AFC Championship Preview

Don’t you just love this time of year? The conference final has a home team with passionate fans which is antithetical to Super Bowl corporate yahoo crowds.  They’re so staid…I love the noise that is generated as the teams are introduced and hope the networks let us hear and feel that intensity and not talk over what the cameras and microphones are picking up. Yet its time for the two most magical games to take place.

As I look at this game the first thing you have to realize is the league’s number 2 & 3 ranked defense in the Steelers and Jets respectively.  Each team runs a tough 3-4 defense that are stout against the run yet the Steelers offense comes in with a glaring weakness with 2 backup tackles.  We know the son of Buddy Ryan will send blitzes at different times against Ben Roethlisberger.  We know Big Ben is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the league, yet can get sacked going after the big play.  He’s a big body and feels like that he can shake free from a blitzer and often does.  Last week the Ravens were getting to him in the first half and that offensive line hasn’t improved on the health front.  Furthermore Darrelle Revis has returned to “Revis Island” form while Antonio Cromartie, and nickleback Drew Coleman are jelling as a secondary and can stay with the Steelers recievers when Ben extends the play. Evidenced by one play last week where Tom Brady couldn’t find a reciever when he had 8.5 seconds to do so. Don’t forget that Revis is from Pittsburgh.  Revis on Mike Wallace will throw the Steelers for a loop. Advantage Jets.

The key to a Steelers victory quite simply are the legs of Rashard Mendenhall.  Is it me or is he not the perfect back for the Pittsburgh Steelers?  He just fits the image in your mind of the Steelers running the football.  He has to have a 120 yard game and wear down the Jets defense.  Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor are older outside linebackers who don’t have rocks in their pockets and can be moved run blocking wise.  He has to keep the Steelers out of obvious passing situations where their line can be exposed.  Hard nosed, nearly rushed for 1,300 yards, he has a legitimate chance to do that.

Countering that the Jets are going with a two headed monster of LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene (what kind of spelling is that) …anyway  They are averaging over 120 yards in the playoffs and can easily switch to a runner with livelier legs in a particular half.  We saw this when the Jets switched to Tomlinson to start the second half against the Colts in the wildcard round.  Greene last week was the hotter hand in the divisional round when he ran for 76 yards agains the Patriots last week.  They as a group are averaging over 120 yards themselves. Advantage push…until you read next paragraph..

When it comes to defense lets face it…The Jets play great defense, the Steelers are defense. Each team stops the run well.  The Steelers are #1 against the run, giving up only 62.8 yards a game.  The Jets are giving up 90.9 yards a game.  The Steelers win that matchup.  Could see Mendenhall pushing over 100 yards grudgingly.  The Jets will have to over-reach to make it to their goal of 120 yards.  The Steelers have great pass rushers in Harrison (10.5 sacks) and LaMarr Woodley (10 sacks) and are clearly the Steelers wildcard.  Their secondary at one point late in the season were ranked 22nd against the pass who have to contend against former teammate Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards.  Slight advantage Steelers.

Mark Sanchez doesn’t have great stats but he did last week throwing for 3 TDs last week and outperformed Tom Brady. He’s progressing and has done so all year.  All year.  After throwing Hall of Famers Tom Brady and Peyton Manning out of the playoffs it is time to wake up to the fact that he’s won 4 playoff games.  He is a legitimate quarterback and has played all five of his game on the road.  Don’t look now but I think he’s going to win his 6th if he gets the running game going or completing passes on rollouts. 

Those things said…I’m going with the Jets in this game, 27-24.  There is something that will come to pass with those tackles of the Steelers.  I’m afraid there will be a turnover that will quiet Heinz Field.  The Jets are a mirror image of what the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers were.  Hungry, veteran laden, young quarterback and a tough running game. I have the Jets in a tough game where they won a few weeks  ago.  Santonio Holmes and Brad Smith will provide a few spark plays as well… Based on emotion and defensive Xs and Os…

2010 AFC Champion: New York Jets

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Shocker!!

How does a team go from losing a battle for first place in a division 45-3 to winning an AFC Divisonal Playoff over the New England Patriots 28-21?  Emotion.  Well emotion and tight coverage.  The defense that we were promised between Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis finally showed up.  The coverage was so tight the defenese was able to get to Tom Brady sacking him 5 times and had him uncomfortable and double clutching all night.  A defense missing Kris Jenkins and Jim Leonard hadn’t looked this powerful in many weeks.  They backed up the bravado and talk that had dominated the week leading up to the game. 

Tom Brady couldnt find an open reciever for much of the night and he was getting hit like he had been by the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.  The Patriots handicapped their own efforts by beginning the day with Wes Welker on the bench for disciplinary reasons.  This backfired and kept them from establishing a rhythm although they moved the football on their opening drive they struggled in close.  First they forced Brady into an interception by linebacker David Harris.   The lack of a running game came that plagued New England all year showed up at the goal line on the next drive.  They tried to pass into the endzone resulting in an endzone drop by TE Alge Crumpler.  The chance to get their crowd into the game and raise self doubt in the Jets had come and gone.  All of this before we get to New England’s ill advised fake punt which led to a Sanchez to Braylon Edwards to make it 14-3 and an eery blanket of silence cascaded over Gillette Stadium.  More important the self doubt started to permeate that Patriot sideline.

The Jets were highly motivated to make amends for the embarrassing defeat a month ago.  The emotion of disliking your divisional rival.  Rex Ryan and his team turned the tables on the favored Patriots starting with all the trash talk that roped the Patriots into some uncommon ground.  No not this week, go all the way back to when Rex was at the podium and made the declaration that they were going after the Patriots.  That he hadn’t come to New York to “kiss Belichick’s rings” and the barbs didn’t stop there.  Getting under the skin of Bill Belichick is what Rex was trying to do when he said this game was personal about wanting to beat Bill and the Patriots.

With tactical dominance established defensively, the Jet were able to let their offense settle down and get into the game.  Mark Sanchez came of age with a solid performance throwing for 194 yards on 16 of 25 passing and 3 touchdowns. Dare we say he outperformed Tom Brady?  Yes he did and a rushing attack that complemented Sanchez with over 120 yards rushing kept the clock moving.  Once they started to believe as an overall unit the game was effectively over.  The Jets received an emotional pep talk from Dennis Byrd before the game and carried his jersey out to the pregame coin toss.  They channeled that along with wanting to make amends for their embarrassing defeat a month ago.  Add to that the doubting press, and an angry Jet closed ranks and took the field with something to prove.  Did they?? LOL  See you in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship.

Ahhh…Yes The NFL Playoffs

This is the most wonderful time of they year!! Spare me that Christmas talk…lol We were taught old lessons and had some performances remind us that the league is ever evolving and new stars will emerge.

How many of us really had Matt Hasselbeck outperforming Drew Brees and leading the  Seahawks to an upset win?  I didn’t for sure.  I thought the negative talk of reseeding the playoffs or the legitimacy of their being there would galvanize them, but not pull off an upset.  Like many of the scrappy teams that refused to go quietly in playoffs past, the Seahawks were on a respirator when Marshawn Lynch took us on that electrifying run.  Qwest Field was quiet as a tomb when that play first developed.  The Seahawks momentum had crested, the Saints had just roared downfield for a touchdown to narrow the lead to 34-30.  Mike Williams and the Seahawk receivers had dropped passes to short circuit two previous drives and a hushed nervousness hit the Pacific Northwest.  Can you say tenuous grasp?  Enter Marshawn Lynch…

Simply put, Lynch’s jaunt was the greatest postseason run in NFL History. It had significance, determination, and came at the most critical point of the game. It mirrored the Garrison Hearst 96 yd overtime run to lift the 49ers over the Jets in the 1998 season opener with 7 broken tackles. Yet Marshawn’s was in the playoffs.  Now John Riggins run in Super Bowl XVII (as ESPN showed) did give the Redskins the lead in the 4th quarter, but Riggo only broke 1 tackle.  On top of that, go back and view the footage; Riggins broke the tackle of Don McNeal, who was a cornerback he outweighed by some 40 lbs.  Furthermore Don McNeal couldn’t grab him because he had a cast over a broken wrist.  That run may be the spark to propel the Seahawks on a spirited run through these playoffs.  Food for thought; Weren’t we laughing at another NFC West Champion a few years ago? We woke up with 3 minutes left to go in the Super Bowl and Arizona had just taken the lead.  Remember that??  Yet we’ll have to wait and see…

As for the Jets and the Colts?  We knew this is who the Jets had retooled to beat and they won.  Peyton Manning needs more options.  I had said all along that their pedestrian receiving corp would come back to haunt them and they did.  Eventually those receivers would see better corner back play and teams were clamping down on them starting in last year’s playoffs.  The Jets came back with one more corner in Antonio Cromartie.  Who would have thought that his biggest contribution would be from forced kick return duty.  Lets face it, had that been a kick return to the 20, Sanchez would have had to complete 4-5 passes when there was already less than a minute to play.  With the way he’d been off with his passes up to that point???  Ehhhh… luckily he only had to complete a few.

From Ladanian Tomlinson’s 2nd half rebirth, to the offensive line taking control of the game, and Sanchez finding his rhythm late. What did they win? Respect? Yes they did achieve that avenging their championship loss to the Colts.  Their reward?? An all expenses paid trip to the worst battle for first place ass whoopin’s of all time. The 45-3 loss to New England.  However these are the playoffs where strange things can happen.  For the Jets to win there they need to do two things.  Burn the video from when they played New England and watch the game where Green Bay nearly beat them. They each run the same 3-4 defense and the players will hear enough from the media about the last trip.  Good luck with that Rex…

Which brings us to day two…and I’m already out of breath. So that will be another entry later today…

Thanks for reading