NFL Playoff Previews: Colts Versus Jets

Posted: January 8, 2011 in NFL
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See this article with photos on Bleacher Report

This season was a struggle from start to finish for the Indianapolis Colts.  They started out 2-2, losing games to division rivals Houston and Jacksonville.  Then they had a three game losing streak later in the season to fall to 6-6 by Week 13.  They needed a four game winning streak to end the year to even get into the playoffs, and that wasn’t easy, winning three of the four games by a combined 10 points.  At 10-6, however, they did run their streak of 10+ victory seasons to nine.

The New York Jets also had a turbulent year.  After last year’s surprise run to the AFC Championship Game followed by an off-season that saw big-name additions like cornerback Antonio Cromartie, running back LaDanian Tomlinson and wide receiver Santonio Holmes, New York was many people’s preseason Superbowl pick.  They lost a Week 1 slugfest to Baltimore 10-9, then won nine of their next ten, looking very much the part of a Superbowl team.  Then things went cockeyed.  They scored nine points combined in back-to-back losses to New England and Miami before winning handily in Pittsburgh.   They closed the year by giving up 38 points in a loss to Chicago then scoring 38 points in a win over Buffalo.  At 11-5, and after so much hype, the Jets enter the playoffs as the number six seed, the exact position as last year.

When these teams meet in Indianapolis tonight, will the Colts have enough left in the tank to pull out a win and will they be playing the bad Jets or the Superbowl-caliber Jets?

Home Field Advantage?

Indianapolis was 6-2 at home this season, but the only playoff they beat was Kansas City way back in Week 5 when they still had most of their offensive roster on the field instead of injured reserve.  They scored 27 points per game at home this year, outscoring opponents by almost a touchdown per game on average.  The Jets, on the other hand, were 6-2 on the road, but four of those wins were over Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit and Denver.  They went 1-2 against playoff teams on the road, beating the Steelers, but losing in Chicago and getting embarrassed in New England in Week 13.

Indy is going to be fired up for this one.  They’re still the reigning AFC Champs, and they won’t give up that title easily.  But the Jets are exactly the type of team that can quiet that crowd in a hurry.

Case In Point(s)

The Colts offense was decimated by injuries this season.  Virtually every skill position player on the team, except Peyton Manning, has missed games at some point.  Even at that, Manning turned this team into the fourth highest scoring unit in the league.  The broke the 30 point mark six times this season, winning five of those games.  They only played three games against playoff opposition, however, and went 1-2, beating the Chiefs but losing close games to New England and Philadelphia.

The Jets finished with the 13th ranked offense in the league, but they were very up and down.  They broke 30 points four times, winning three of those games.  New York’s schedule included six playoff opponents and they went a less than inspiring 2-4.  They only scored in the single digits for three of those losses, including being shut out by Green Bay.

No matter who is on the field, Indianapolis always seems to end up in the mid-20s on the scoreboard.  The Jets are a different matter; they could explode or they could get totally shut down.  This is a team that lost three games this season when their defense allowed 10 points or less.  Generally, though, when they score, they win.  New York was 11-1 this year when they scored more than 9 points.

The Guys Under Center

Peyton Manning has had, alternately, his most successful and his most disappointing season this year.  What’s he’s been able to do with a revolving door of receivers and backs has been amazing.  He has, however, been prone to an unusually high amount of crucial interceptions, including throwing 11 in one three game stretch.  He did finish with 4,700 yards and 33 touchdowns, but he also checked in at number 16 out of the 79 QBs who took a snap this season.  That amounts to an off-year for him.

For the Jets, Mark Sanchez hasn’t really made the kind of progress many had hoped for coming into this season.  His completion percentage is under 55%, and he barely threw more touchdowns than interceptions, 17 to 13.  He finished up in the lower half of all quarterbacks, rating 50th with a pedestrian QB Rating of 75.3.  Sanchez showed flashes of brilliance in the playoffs last season when called upon, and he’ll have to do it again if the Jets are to make another run this year.

Watch out for the INTs from both of these guys.  Whoever throws fewer picks will win.

Who can stop the run?

The Colts have one of the worst rush defenses in the entire league, finishing 25th, and even that seems higher than it should be.  They’ve been gashed by backs good and not-so-good all season.  The Jets, meanwhile, sport the third best rush defense out there, giving up only 90 yards per game.  In a bit of bad matchup news for Indy, the Colts also have the 29th ranked rushing offense while the Jets are fourth best at almost 150 yards per game.

LaDanian Tomlinson of the Jets began the season looking rejuvenated, but he faded badly, failing to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the second straight season.  Shonn Green exploded onto the scene in the playoffs last year, but hasn’t yet been able to translate that into consistent success, but he has the size and speed to give the Colts fits, in particular.

The Colts have rotated Donald Brown, Joseph Addai and even retread Dominic Rhodes in their efforts to generate any kind of ground game.  Addai may finally be healthy, but let’s see how long he stays that way against the tough Jets defensive front.

Look for New York to control the clock on the ground, forcing Indy to abandon the run almost entirely by the third quarter.

Who will win?

Unlike last year’s playoffs when all the matchups favored the Colts, this year the reverse is true.  What Indy wants to do plays into the Jets strengths and what the Jets want to do plays into Indy’s weaknesses.  Shonn Green will be the guy we saw last year at this time, at least for this week, and have a big game.  That will keep Sanchez from having to do too much, and make Peyton throw, throw and throw some more into a Jets secondary that could pull down three or four picks in the game.  New York will control this from the outset and win fairly handily.

Final Score:  Jets 23, Colts 10


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