Jets-Colts Preview: Party Like It's 1969
The Jets are going to win this game. I guarantee it.
(Or has someone already said that?)
All Namath-ing aside, Gang Green is going to upset the Colts, shock the football world, and advance to its first Super Bowl since that fateful January day in Miami 41 years ago.
I know the Colts are eight-point favorites. I know Peyton Manning's squad hasn't lost a game all season when the starters played all four quarters. I know Indy was leading the Jets, 15-10, in their Week 16 matchup before Manning and other key players were pulled.
I know all those things. In response, I offer 10 reasons why the Jets are going to win.
1. Shonn Greene is the new Ahmad Bradshaw: As in a third-string running back who got playing time because of injuries to people in front of him and blew people away. Bradshaw did it with speed for the 2007 Giants, while Greene is more patient and powerful (check out his bulldozing of San Diego safety Eric Weddle). But both went from afterthought to key contributor in a manner of weeks.
In reality, though, there is no parallel to Greene's story. Two years ago, Greene was working as a truck driver and attending community college while he got his grades up. Now he's become the first Jet to rush for 100 yards in consecutive playoff games since Freeman McNeil in 1982. And in an overlooked stat from last week, the Colts did not actually shut down Ravens' back Ray Rice. He average 5.0 yards a carry but rushed only 13 times because Baltimore had to play catch-up the entire game. With a similar body type and running style, Greene should be to wear down the Indy defense.
CAVEAT ALERT: IF THOMAS JONES GETS MORE THAN 25 PERCENT OF THE CARRIES, DISREGARD THIS POINT. IN FACT, DISREGARD THE ENTIRE POST.
2. The Jets will hit Peyton Manning. Hard. Rex Ryan's blitz-happy strategy may not pay immediate dividends against Manning, who's a master at stepping up in the pocket and making quick decisions. But even if he gets the ball off, he's going to absorb some punishing hits early on. And if he gets crunched a few times by the likes of David Harris and Mike Devito (what a great name for a Jet), Manning might just flinch the next time he sees Gang Green coming at him.
3. The Colts will have zero running game: Indianapolis was dead last in the NFL in running (80.9 yards a game). The Jets were eighth in the league in run defense (98.6 yards allowed a game). 'Nuff said.
4. Indy's short passing game will work, but it will also keep the pace slow: Manning skewered the Jets with this strategy in Week 16, dinking and dunking his way down the field behind dump-offs to running back Joseph Addai and quick passes to tight end Dallas Clark. And yet Indy's first team had only one touchdown drive in 2 1/2 quarters -- three of their dink-dunk possessions led only to field goals. Translation: Down in the red zone, the short pass doesn't work nearly as well. You have to be able to run the ball (see point 3).
5. The Jets O-Line will gradually wear down the Colts' front seven: The only center in the league with the chops to match Indy veteran Jeff Saturday is Gang Green's Nick Mangold, a long-haired maniac who brutalizes the middle of opposing lines. On the deciding fourth-and-one in last week's victory, the Jets ran right behind Mangold, who pushed the line back two yards by himself.
The Jets also have Pro Bowler Alan Faneca and mountainous tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson. There's a reason Gang Green had the best running attack in the NFL, averaging more than 173 yards per game on the ground. It'll be on display in the second half today, when the Colt defenders have their hands on their hips between plays, sucking wind.
6. Mark Sanchez will have a big, mistake-free game: By far the biggest 'if' surrounding a potential Jets' victory. Because if Sanchez plays a mistake-free game, stays with the short passes and avoids taking chances down the field, the Jets will lose. Period.
The game Sanchez played against the Chargers will not be enough. Gang Green needs him to replicate this stat line from two weeks ago. If the O-Line can keep standout defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis out of the backfield, Sanchez has a chance to have that game. Have faith, I say.
7. Reggie Wayne will be a nonfactor, thanks to Darrelle Revis. By now, every fan knows Revis for his consistent, week-to-week ability to shut down the best receivers in the game. Revis is so good that he actually turns the other team's best wideout into a positive for the Jets, recording an INT in each playoff game and smothering Chad "Johnson" and Vincent Jackson.
Wayne is one of the best receivers of the last 10 years, and he and Manning have formed one of the more prolific hookups in NFL history. But he will get nothing against the NFL's best defensive player.
8. In a close game, I'll take Jay Feely: The Jets have benefited from multiple missed field goals in each of their playoff wins. Meanwhile, Feely has gone 2-2 (including a huge 46-yarder against San Diego), made two more kicks that were negated by penalties, and shone as a emergency punter in the win over Cincinnati. I covered Feely when I was working for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and he was with the Dolphins, and he's a class act, as professional an athlete as I've ever met. He's also a bulldog who routinely makes tackles on kick coverage and fires himself up for pressure kicks. I'll take Feely over anybody left in the playoffs, including Colts' veteran Matt Stover.
9. The Jets' game plan will give them a chance: Ryan's defense-first game plan is simple: Play conservative, don't make mistakes, control the field position, rely on your defense, and keep the game close going into the fourth quarter. It worked to perfection against San Diego, and it even worked in Week 16, when the Jets kept it close until the Colts benched their starters. Put it this way: If the Colts are up 13-7 going into the fourth quarter, the Jets will definitely take it.
10. Karma, baby: The Jets only reached the playoffs because the Colts decided to screw a chance at 19-0 and pulled their top players early. The Bengals basically did the same thing (lack of effort v actually pulling the players) and the Jets have already come back to haunt them. Throw in the residual karma from Super Bowl III, and you have a tidal wave of good juju on the Jets' side.
Earlier this week, my friend showed me a picture he had taken at a Jets game. It was a shot of the field and the backs of two fans. One was wearing a Namath jersey, one a Sanchez jersey. After today, that image will be even more enduring.
THE PICK: Jets 17, Colts 16