NFL Divisional Round Playoffs
New York head coach Rex Ryan said before their game against the Bengals that they should not only be favored in that game, they should be favored to win it all. After leaving Cincinnati with a convincing 24-14 win they head to San Diego to play the Chargers, arguably the best team in the league in a 4:40 PM start on Sunday. If they come away with a win here, then he just might be right.
New York made no secret about their approach to the Cincinnati game. They planned to run the ball on offense and smother the Bengals on defense. The amazing thing is they executed this plan to a tee. Behind the running of Shonn Greene, who gained 135 yards on 21 carries, they were able to win the time of possession battle by extending drives.
Defensively, the Bengals had no answer for the Jets' blitz and coverage schemes, as QB Carson Palmer ended the day 18 for 36 for 146 yards. Overall, the Jets held Cincinnati to just 281 yards of total offense, which was just slightly more than their No. 1 ranked defense averaged for the year.
Probably the biggest surprise was the play of rookie QB Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has been referred to as the weak link in the chain, but in this game he played mistake free and made some big throws when he had to. His performance will go a long way towards providing the necessary confidence to face a much tougher test this week.
Many feel that the Jets should not even have made the playoffs after wins in their last two games over teams that were resting many of their starters for the playoffs. Against the Colts they were actually trailing before Peyton Manning took a seat on the bench. Regardless, last week they proved that they do belong in the playoffs and they are not going to go away quietly.
New York certainly has the credentials of a playoff team. They have the No. 1 ranked defense in three categories: yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and most importantly, points allowed. They complement this with the No. 1 rushing offense, which gives them a powerful one-two punch. Sanchez does not have the experience, but he does have the ability, as he has shown flashes of brilliance more than a few times this season. As long as they do put too much weight on his shoulders, he should be able to carry the load in this game.
San Diego began the season losing three out of their first five games for the second year in a row and all the critics began to write them off for the year as their division rival Denver ran their record to 5-0. Starting with a 37-7 win over Kansas City, the Chargers reeled off 11 straight wins to finish the season 13-3. QB Philip Rivers had an MVP-like season and the Chargers’ defense improved each and every week, only giving up an average of 16.8 points over their last seven games.
Much of Rivers' success can be attributed to TE Antonio Gates and WR Vincent Jackson, who each had over 1,100 yards receiving this season. RB LaDainian Tomlinson is not the player he once was, but he still ran for 730 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Statistically, they may not be the best team on paper, but in reality, until someone beats them, they are the best team left.
For New York, they cannot let themselves get overwhelmed by the magnitude of this game. They showed a lot of composure last week, but this is a much bigger stage against a much better team. Once again, they will rely on the running game and their defense, but they both have to be playing at a high level to pull off the upset.
For San Diego, they have to keep doing all the things that have gotten them to this point. You do not win 11 straight games by making mistakes and shooting yourself in the foot. Their success will be squarely on the shoulders of Rivers, as he has come up big time after time during their magical run. They have the ability to raise their game as the stakes increase, as they were very close to making it to the Super Bowl last season.
The Jets defense will keep them in this game for a while, but in the long run, their offense does not have the horses to run with San Diego. I like the Chargers and the OVER.