Three home teams and the Mutha-freakin’ Jets!
#5 New York Jets (11-7) at #1 Indianapolis (15-2)
Rex Ryan’s words echo the sentiments of football experts across the country. In a weekend full of higher seeds blowing out the lower seeds at home, the Jet’s spoiled the bracket again, punching the Chargers in the mouth during a 17-14 road win. The Jets reserved themselves a date with Indianapolis next week in the AFC Championship game and a chance to prove that they can beat the Colt starters, just as well as they can beat Indy’s second string.
The rest that Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian gave their starters in Weeks 16 and 17 paid off against Baltimore as their defense looked fresh and inspired and Peyton Manning and company were perfectly healthy and effective. Obviously, the Colts performance in their first fourteen games was more indicative of their talent level than that of their final two regular season contests.
The Jets confused and frustrated Philip Rivers and his big-time receiving targets all afternoon at Qualcomm and they’ll have to do much of the same to have a chance against Peyton Manning’s group on Sunday. While the Colts defense looked powerful, quick and elite against the Ravens, the offense looked flummoxed at times. Peyton Manning’s deep game was shut down – he had no passes of longer than 20 yards – and had to settle for a lot of underneath stuff. The Jets can take away the deep game as well as anyone.
Many analysts compare the New York defense to that of Baltimore and use that as a reason to dismiss the Jets chances. But while both the Jets and the Ravens have strong defenses, the similarities end there. The Ravens defense is primed to stop the run, which wasn’t a great advantage last week because the Colts are a pass-first offense. The Ravens, while a respectable eighth in passing defense, don’t compare to New York’s league-leading unit that allowed over 50 yards per game less through the air than Baltimore did. I’m not saying the Jets will completely take Peyton Manning out of the equation, but they’ll certainly be harder to exploit than Baltimore was.
This game screams defensive slugfest. The Jets have had just enough offensive contributions to get by in the playoffs, and the Colts can expect New York’s best defense Sunday afternoon. Indianapolis averaged 1.7 yards per rush attempt last week against Baltimore and if New York can neutralize the run just as well, they can refocus their blitzes and defensive schemes to confuse and frustrate Manning just as they did in San Deigo last week.
JETS 17, COLTS 16