Wednesday, January 19, 2011

5 Reasons the Jets Will Win the AFC Championship

Don't worry, yinzers -- I'm doing the Top 5 Reasons the Steelers Will Win tomorrow, but today, here are some reasons Jets fans have to be confident:

1. Rex Ryan. Say what you will, let loose all the foot fetish puns in your arsenal and make all the fat jokes you want (Lord knows I made my fair share of fat jokes at Charlie Weis’ expense), but this guy is a great coach. He somehow handles, juggles, manages or whatever you want to call it, an inordinate number of huge personalities on the Jets roster and he does it in the Circus Maximus known as the New York media. His players have undisciplined mouths, but they are disciplined on the field. Go figure. And I know that chafes a lot of folks out there -- Brady, Belichick, and at least half of the talking heads -- but it works.

Consider this, from the miracle of Super Bowl III until Big Rex’s arrival in the Big Apple, the Jets had missed the playoffs 29 times and played in just two conference championship games. Just TWO. Suddenly, they're in the Final Four in back to back seasons.

And it's no fluke. It’s not simply Ryan's bluster or freakish ability to manage personnel, it is because he also happens to excel at scouting and scheming. Last week, his defensive gameplan stymied the great and wondrous Tom Brady throughout the game. The Jets managed to bring heat, sacking Brady five times and hitting him seven more times, but they covered his receivers to the point of outfoxing Brady. There was one play late in the game where Brady dropped back and looked for a receiver for about eight or nine seconds before throwing the ball away in disgust. That's what Ryan's scheme was designed to do, but he does have the luxury of having the personnel downfield who can cover like stink on a skunk. Which brings me to

2. Darrelle Revis. If any corner in the league can shut down The Flash, Mike Wallace, this is the guy. The Jets lead the league in the lowest percentage of passes completed, with opposing QB’s completing just 50.7% of their attempts per game. Revis Island is a big reason why. He takes away the opposition’s biggest downfield threat, leaving Antonio Cromartie on the other side of the field to handle the secondary receiver. Let’s face it, Wallace has been able to simply outrun just about everybody in the NFL, but I’m not sure that he can just run away from Revis.

Who cares that Revis doesn't have any interceptions this year? Quarterbacks rarely throw to his side of the field anymore and his nearly flawless coverage allows his teammates to reap the fruit from the turnover tree. It all works out in the end. The Jets picked off Tom Brady for the first time since, god, it felt like since the George W. Bush administration (actually the Ravens picked him off twice in October.) It is notable, even, that Brady threw only five picks all year but three of them against the Jets. The week before that, this same defensive secondary shut down the world’s greatest living quarterback, Peyton Manning, and basically erased Reggie Wayne from the game. Its like he wasn't even there. I believe this is the best corner tandem in the NFL.

3. Brad Smith. To me, the difference in the December 19th which the Jets won 22-17 was the opening kick off return for a touchdown. In fact, I wrote a post about special teams miscues and how they come back to bite you in the ass like a hungry grizzly bear every time.

Last week, Baltimore's Lardarius Webb returned two kicks and two punts, for a total of 96 yards. And, not that our friends in Baltimore would ever let us forget, one of those punt returns was a touchdown save for a (correct) holding call, which would add another 29 yards to his totals. If you're counting at home, that's 125 yards on four returns, or 31.25 yards per return. Oy.

The combination of the Steelers specious special teams coverage units with the Jets Smith (who has two touchdowns this year and averages 28.64 yards per kick return) scares the bejeezus out of me. The Jets best chance of winning may be to win the special teams battle, give Sanchez and Co. a short field, or just score on a kick or punt return. Smith was inactive with a groin injury for the New England game, but I think he's playing this Sunday night. Even if he doesn't go, they'll send Antonio Cromartie back there and he's no return slouch, himself.

4. Santonio Holmes. No, it's not his deep and wide-ranging knowledge of the Steelers defense that scares me, it's his ability to make ridiculous plays at crunch-time. Oh, sure, he'll drop a ton of passes (and I'll be damned if I can find that stat anywhere; damn you internet!), but he can make the catches that make you say, 'no effing way!' The easy ones? Not so much. But if time is ticking away and Sanchez launches the ball to a ridiculous spot nobody can get to, 'Tone will get to it. That could be a tipping point.

5. D’Brickshaw Ferguson, Matt Slauson, Nick Mangold, Brandon Moore and Wayne Hunter. This would be an even more compelling reason, had the Jets not lost line stalwart Damien Woodey to an achilles injury, but still, this is an impressive front five. The Jets averaged 148.4 rushing yards per game (5th) and ran for 2,374 yards total (4th). They allowed only 28 quarterback sacks (8th) all year. In the playoffs, they've rushed for nearly identical numbers - averaging 144.5 yards per game -- and have allowed just one sack in two games.

A big part of the reason that the Jets have advanced this far is that they've won this battle by an overwhelming margin -- keeping Sanchez upright and unhurried. He may not be a seasoned vet and he certainly has his detractors, but he's playing his best football right now. With enough time and good passing lanes, he can beat any team.

Tomorrow, five reasons that the Steelers will win. For now, I've managed to psych myself into a harried state of anxiety that has morphed into actual heart palpitations. Nice work on my part. Yeah.

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