Here we go, Jets fans. It feels like the longest eight day layoff between games in history, doesn't it? The Jets miraculous playoff run continues into the divisional playoff round this afternoon in San Diego.
From a 4-6 start to a 10-7 record and a playoff victory, how far the Jets have come with their rookie head coach and rookie quarterback is amazing.
Last week, it was the rookie running back who came out of nowhere to trample the Cincinnati Bengals defense and help the Jets advance.
We should be seeing a lot of Shonn Greene and Thomas Jones today. The Chargers are extremely vulnerable against the run. The Jets will try to exploit this weakness over and over again. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Jets attempt 40+ rushes today.
However, the success of the Jets running game is more vital than ever today: The longer the Jets control the clock with the running game and economical pass plays, the more they can keep the ball away from the best player on the field, Philip Rivers.
In case you haven't noticed, Philip Rivers is an elite quarterback in the NFL, and virtually has been since he became a starter. Remember Drew Brees as a Charger? I think Bolts fans don't miss him, sorry "Who Dat" nation. Brees going to the Big Easy was a win-win for both franchises.
The Jets rank first in the NFL in many defensive categories, including total defense, pass defense and points allowed. It's safe to say, then, that the Chargers have a tough task ahead of them against the most solid defense they've faced all year.
What makes the Chargers offense so unique is how similar it is to another team with an elite quarterback in the AFC: the Indianapolis Colts.
Like the Colts, the Chargers offense is pass, pass, pass with just enough ineffective rushing attack to keep the defense honest. LaDainian Tomlinson, a future Hall of Famer in his own right, is more known this season for his "LT Electric Glide" video on YouTube than he is for his yards per carry. (If you've never seen it, stop reading this and go watch it. You'll either hate it or love it, and I love it.)
So how have the Chargers managed to win 11 games in a row with a running game that only works in theory and not on the field? It helps when you have three targets that are 6'4" and taller.
Vincent Jackson, the 6'5" Pro Bowl wide receiver, will be seeing a lot of Darrelle Revis today. That leaves 6'5" Malcom Floyd against the weakest link on the Jets defense, CB Lito Sheppard.
The biggest matchup problem for the Jets, however, could be the 6'4" Antonio Gates. Rumors from Jets camp are that we should not be surprised to see Revis take some snaps against Gates if needed. Otherwise, I expect some combination of Bart Scott and Kerry Rhodes on the big tight end.
Then there's the 5'6" lightning bug, Darren Sproles. Just when you think the deep pass is coming again, Rivers can dump off a screen pass to Sproles, who is one of the most dangerous players in the league with the ball in his hands. (Just ask the Colts about that.)
I think the X-factor in this game is Rex Ryan's schemes against Norv Turner. If the Jets can outcoach the Chargers, (very doable) and the Jets players can execute the game plan, New York can walk out of San Diego with an upset.
I went two for two in my predictions on Saturday, but this is just one prediction I hope I'm dead wrong about.
I can't see Philip Rivers letting this opportunity slip by him. Elite quarterbacks find ways to win big games, and I think Rivers is a prime time quarterback. He's the only quarterback from his 2004 draft class without at least one championship ring, (Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger) and for years now I've thought Rivers was the best of the three.
Chargers 27, Jets 20
(For more Mets, Jets and Nets analysis, visit my personal blog, MetsJetsNetsBlog)