The 2010 regular season has officially come to an end, and the 2011 NFL playoffs are fully underway. Now that an intriguing Divisional Round has just been completed, it's time to prepare for what is likely to be a pair of exciting Conference Championship Games.
The first is the NFC, where I predicted the Packers to beat the Bears. Read about it here.
The next step is to determine the winner of the AFC, as the No. 6 New York Jets (10-6) travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers (12-4). This game will feature big-time players such as Mark Sanchez, LaDianian Tomlinson and Darrelle Revis for the Jets, along with Ben Roethlisberger, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu for the Steelers.
These two teams battled each other earlier this season in Week 15, with the Jets taking that one 22-17 on the road.
Interestingly enough, the Steelers edged out in virtually every statistical category. They had eight more first downs, 99 more total yards and a 5.8 yard per carry average in comparison to the Jets modest 3.9.
In addition, the emerging tandem of Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders combined for 14 receptions for 180 yards.
However, the Jets found a way to come back and win it. It just goes to show, the teams that finish strong are the more superior.
Not to mention, return specialist Brad Smith's 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the first play of the game played a huge factor in setting the tempo early. Considering the Jets are generally one of the best in the business in that area, the Steelers better have some plan to contain them.
Statistically speaking, the Steelers offense is rather underrated but should still struggle against the Jets third best total offense. In particular, I'm not sure if Rashard Mendenhall will be able to get much going in this one.
On the flip side, it'll be a similar, if not worse, situation as the Steelers defense is one of the most feared in football.
Therefore, to determine an outcome we've got to look a bit deeper.
As I've explained on numerous occasions in the past, generating an effective pass rush is an integral key to success. The Jets are +7 in that category and are fresh off a game in which they implemented that exact strategy by taking down Tom Brady five times en route to the upset win.
On the other hand, the Steelers have the edge in the turnover department, as they're +8 over the Jets. This not only deflates an opponent's morale, but gives additional opportunities for your offense while swinging the momentum in your favor.
The true test, in my opinion, will be the Jets rushing attack (fourth) against the Steelers run defense (first) and whoever wins that battle could end up taking the game.
As for playing in Heinz Field, I don't think they'll have much of an edge, especially since they are just 5-3 there during the regular season, while the Jets are 6-2 on the road. Not to mention, they just went into Foxborough and knocked off the Patriots, who have been undefeated at Gillette Stadium so far this year. Interestingly enough, home teams are also 3-5 through this playoff stretch. I guess that's accredited to how much mental toughness some of these teams have.
What I believe will truly separate the Steelers, though, is their experience. There's a reason why this is their fourth AFC Championship in the past seven years. They're built fundamentally strong from top to bottom which is why they remain competitive. Mike Tomlin is an incredible coach, and Ben Roethlisberger is a premier quarterback. They've got a system that works, and they execute it to perfection.
They're firing on all cylinders and with that, they're very difficult to beat. Frankly, I think they're just too much to handle.
That said, I've got the Pittsburgh Steelers winning this one and advancing to Super Bowl XLV.
Final Score: Steelers 20, Jets 16
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