FanHouse Preview: Jets at Colts
The Colts predictably went on to lose that game to a team that barely squeaked into the playoffs, beat Cincinnati in Week 17 and in the Wild Card round, then upset San Diego to set up a rematch in Indianapolis. That team is -- of course -- the New York Jets.
In today's NFL, it's important not just to be among the elite teams in the NFL, but to peak at the right part of the season. Who gave the New York Giants a chance at a title heading into the playoffs after the 2007 season? Who in their right mind thought the Arizona Cardinals would appear in the Super Bowl last year? If there exists a scrappy underdog to carry that torch in this year's playoffs, it's gotta be the Jets.
But can they pull off the improbable and topple the Indianapolis Colts for a second time this season?
Three Key Questions:
1. How will the Colts' 24th-ranked rush defense contain the Jets' top-ranked running game?
2. Which gets the edge -- Indy's second-ranked pass offense or New York's top-ranked pass defense?
3. Will Reggie Wayne find a way off "Revis Island"?
Player in the Spotlight: Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Jets' gameplan on offense has been remarkably simple: limit the number of mistakes their rookie QB can make by keeping the ball out of his hands. He's only needed to complete 12 passes in each of their playoff wins, while the combination of Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones have carried the ball at least 36 times in those two games. The Colts are fresh off defeating a similar offensive team, the Baltimore Ravens. They forced Joe Flacco to take to the air and secured an easy victory. When they do the same to Sanchez, the Colts will be banking on the rookie to fail. If he succeeds, the Jets can punch their ticket to the Super Bowl.
Coach in the Spotlight: Bonus category here -- Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell. Technically, he's not a player, but he's the closest thing Indy has to an unknown quantity. At most times, the Colts are a finely-tuned machine that can run itself. With Peyton Manning at the helm of the offense and a veteran group leading the defense, Caldwell hasn't been tested much in his first year as head coach of the team. However, he has made it clear that he's the one in charge of the team, as his decision to sit Manning and the starters (despite their urge to continue playing) clearly shows. What happens if the Guy In Charge gets tested in this game? Will he make the correct challenge decision on a close play? Will he make the correct fourth-down decision on a critical drive? Will he use his timeouts correctly? We really won't know until he's forced into making those decisions.
Jets' Path to Victory: On offense, the Jets will have to quickly establish the running game and keep putting points on the board throughout the game. If they fall behind by more than one score, they'll likely have to start passing more, and that plays right into the Colts' hands. Once Indy is up by double digits, New York can kiss this game goodbye. Yes, the Jets scored 29 points in the Week 16 game, but it took a kickoff return for touchdown, a fumble return for touchdown when Manning was out of the game, and 10 more fourth-quarter points against backups. How much of that can the Jets count on this week? Defensively, we know Darrelle Revis can take away one weapon per game, but the Colts are so well stocked that it will be on the rest of the defense to play shutdown football as well. That means Lito Sheppard will have to excel against Pierre Garcon, Dwight Lowery will have to take Austin Collie out of the game, and the linebackers and safeties will be responsible for bottling up Dallas Clark.
Colts' Path to Victory: Indianapolis will have to repeat what it did against the Ravens. The Colts must limit mistakes and force the Jets to drive 70-plus yards every time they get the ball. They must play smart football. Thankfully for them, they have the smartest quarterback in the game today. Manning knows exactly what he needs to accomplish in order to advance -- that's the benefit of experience in this situation. He won't force passes to Wayne if Revis has the No. 1 receiver blanketed, because he won't have to. Manning is the master of taking whatever the defense gives him. Defensively, the Colts must contain the run like they did against Baltimore. If they can secure a lead in the second half, Sanchez will be forced to throw the ball, and defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will have him for lunch. Since we know Manning will keep the offense moving, the only burden in this game rests on the defense's ability to stop the run. If they accomplish that as well as they did against Baltimore, this will be an easy victory.
Prediction: It's fun to root for the Jets, a long-suffering franchise and perennial underdog. Emotionally, you want to see them in the Super Bowl against another long-suffering franchise (i.e. the Saints). But the reality of the situation is that the Colts are better -- much better -- than the Jets. New York will need a lot of help staying in this game, but the likely scenario is that they fall behind in the first half and get destroyed in the second half. Indianapolis will finish this game with a ticket to South Beach as the favorites to win this year's Super Bowl. Indianapolis 34, New York 13.