into the red zone. Three plays later, Folk kicked a 30-yarder, and the Jets somehow came away with a victory.

While the Jets can be happy they played their C-game and won on the road, this team needs to play better soon. The last three games this team has played have all been very spotty. Next week, the Jets will face a Cleveland team that just smacked around the Patriots 34-14. Clearly, the Browns are no longer a pushover. The Browns just shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots, the Jets can't play the same way and expect to win.

The defense wasn't bad, but the lack of big plays is beginning to become an issue. Once again, the Jets did not force a single turnover, so the Lions made all their yards count. Most of the Lions' big plays were made by Nate Burleson in three receiver sets. He consistently got the better of Drew Coleman. Darrelle Revis was matched up almost all game with Calvin Johnson one-on-one, and "Megatron" ended with just one catch for 13 yards.

However, for as ugly as it was, the Jets ended up successful. Good teams find ways to win these games, and that's exactly what the Jets did for the second time in three games. With the Patriots' loss, the Jets are now tied for first place again in the AFC East and in the race for the number one seed. And with Cleveland on deck followed by home games against Houston and Cincinnati, the Jets could be able to go on another winning streak before facing New England, Miami, and Pittsburgh. The biggest key is figuring out an identity on offense in the next few weeks.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jets at Lions Preview

New York Jets (5-2) at Detroit Lions (2-5)
Sunday, November 7, 2010, 1:00 PM, EST. Ford Field
Line: Jets -6

After a disastrous performance at home against Green Bay, the New York Jets look to get back on the winning track in Detroit against the 2-5 Lions. The Lions are coming off a 37-25 home win against Washington in quarterback Matthew Stafford's first game back after a lengthy injury. Detroit's playoff hopes remain close to nil, but this team is no pushover at home. The Jets will need to take Detroit seriously, but if they play up to their capabilities, they should be able to take care of the Lions.

When the Jets have the ball...
The Jets' offense has a lot of questions to answer. After the bye week, the Jets couldn't muster a single point against Green Bay's average defense. Luckily, Detroit's defense lacks playmakers and enough depth to stop the Jets' offense all game, at least you would think. The Lions allow 4.9 yards-per-carry, and even with Ndamukong Suh in the middle, the Lions can absolutely be run on.

Look for Brian Schottenheimer and the Jets to try to play like they did against Buffalo and most of last season. Run until the other team proves they can stop you. With Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson, and a stellar offensive line, there is no reason why the Jets shouldn't be able to do that. The Lions have allowed only four runs of 20+ yards all season long, but the Jets should be able to control time of possession and sustain long drives. Whether or not those drives end in touchdowns or field goals, especially early in the game, will go a long way in deciding this game.

Mark Sanchez needs to play better than he did the last two games. Fortunately, this game will be in a dome, so the wind won't be a factor like it was last week. But while the Lions' secondary can be beaten, Suh and company will be a tall order for the Jets' offensive line to block. Suh has 7 sacks already his rookie year, and in total, the Lions have 23 sacks and 8 interceptions. Alphonso Smith has four of those interceptions. He's one of the most underrated cornerbacks in football, but the rest of the secondary can absolutely be beaten. Look for the Jets to attack Chris Houston and the rest of the Lions' defensive backs.

The Lions are no pushover, but they do allow 23.6 points-per-game, 7th worst in football. If the Jets can't get back on track offensively and put up at least 20 points after the embarrassment that was last week, there will be problems. But expect Tomlinson and Greene to both play well and control time of possession. After all, if anybody can block Suh, it's Nick Mangold.

When the Lions have the ball...
With the return of Matthew Stafford, the Lions' offense is now fairly dangerous. Calvin Johnson is one of the most freakish athletes at wide receiver in the NFL. At 6-5, 236, he's a tough matchup for any cornerback. The Jets, of course, have two elite corners they can use to cover Megatron. Antonio Cromartie matches up closer in size, but Darrelle Revis's physicality should make him the better matchup on Johnson. The Lions will take shots with Johnson, no matter who is guarding him, but if the Jets stay physical with him, they should be able to contain him.

Stafford threw 20 interceptions last year, often forcing the ball to Johnson. This year, he's barely played over a full game, but last week he threw 4 touchdowns and 1 interception against Washington. The Jets will try to flip it. The Lions do spread the ball around more than in the past, but Nate Burleson and tight ends Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew aren't big playmakers.

Running the ball has been an issue for Detroit for years, mainly because the offensive line hasn't been good in years. Jahvid Best has the speed to be a big-play threat whenever he touches the ball, but he only averages 3.3 yards-per-carry. Best also has 36 catches as the Lions try to get him the ball in space to make long plays. He does have one 75-yard reception early in the season, and on the fast track of the dome, keeping Best from running free in the open field will be a major key.

The Lions aren't a difficult team to figure out on offense usually. The young quarterback usually throws the ball to Johnson or checks it down to a runningback or tight end. The Jets' defense should be able to hold the Lions down for most of the game offensively because the Jets can match up with Johnson. If Johnson is blanketed by Revis, the Lions' offense will be in big trouble.

Look for the Jets to return to their roots. Ground and pound, put Calvin Johnson on Revis Island, and try to win the game that way. Against Detroit, that should be able to work. The Jets will try to run outside a lot to avoid Suh, and between Greene, Tomlinson, and even Brad Smith, the Jets should be able to move the ball. But the Jets have had struggle scoring in the redzone for weeks now. If the Jets are held to field goals, the Lions have too many playmakers that could break through and win the game for them. But if the Jets can run the ball in the red zone and score touchdowns, the Lions will be forced to be one-dimensional, and their offense will have a tough time moving the ball. Look for a Jets win today, but not a comfortable one until late.
Jets 20, Lions 10

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Week 9 NFL Picks

We are at the halfway point of the NFL season. Amazing, isn't it? Enjoy the last two months of football while you still can because before you know it, it'll be gone!

It's time for my NFL picks. Including picks made on Twitter 2 weeks ago (@MackNova), my record stands at 14-7. Last week, I was a respectable 2-1, but i missed horribly on Houston on Monday Night. I really like this week's slate of games, so let's keep the wins coming!

Houston +3 over San Diego
I had to double-check this spread to make sure it was correct. I realize the Texans are coming off a short week. But San Diego is an easy team to pick: take them at home, fade them on the road. And giving points to a dangerous Houston team is a losing proposition. Philip Rivers is on pace to set passing records, but his receiving corps is so depleted at this point it has to take a toll. Antonio Gates has two injured feet and is listed as doubtful. He's the one constant in this offense that keeps it from taking a step back. Take him out, and Houston is a better team than the Chargers, and they're at home. Arian Foster should have a big day.
Texans 27, Chargers 20

Arizona +8.5 over Minnesota
Minnesota is a mess right now. Brad Childress's grip on this team is minimal. He was almost fired midweek due to his failure to manage his team properly, and he just had a heated argument with leading receiver Percy Harvin late in the week. Harvin might not even play due to his injuries, possibly leaving the Vikings with Bernard Berrian, Greg Lewis, and Greg Camarillo as Brett Favre's main options. Favre himself has a number of injuries to deal with. Arizona is not a good team, but they have found a way to win 3 games. With Derek Anderson under center, they at least have the chance to make some plays with Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston. Beanie Wells is healthy enough to play against a Viking run defense that was beaten around a little bit by the Patriots. Give me the better coached team with more wins getting over a touchdown.
Vikings 23, Cardinals 20

Cincinnati +6 over Pittsburgh
I love home divisional underdogs in primetime. The Bengals and Steelers hate each other, and this week, the Bengals' season is on the line. Throw the records out, this is going to be a slugfest. Neither team has been in sync at all on offense. Pittsburgh has the better defense, but do they have enough offense to justify giving almost a full touchdown on the road in primetime? Not yet. Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco are bound to show up, if for no other reason than to promote their television shows. The key for the Bengals is for Palmer not to turn the ball over. If he doesn't let the Steelers defense dominate this football game, there's no reason Cincinnati, who had won seven straight division games prior to a 23-20 loss at Cleveland a month ago, can't stay in this game and possibly even win.
Steelers 17, Bengals 16

Monday, November 1, 2010

Game Reflection: Packers 9, Jets 0

In one of the most miserable Jets home games in a long time, or at least since week one, the New York Jets fell to the Green Bay Packers 9-0. It was the first game all season in which a touchdown was not scored, and the first time the Jets were shut out since November, 2006 against Chicago, another NFC North squad.

The blame for this loss can be put squarely on the shoulders of the offense. While the special teams rarely gave the Jets good field position, the offense could not string enough plays together to have any legitimate chances to score. Every time the Jets advanced into Green Bay territory, disaster happened. Brad Smith had a fumble early on. Mark Sanchez had not one but two interceptions by Packers' defensive backs ripping the balls away from Jets' receivers. Both were questionable calls at best, but very little went right for the Jets on this day. The one legitimate chance the Jets had to score, Nick Folk missed a 37-yard field goal

Sanchez was completely off all game. While the interceptions weren't really his fault, his accuracy and decision-making were very shaky. He threw a number of passes too high or too low for his receivers to hold on to. His receivers didn't help him out at all though. In addition to not fighting hard enough for the intercepted passes, there were a number of key drops in this game. Santonio Holmes dropped a crossing pattern that could have easily gone for a touchdown had he held onto it. Even the normally sure-handed Jerricho Cotchery had a few drops, particularly in the 4th quarter.

The Jets also had another turnover early in the game when Steve Weatherford failed to convert on a fake punt on 4th and 18. He felt he could catch the Packers napping, but he was only able to convert 17 of the yards necessary. He was initially given the first down until Mike McCarthy threw a challenge flag which revealed that Weatherford stepped out of bounds just before the first-down marker. That missed opportunity led to the first Packer field goal.

And yet despite all this ineptitude by the offense, the Jets actually ended up with 123 more yards of total offense than Green Bay. The defense was lights out almost all game. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie blanketed their receivers as Aaron Rodgers was held to just 170 yards passing and a 44% completion percentage. The Packers also ran for just 3.1 yards-per-carry on the day.

What the defense didn't do is force turnovers and create big plays. Rodgers made smart decisions all night and was barely touched by the Jets' pass rushers. As a result, Packers punter Tim Masthay was able to pin the Jets inside the 20 five different times.

The Packers simply didn't make mistakes, and while they didn't put the ball in the endzone, they took advantage of opportunities the Jets gave them in order to win the game.

Rex Ryan has to get some blame for this flat performance. He didn't have his best day either, using both of his challenges in the 2nd quarter, rendering him unable to challenge a controversial Charles Woodson interception later. This is the 2nd straight year the Jets have lost at home against teams they should beat after the bye week.

But really, it was just a day where absolutely nothing would go right on offense. LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene were okay running the ball, but they didn't break any big plays. The passing game was just off all day, and when the Jets had chances, they'd squander them with turnovers, penalties, and a missed field goal.

With Detroit on the docket next week, the Jets should be able to get back in the scoring column for the first time in two weeks. But the Lions are a tough team at home and are coming off a 37-25 triumph over Washington. Gang Green must assert themselves and beat an inferior team, something they failed to do this week.

The problem is the New England Patriots just keep winning. At 6-1, the Pats have the best record in the NFL. Having won four straight games against Miami, Baltimore, San Diego, and Minnesota, the Patriots are riding high and could certainly go 12-4 or 13-3. Winning a wild card spot also won't be easy, with the quality depth of the AFC. If the season ended today, the Jets would be the #5 seed, Pittsburgh would be the #6 seed, and Indianapolis would be on the outside looking in.

On paper this is the easy part of the Jets' schedule. The next two weeks, New York faces Detroit and Cleveland on the road. Both teams have the ability to play hard and win, but if the Jets want to be an elite team, they should win both of those games. After that, the Houston Texans come to town in what will be a key AFC battle. Then the 2-5 Bengals come to the New Meadowlands Stadium on Thanksgiving. The Bengals are better than their record, but once again, they are a team the Jets should beat.

Sunday was supposed to be the beginning of this "soft spot" of the Jets' schedule. If the offense can get on track at all, there's no reason the Jets still can't reel off a few wins in a row the way the defense looked. But Sunday was an utter disaster, and the Jets need to fix what's wrong with their offense fast, starting with Sanchez playing better.