Divisional Preview: Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

Now its time for the big boys to swing into action. For most Patriot backers, they believe that Rob Gronkowski is going to be the difference. He wasn’t there as the Ravens had playoff success in Gillette Stadium.

Terrell-Suggs-Baltimore-Ravens-Football-2011-NFLIf you think back to Lee Evans dropping that last second touchdown in the 2011 the AFC Championship, this team would be on a winning streak in Foxboro. Baltimore can pressure with Elvis Dumervil along with Terrell Suggs. This will allow Darryl Smith and CJ Moseley to concentrate on clogging Brady and Gronk’s passing lanes. With Haloti Ngata back from suspension, he’s rested and should stop the run.

New England fields a better defense and Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner can take away the Ravens receivers as well. The truth is Steve Smith will sneak open a couple times as will Torrey Smith. It will be a tight contest and the winner will be the Baltimore Ravens 26-21.

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New York Jets and the Future of Mark Sanchez

The New York Jets became the first team in a decade to lose back to back conference championships since the 2002-’03 Philadelphia Eagles. So the question becomes where Rex Ryan and his team go from here? 

They are primed to make another Super Bowl run with Sanchez at the helm. With every other young quarterback who make the playoffs, the team scales down their play calling to minimize mistakes.  They use the punt as an ally and play to the strengths of their defense while running the football.  From Bob Griese to Roger Staubach, to Terry Bradshaw, to Tom Brady, to Ben Roethlisberger, many a young quarterback has won championships with this formula.  Mark Sanchez may just be the next in line.  He’s shown a flair for the dramatic with several late game touchdown throws this year against Jacksonville and Cleveland respectively.  This is a crossroads season where the Jets can ask a little more of Sanchez throwing the football to supplement Shonn Greene and Tomlinson’s running. 

On the same day that “Twitter Gate” vilified Jay Cutler for appearing to quit on his Bear teammates in the NFC Championship, the camera caught a poignant moment where Sanchez was consoling WR Jericho Cotchery at the end of the AFC Championship game. Let’s face facts; Mark Sanchez is a good young leader with a good head on his shoulders, one “that isn’t ready for the NFL.” voiced former USC coach Pete Carroll erroneously, who subsequently went 7-9 with the Seattle Seahawks this year.  Yet there was Sanchez, the Jets season extinguishing as the clock wound down, having a face to face with a receiver several years his senior. Undoubtedly, he was telling his teammate something positive as the two stood facemask to facemask, Sanchez talking and tapping Cotchery’s helmet as the wideout nodded in agreement.  Displaying a leadership quality that shows not only that he’s ready for the NFL, but one that suggests he’s about to take a championship step forward in leading the Jets there.

Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes have a good chemistry with their young QB.  In fact on the day Edwards arrived in New York from Cleveland, it was Sanchez who was there to greet him at former Jet Kerry Rhodes house.  All of which was caught on an ESPN telecast.  Edwards has ideal size for a possession receiver and Holmes is more explosive after the catch. Throw in Cotchery and if they can find a way to utilize Brad Smith a little bit more, this team could surprise in the air.  Detractors of Edwards were silenced as he played motivated, inspired football.  Holmes will benefit from a full Jets training camp to be more productive as well.

Rex Ryan’s scheme on defense is in tune with his players and the personnel they have selected.  Can they coax another year out of Jason Taylor or injured NT Kris Jenkins?  In Jenkins case they showed they could get by without him.  Injuries are starting to mount for Jenkins who will need serious spot deployment to make it through a long season healthy.  Taylor is definitely at the point where it’s a gamble to ask for another season from him as well.  I would look to replacing Taylor and have him mentor an understudy.  They could be impenetrable if they can reach the playoffs with Jenkins in the middle. With one of the best CB tandems in football in Revis and Cromartie, a young stud outside linebacker to go with Bart Scott, David Harris, and Calvin Pace could vault the Jets into the best defense in football.  

Why so high on Sanchez? Having run the gauntlet in this year’s playoffs in facing Manning, Brady, and Roethlisberger, the kid held his own. If Roethlisberger wins his 3rd Super Bowl this week, that’s a total of 7 Super Bowl wins between his three opponents.  He faced three Hall of Fame quarterbacks and beat two of them. Sanchez threw 3TDs in the upset of the Patriots and brought the Jets back from a 24 point deficit in the AFC Championship.  Sanchez has now engineered 4 playoff road wins which ties the NFL record.  So is he Mark Sanchez or Mark Sanchize?? I don’t know but let’s ask these questions;

  • Can the New York Jets duplicate the feat by those same Philadelphia Eagles of ’02-’04 and the ’74-’76 Raiders who lost 2 straight conference finals yet win in a third consecutive attempt??
  •  If Mark Sanchez improves again this season, how many games do the Jets win next season??
  • What happens next year if the Jets get homefield advantage and have to only play two playoff games instead of three to get to the Super Bowl??
  • A Mexican American quarterback as an icon would be great for the league and a link to not only Jim Plunkett but to the  legendary Joe Kapp in terms of hispanic Super Bowl quarterbacks of yesteryear.

Thanks for reading.

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

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.