The Jets are heading into their most crucial weekend of the season. The team sits in third place in the AFC East with a record of 3-3. They have a bye next week and will look to go into it on a high note and with a record over .500.
Their opponents this week are no slouch. Coming off a bye week, the Chargers are 4-1 and sit atop the AFC West. Because they are off a bye, San Diego will be well prepared for the Jets and look for a win to start off the second half of their season.
The game will either springboard the Jets and propel Gang Green on another late season playoff run, or it will make some of their problems from earlier in the season resurface and cause tension in the locker room.
In this rematch of a 2010 AFC Divisional playoff game, there are many intriguing matchups that will play out over the course of the afternoon. Let's take a look at some of the more interesting battles between the two teams.
Philip Rivers is one of the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, and he looks to once again be leading the Chargers and their sixth ranked passing offense towards the playoffs. Although Rivers has more interceptions than touchdowns, he is still averaging almost 300 yards per game and has a passer rating of 87.6.
Antonio Cromartie is having one of his worst seasons as a pro. After signing a four-year, $32 million contract in the offseason, the Jets expected much more than just the three interceptions he has provided.
So far this season, Cromartie has let up some huge plays and had four touchdowns scored against him. He also fumbled a crucial kickoff against the Raiders, leading to a fourth quarter touchdown that directly leaded to the Jets' loss. Cromartie is also averaging over a penalty per game on the season, and he was flagged four times in the Oakland game as well.
With Vicent Jackson taking a trip to Revis Island, Rivers will look to target his secondary receivers, who will be guarded by Cromartie. Rivers knows the problems that Cromartie has had during the season and will look to exploit the defensive back with Malcolm Floyd and his other talented receivers.
If Cromartie can shut down his assignment, it could lead to a long day for the passing offense. If Rivers can attack early and often, it will get under Cromartie's skin and be a long afternoon for him and the rest of the secondary.
I look for a big week from Cromartie playing against his former team. He has some extra incentive to have a big game, and he has played well in the past against the Chargers. Cromartie will be able to lock down whoever he is guarding opposite of Revis, and I can see a first quarter pick in the future for Cromartie.
Out of all the disappointments so far this season, Mark Sanchez is the biggest. In a season where many (including myself) thought the young quarterback would break out, he has seemingly reverted to his rookie season and is making a lot of mistakes he should have outgrown.
With the way Sanchez and the offense are playing, the second-ranked pass defense of the Chargers spells disaster for the Jets. The San Diego secondary is only giving up just shy of 180 passing yards per game and also have five interceptions in their first five contests.
Sanchez will really need to be on his game to succeed on Sunday. The team is only averaging 216 yards per game through the air, and the Jets have not been playing against teams with secondaries like the Chargers have.
Even though the odds are against him, I think Mark Sanchez will have a successful day against San Diego. He is not going to put up Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers-like numbers, but he will manage the game and do what needs to be done to give the Jets their best chance to come out with a victory. He will throw for around 200 yards and a touchdown this week and, more importantly, he will not commit a turnover.
I am hesitant to be positive about the Jets' offense after their first half against the Dolphins. The squad was stagnant and could not buy themselves a first down. You know the offense is struggling when the crowd erupts for the first first down of the night.
What makes me think Sanchez will succeed is the experience he got during his playoff win in San Diego. When you combine that with the confidence he gained during the second half against the Dolphins, I think good things are in store for the Jets signal caller.
It looks like Mike DeVito will be sidelined because of a sore knee he rolled over in practice, and that opens the door for rookie Kenrick Ellis to make his first career start. Ellis saw his first action of the season on Monday against the Dolphins, but he will see a lot better running game when he has Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews running towards him on Sunday.
The Chargers have the No. 9 rushing attack in the NFL and a two-headed monster in the backfield that can easily tear through a top rushing defense, let alone one who has a rookie making his first career start in the base run package.
The Jets see a lot of upside in Ellis, and he can fill in nicely for the defense in run situations this week. The Jets will also be aided by the fact that the Chargers sometimes fall in love with the pass, so that will mean less time for Ellis, and the run package will have to be on the field.
When the run specialists are on the field, the Jets will look to contain Tolbert and Matthews and keep them away from the big play. They will not expect Ellis to have the same impact as DeVito in his first professional start, but they will expect him to come in and contribute to stopping the run on early downs and in key third-down situations.
You have to give the edge to the Chargers in this matchup. The thunder and lightning combination of Tolbert and Matthews are one of the best in football, and they will be going up against a rookie in his first career start. Ellis will be able to contain both backs on a lot of the plays, but I think that there is potential for some big running plays during the game.
It is no secret that the Jets have trouble stopping talented tight ends, and Antonio Gates is the best there is. With word out that Gates will play Sunday, the Jets will have to rely heavily on Calvin Pace to bottle him up.
Even though Gates has been out since Week 2, he is one of the Chargers' biggest threats whenever he is on the field. He is one of Philip Rivers' favorite targets, and I am sure he is one of the Jets biggest concerns going into the game.
Calvin Pace has been having a great season and is relied on heavily in Rex Ryan's defense. Guarding Antonio Gates on a regular basis will be Pace's toughest assignment of the season, and a lot of the other parts of the defense will rely on Pace's ability to contain Gates.
The Jets will not leave Pace to try and deal with Gates by himself. They will probably give him help with either David Harris or Bart Scott bracketing him and trying to prevent big plays from the talented tight end.
Because of the problems the Jets have had with tight ends in the past, I think Antonio Gates has the upper hand in this battle. The Jets do have the fact that Gates is banged up in their favor, but I do not think it would be coming back unless he was near 100 percent.
This matchup is not one the Jets will look to win, but one they will just look to keep under control throughout the course of the game.
While the Jets' offense may not always be clicking on all cylinders, the return game has been one of the bright spots so far this season.
With the departure of Brad Smith and problems with Antonio Cromartie returning punts, it did not always look like this would be a strength for the Jets. Fortunately, Joe McKnight had a breakout game against the Ravens with his 107-yard touchdown return, and he has finally found himself a role on the squad.
When you combine this with the emergence of Jeremy Kerley as a threat on punt returns and in the passing game, it gives the Chargers even more aspects they need to game plan for.
The Chargers are a middle-of-the-pack special teams unit, and this is something that the Jets can really exploit. Mike Scrifes is only averaging about 46 yards per punt, so Kerley could take some of these and give the Jets great field position.
Nick Novak has only 14 touchbacks in 24 kickoff attempts, so this means that McKnight will have a chance to return a few kickoffs and hopefully set the up the Jets' offense with short field after short field.
With the return game of the Jets being so stellar and the special teams of the Chargers being so mediocre, this is an area that the Jets can really exploit on Sunday. If they get lucky, the Jets may even be able to get an easy score out of the return game.
The Jets are a desperate team right now, and when they are desperate, it brings out the best in them.
I look for a low-scoring contest and the Jets to win the special teams battle and make enough plays to come out with the victory.