At long last the wait is finally over. On Sunday night during prime-time the Miami Dolphins and the New York Jets will engage one another on the field of battle in an epic clash of arch-rivals that will not soon be forgotten.
Fans of both teams, myself included, have difficulty admitting that the majority of the vim, vigor, and vitriol exchanged between camps is a result of being so evenly matched. The Jets are good (there, I said it), but so are the Fins, as last year's two meetings forcibly proved to New York. Both squads have a serious chip on their shoulder, and both have everything to prove.
There is a very good reason that this event occupies this Sunday's prime-time slot, and that is because it promises to be a street fight from beginning to end, and people love a good struggle.
This is not a game, sports fans, it is all out war; to the victor go the spoils.
Operation: Orange Offensive
Tactical: Drown the enemy in a sea of orange. Full assault on offense; suffocation on defense.
Objective: Total destruction of the New York Jets. AFC East supremacy.
Here's what we know about Mark Sanchez:
His rookie campaign, called impressive by some, was significantly marred by the throwing of twenty interceptions and just fourteen touchdowns in the regular season. He beats himself as often as he is beaten by the opposition.
His strong suit would be his mobility, though it seems that skill often makes him quick to abandon the pocket when composure would better serve the situation. One gets the sense that while the physical skill is there, and may have even gotten better, Mark still lacks the maturity and objectivity to be considered for elite status.
Consistency is another area to which Sanchez needs to attend. While he had an impressive game against the Patriots in Week 2, on opening day versus the Ravens the Jets could have replaced him with a scarecrow, and the points would not have been much different. The offense was non-existent.
I was admittedly stunned with how well Mark moved the ball last week, but with this guy one tends to assume that it was an isolated event.
He had a great game, but on friendly ground. The Orange Offensive has begun, and you had better believe that a packed house of angry, abusive, bright orange-clad Dolphins fans will prove to be an extremely inhospitable environment.
Last week the Dolphins secondary made Brett Favre, a twenty-year veteran and one of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play the game, look like a second-year player. In his actual second year, and with the way the Dolphins' new defense has played under Mike Nolan, Sanchez is going to have to put on the best performance of his short career or completely miss the mark.
With all-pro cornerback Darrelle Revis staying behind for the Jets' trip to Miami, Chad Henne will only have one obstacle standing in the way of a stellar outing: Chad Henne
To this point, it looks like the coaching staff has kept training wheels on the young quarterback, having him attempt just 15 passes against a defense that is known predominantly for its run-stopping power.
As a result, he only managed 114 yards through the air. Needless to say, it has begun to get difficult to watch this kid beat himself when he does get the calls.
One instance from last week that springs instantly to mind is the poor goal-line execution of the play on which he had a clear touchdown to Brandon Marshall and misfired from point-blank range. There was also the long route to Marshall that he busted by under-throwing, missing a chance to score against the Bills the week before.
Both of those were plays that could have put the Bills and the Vikings down for good, instead of the Fins having to eek out down-to-the-wire wins of five and four points respectively.
In the locker room after the win in Minnesota head coach Tony Sparano said, "We gotta figure out how to make ourselves better, now, you know and I know it."
What he meant was, Chad Henne needs to figure out how to play up to his potential. You know it, and I know it. Chad knows it, too.
This young man is capable of throwing 400-yard games, so is this the week that the restrictions on Chad are to be lifted? The stage is set, and many people believe that it is.
What better time to unleash all you've got?
There seems a fair likelihood that you will see Chad Henne being trusted with more passes, but it is a virtual guarantee that the running game will still be the main course for the Dolphins offense.
Despite each of the two men fumbling and turning the ball over to the Vikings last week, both Ricky and Ronnie have had solid overall performances through two games. If Miami thought ground-and-pound was a good idea against Minnesota's "Williams Wall," you had better believe the Jets' front seven (sans Kris Jenkins) will be tested thoroughly by the Dolphins' own "Williams Express," and what has appeared to be an invigorated Ronnie Brown.
During last year's home game against the Jets, Ronnie put up 74 yards and two TDs, while Ricky had 68 yards on the ground and 70 through the air. One would think that numbers like those would be quite sufficient to secure the win on Sunday if Chad Henne repeats the level of his performance against New York last season.
We have not seen anything too astonishing from either of these men in 2010, but they always seem to come through (Ricky especially) when they are badly needed. Expect to see an accentuated intensity from one of the NFL's most dangerous RB tandems for one of this season's most significant contests.
If anyone was ever to be envious of players on the Jets defense, now would not be the proper time. Come Sunday night they are going to have their hands completely full.
It seems a fair assumption that Antonio Cromartie will spend the majority of Sunday's game attempting to cover the un-coverable Brandon Marshall.
It actually could be an interesting match-up, as Cromartie (not Revis) has been the main attraction in the Jets defensive backfield this year. Even so, Cromartie and Marshall do have a history from the AFC West, and though they are now AFC East rivals, the data still reads the same: Marshall wins that battle almost every time.
There will be a 100 percent chance of other Jet defenders having to deal with Marshall due to the fact that double-covering the all-star is a virtual necessity in almost every situation. Without Revis, Cromartie is the big gun, and comparison between Brandon and any of the Jets' other DBs is simply unfair.
While The Beast draws all sorts of attention, I expect to see marquee performances from Brian Hartline and Anthony Fasano. Seeing Davine Bess play a greater role would also be most welcome.
Most fans thought the words "Henne-to-Marshall for six!" would be the standard in 2010, but as of yet, no real connection between the two has been made. It would be ideal if this were the week where the light goes off in both of their heads, and they were finally able to get on the same page.
If it happens the way we all know it can, it won't be a good weekend to be a Jet.
There are so many things that are different about the game's two head coaches, aside from just their answers to the question: "Would you like a cheese sandwich?" But in an odd twist, let's focus on their similarities.
They are the head coaches of two AFC East teams that continue to build one of the greatest rivalries in sports history, and both have known some measure of success in their short head coaching careers.
Sunday could, like so many Jets vs. Dolphins contests, turn out to be a battle of wills between coaching staffs, with Tony Sparano and Rex Ryan at the forefront.
The toughest games are won and lost on decision making. Both coaches realize that their team's victory or defeat hinges on their own ability to make smart choices, while perfectly executing the game plans that have no doubt been meticulously drawn up leading into this battle.
Tony and Rex are both calculated risk-takers. They often go with the high-percentage decisions, if sometimes at the expense of glory. It is a good way to minimize catastrophes, but as Bill Belichik has proved, not the only way. Belichik is known for taking risks that sometimes land his team in hot water, but to be fair, he is also known for having multiple Super Bowl rings.
Both Sparano and Ryan could learn something from Bill (please dont tell any Patriots fans that I said that).
Even still, both have a winning record as head coach of their respective teams and will likely bring out the best they have to offer on Sunday. I would, however, be a horrible Dolphins fan if I did not point out the fact that Rex has yet to claim a victory over Tony.
I have no doubt that Mark Sanchez saw the game film of the Dolphins at Minnesota, which means he saw what Miami's cornerbacks did to one of the greatest QBs to ever take a snap in the NFL.
That can't have the sophomore feeling too encouraged, pitting himself against a CB tandem that yielded four interceptions (one of which was negated by penalty) against one of the league's most dangerous passers. Mike Nolan's new defensive schematic is creating all sorts of opportunities for these guys to be in the right place at the right time.
All of Sanchez's passes will have to exhibit similar timeliness if he hopes to even scratch the surface of the performance he had last week versus the Patriots. Unfortunately for him, the Dolphins secondary currently looks to be in much better shape than what New England had to offer.
After last week, Vontae Davis and Jason Allen must be extremely hungry and anxious to get back on the field and keep the havoc coming. I would not be at all surprised if Mark Sanchez gets less than 20 calls to run passing plays that are not short under-routes or quick screens.
Sanchez will throw at least one pick in this game. If it's only one, I believe that pick will go to Jason Allen. Jason has finally begun to play the kind of football of which few believed he was capable, and it is a thing of beauty.
In just the first two games of his fifth-year, Allen has already amassed 17 tackles, two interceptions, and four deflected passes.
If you need a frame of reference as to how impressive that is, consider the stats of Darrelle Revis going into week three of 2009: Revis had just seven tackles, one interception, and one deflected pass...and that was at the start of what many called one of the greatest single-season performances by a corner.
You could even add Darrelle's play from games one and two this year to those numbers, and he still would fall well short of Jason's stats this year. Let me tell you, Jason Allen is the last person I thought I'd be comparing to Darrelle Revis, but here I am doing so with no apologies.
With Braylon Edwards being New York's only serious threat down field, one can imagine that Miami's red-hot corners are going to have a field day.
Jets and Dolphins fans have been waiting for this moment for almost a year. For the Jets, a chance at redeeming themselves after suffering two losses to the Fins in 2009, and for the Dolphins, a chance to prove that it was no fluke.
2-0. This is unfamiliar ground for the Dolphins, and if one were to use recent history as a guide the odds of Miami going 3-0 to remain unbeaten are roughly one-in-seven.
It may surprise you little to hear that I think these are odds that can be overcome with some good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed football, and that is exactly what you are going to see on Sunday night. One hundred and six men will be vying to win the day, and fifty-three of them are going to go home disappointed.
If I were someone other than who I am, I might even feel sorry for the Jets.
Want to know who I have winning in week three? Picks for all 16 games. My record for 2010 is 21-11.