It doesn’t look like much of a game when the 5-4 New York Jets visit the 4-5 Denver Broncos on this week’s Thursday night NFL Network telecast, but it figures to have big playoff implications because the AFC is so wide open.
New York was rolling into Sunday night’s home game against New England but got stomped by the Patriots, 37-16—the most points the Jets had given up all season. By comparison, New York had allowed 38 total points in their three-game winning streak.
Pretty much everything that could go wrong did, including Mark Sanchez taking a terrible timeout right before the half that essentially led to a New England touchdown and a 13-9 halftime lead. The Pats rode that momentum to a second-half blowout.
Sanchez threw for 309 yards, but he was picked twice and sacked five times. That loss all but ends New York’s chances for the AFC East title. Yes, the Jets are only a game behind New England, but the Pats have clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So it’s probably wild card or bust for this club now and another conference loss wouldn’t be good.
Denver, meanwhile, has come back from the dead under Tim Tebow, who is now 3-1 as a starter despite looking incredibly shaky as a passer. The Broncos are just a game out of first in the AFC West—that’s going to be their only playoff chance.
In one of the most unusual games in recent NFL history last week, Tebow threw eight times and completed two and the Broncos still beat the Chiefs 17-10 thanks to 55 rushing attempts. Tebow is only the fifth quarterback since 1980 to throw all of his team's passes, complete two or fewer and still win.
Denver ran the option 16 times for 95 yards with Tebow keeping it four times for 31 yards. That isn’t supposed to work in the NFL. And I don’t think it will for much longer—remember the Wildcat? That’s already a cliché for the most part.
Jets at Broncos Betting Storylines
Let’s get to the injuries first. Denver had to give the ball to third-string tailback Lance Ball 30 times against Kansas City because the team’s top two backs, Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno, both left with injuries.
The latter is done for the year, while McGahee is questionable for Thursday with a hamstring injury. He says he could have played Sunday in an emergency.
The team's only other running backs are Ball, who would start if McGahee is unable to play, and Jeremiah Johnson, signed off the practice squad Monday. Although I would argue Tebow is really a running back.
Meanwhile, the New York media is saying that Jets No. 2 running back, LaDainian Tomlinson, will sit Thursday with an MCL sprain to his left knee. Tomlinson, who has 479 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns this season, will be replaced mostly by Joe McKnight behind Shonn Greene.
The Jets also could be very shorthanded at receiver as Jeremy Kerley and Patrick Turner both were hurt against the Pats and are iffy Thursday. Neither of those guys are starters, but Eron Riley is the only other wideout currently on the active roster. He was signed on Oct. 19 after being on the Broncos practice squad.
This should be a fascinating matchup of “ground and pound” strategies. It could be something similar to Nebraska vs. Oklahoma from the 1980s.
Tebow last week became the first QB with more rushes than passes in a game in which he threw every pass for his team since 1974. The Broncos became the third team in the last 25 years to win with two or fewer completions.
New York, meanwhile, seemed to regain its running identity during its winning streak and did have 110 yards against the Pats and a solid 4.4 yards per carry, but three turnovers, a muffed punt and a missed short field goal killed the Jets.
New York and Denver are No. 15 and No. 16, respectively, in rushing yards allowed this season with an identical 4.0 yards per carry allowed. In their three games since Week 8, the Broncos are averaging an NFL-best 246.0 rushing yards. New York is averaging 125.5 rushing yards in its last four games, with Greene averaging 80.8.
This is the third meeting between the Broncos and Jets in four seasons. The Broncos won 34-17 at the Meadowlands in 2008. The Jets won 24-20 in Denver last year.
Jets at Broncos Betting Odds and Trends
The Jets opened as 4.5-point favorites with the total at 41 on NFL odds. More than 70 percent of the early action is on New York. The Jets are 4-5 ATS this year and 1-3 on road. Denver is 4-5 ATS and 0-4 at home. "Over/under" records: both 6-3.
Jets are 6-1 ATS in past seven as road favorite of 3.5-10 points. Broncos have covered just once in past 10 following an ATS win. They haven’t covered in past four as a home dog of 3.5-10 points.
The "over" is 5-0 in the Jets’ past five as a road favorite. The "over" is 5-1 in Broncos’ past six as a home dog. The "under" is 4-1 in teams’ past five meetings in Denver.
NFL Predictions: Jets at Broncos Betting Preview
Tebow hasn't completed 50 percent of his throws in any of the five games he's played this year—and he's lost only once as a starter. I just don’t see this continuing.
Normally, I would never pick a team coming in on the shortest week possible and having to travel—the Jets played the Sunday night game vs. New England.
But the Broncos are simply too one-dimensional on offense and it’s not like they played great run defenses the past two weeks in the Raiders and Chiefs.
Take the Jets and the "under" in an ugly defensive game.
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.