The American Football Conference comes down to this: The New York Jets will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game for the right to compete in Dallas at Super Bowl XLV. Both teams are coming off dramatic wins over divisional rivals in which a touchdown was the difference. Take a look at how these two teams compare against one another.
New York Jets
Rex Ryan has the Jets reaching their cruising altitude at the right time. Not only are the Jets shutting down offenses as potent as the New England Patriots, but the New York offense is firing on all cylinders as well. With all the trash talking from last week behind them, expect to see much of the same in preparation for this week, too.
Behind Bart Scott and Antonio Cromartie, the Jets have little left to say as they have held two of the best offenses in the league to minimal performances in consecutive weeks. However, don't think that will contain the arrogance of the Jets as they look to reach the Super Bowl behind timely turnovers and well executed game plans.
Offensively, New York will need Mark Sanchez to keep on his streak of strong showings as LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene will have less of an impact against the Steelers rush defense. With several targets, including ex-Steelers Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes, Sanchez should have plenty of choices to move the ball successfully through the air.
In summary, New York needs to continue with the defensive dominance and keep the Pittsburgh quick strike offense in containment. The Jets will also need to make the most of their rush opportunities as Pittsburgh bolstered the top rushing defense in the league. Mix in a balanced pass attack that protects the ball and the Jets should be on their way to Dallas.
Much like what New York has in a vocal coach, Pittsburgh has in leader Mike Tomlin. The Steelers may not be as vocal as the Jets, but they are definitely as confident on the defensive side of the ball as they came into the playoffs with the leagues top defense which proved useful in an emotional comeback against the Baltimore Ravens.
With a healthy Troy Polamalu, the Steelers have been even more successful defensively as he has had an interception in four of his last six games. Even without Polamalu, the Steelers have given up 61.1 rushing yards per game, a historic figure in league history. The Steelers may not be the most athletic or gifted of teams, but they are well disciplined in each individual role.
On the offensive side, the players have the same mentality as the defense: it's all about the rush. Pittsburgh has leaned on Rashard Mendenhall to carry the load as the feature back, knowing his success opens up opportunity for success for the rest of the offense. Hines Ward plays a part in this by being one of the best blocking wideouts in the game.
With all the pieces in place for another shot at the Super Bowl, the Steelers will need to manage the Jets dual threat running attack of Ladainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene to solidify their defenses legacy. On the other side of the ball, feed Rashard Mendenhall but keep the passing game active. Once you obtain a late lead, let Rashard Mendenhall kill the clock to sustain victory.
The Jets will come out looking to run, but will try to catch Pittsburgh off balance with a couple deep attacks to one of the many targets available. Pittsburgh will likely have the same idea in attacking the New York secondary. I expect to see an exchange of passing touchdowns before halftime which lights up the scoreboard.
In the second half, both teams will look to slow down the pace and remove any excess time off the clock to deny the opponent an opportunity to beat them. In the end, Pittsburgh will come out victorious on an interception throw from Mark Sanchez in the third quarter. A score of 35-31 will be the final outcome with the Steelers defeating the Jets and moving onto the Super Bowl.