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Cheat Sheet: Jets run ends here
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Tell them their team’s got the best field goal defense you’ve ever seen. Say that whatever voodoo spell the Jets put on Nate Kaeding and Shayne Graham the past two weekends, it was some of the best football strategy you’ve ever seen. Or, just rattle off illustrious unforgettable teams like the ‘96 Jacksonville Jaguars, '05 Denver Broncos, and the '08 Ravens and remind them that simply getting to the AFC Championship Game doesn’t mean a thing. After all, no one ever remembers the conference runner-up.
OK, so maybe I’m being a bit of a Debbie Downer; a “hater” if you will. But being in New York City this week, you’d think there were a ticker tape parade already scheduled down the Canyon of Heroes to honor last Sunday night’s Divisional Round win over San Diego. The sports talk radio stations are clogged with callers already comparing this team to the ’07 Super Bowl champion Giants, the papers are anointing Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez the city’s newest king and prince, and Kerry Rhodes is on Twitter, running his mouth about his favorite subject: himself. Well, nothing new there, but you get the point.
Perhaps we shouldn’t take anything away from Jets fans this week, though. If anything, it presents a rare opportunity for one of the sporting world’s longest suffering fan bases to bask in some positive light. I honestly can’t remember the last time Jets fans could proudly walk the city streets with their chests puffed out and their heads held high. Certainly not since 1998.
And quite honestly, their team -- those ugly, heinous, downright bruising '09-'10 New York Jets -- actually has the kind of makeup that can (dare I say this) . . . beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon. They're boorish, they're rude, and they've got a bully's bravado. In short, the Jets are everything the Colts aren't.
It’d be quite the upset (Vegas currently has the Jets as seven-point underdogs), sure. But this isn’t the Namath and Maynard Jets shocking the '68 Colts at the Orange Bowl. This is a winnable contest for New York. After all, defense is the name of the game these days. And if one team personifies defense, toughness and ugly, old-school football -- it’s Rex Ryan’s throwback Jets.
It’s amazing, really. We heard and read all season about how 2009 was the year of the quarterback and the big offenses. Whether it was Aaron Rodgers lighting up the sky in Green Bay, Favre and Warner putting up monster numbers in their respective cities, or traditional grind-it-out teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore and the New York Giants breaking passing records -- all season it was offense, offense, and more offense.
And yet, there we were last weekend -- when the games actually mattered -- watching defenses muzzle four of the league’s top offenses one game after another.
Sure, Drew Brees and Reggie Bush had their way with the Cardinals. But let’s not discredit that Saints defense and their role in Saturday’s win. After Tim Hightower ripped off an 83-yard run to open the game, New Orleans held Arizona -- a team that put up 51 on Green Bay’s highly rated defense a week earlier -- to just seven points the rest of the way. Larry Fitzgerald didn’t record a single catch until his Cardinals were already down 35-14.
With Will Smith and the New Orleans defensive line applying the pressure up front and a healthy pair of corners in Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter back in the lineup jamming Arizona’s wideouts, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams used press coverage out wide and found great success. Kurt Warner was pressured all game and the Saints capitalized on opportunistic turnovers and impossible crowd noise.
"I'm proud to be a captain of this group. We've come a long way,” linebacker Jon Vilma told reporters after the game. “These kinds of chances in these kinds of games do not come around often in this league. As a defense, we know that.''
If the Saints defense looked good on Saturday, the Colts D looked downright nasty. The Ravens offense isn’t exactly the ’99 Rams, but Indy made the unit look inept. A week after he carried the Ravens to a 19-point win in New England with 159 yards rushing, Ravens Pro Bowler Ray Rice gained only 67 yards on the ground against Indy. Joe Flacco looked dazed and confused all evening. When the Colts brought five or more defenders on a blitz, Flacco went 3-for-10 for 45 yards with an interception.
Say what you want about Peyton Manning and the decorated cast of characters on the Indianapolis offense, the Colts D is the main reason Indianapolis dispatched of Baltimore so easily. They’re fast, they’re nasty and with that home crowd roaring at their backs, they give opposing quarterbacks hell.
And then there’s that Purple People Eaters Part II defense in Minnesota. Has anyone seen Mark Colombo or Flozell Adams’ jock straps this week? Though it hasn’t been confirmed by the AP, I’m fairly sure the last time anyone saw of either of those two garments, they were around each players’ ankles sometime in the second quarter of Sunday’s 34-3 blowout.
Tony Romo was sacked six times, lost two of his three fumbles and threw an interception right to Ben Leber that pretty much put the game on ice before halftime. After gaining 118 yards in the first quarter, the Cowboys got only 130 the rest of the way. So much for that unstoppable Dallas offense.
The Jets? Well, you know what they did. Ugly, fierce, and opportunistic in San Diego, the New York defense gave the Jets offense just enough opportunities to pull the upset out West. Rex Ryan's defense is the heart and soul of this Cinderella Team.
And boy, is that one busted looking Cinderella.
Defense. Defense. Defense.
Say what you want about “The Year of the Quarterback” and all the fantasy football-on-steroids statistics we saw during the regular season -- the adage may end up being true on Feb. 7: Defense wins championships.
And if that’s the case, well, then these New York Jets may be having that ticker tape parade, after all.
Stop the run, defend the pass, and do a little voodoo on the opposing kicker. Hey, whatever works.
Postseason football's never a beauty contest. We're learning that again this year.
Now, on to the picks.
Please excuse me if I seem a tad exhausted and a bit out of breath. I’ve been searching for Cowboys receiver
What’d I tell you about cramped media bandwagons and the playoffs, folks? They’re no good. And last week, I warned you. Of the eight different media bandwagons steam-rolling into the Divisional Round last weekend, the Cowboys’ ranked at No.1 and the Chargers’ No. 2 on my list. I said it last week and I’ll say it again: In the NFL playoffs, a packed media bandwagon is poisonous. Momentum? It’s like Santa Claus or a funny Dane Cook movie -- it doesn’t exist.
This week? Well, all four teams have packed media bandwagons. So throw that rule out the window. Instead? Let’s just get to the picks.
OVERALL POSTSEASON RECORD: 6-2
LAST WEEK’s RECORD: 2-2
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: New York at Indianapolis
I remember watching the Chicago Bears, specifically rookie Matt Forte, run all over the Colts, silence the Indy home crowd in the grand opening of Lucas Oil Stadium in September of '08, and thinking, “Well, there goes any home-field advantage the Colts once had.”
With all the new bells and whistles and stadium enhancements, the new Indy stadium seemed to be less noisy, less claustrophobic, and less daunting for opposing teams than the old one. A year and a half later, I’ve completely changed my tune. Lucas Oil was rocking last weekend and will be alive on Sunday afternoon. Mark Sanchez hasn’t seen a pass rush like Freeney and Mathis all season (well, except when he played against them earlier this season), and is going to have his hands full with that crowd from the very start.
When the Jets beat Indy in December, fans and writers alike discredited the win and said New York would have lost had the Colts left their starters in. But Indianapolis was up 15-10 and buried in its own territory when Peyton and Co. came out. There's no guarantee the Colts would have won that game. There will be no lingering "what ifs" after Sunday's bout. I think the Colts -- led more by their defense than some Peyton Manning aerial show -- punch their second Super Bowl ticket to Miami in four years with the win this weekend. It won't be easy and it won't be pretty, but the face of the NFL will make his way back to the Super Bowl.
The Pick: Colts 23, Jets 13
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Minnesota at New Orleans
Forget USC or Ohio State, Eastern Illinois is the real college football powerhouse of these playoffs. In addition to Tony Romo, both Brad Childress and Sean Payton are alumni of the school. Both coaches have some daunting numbers going against them on Sunday, as well.
The Vikings, for one, are just 2-8 in road playoff games since the 1999 season. Brett Favre is 0-3 in road playoff starts since leading Green Bay to an NFC Championship win at San Francisco during the 1997 season. And the last time Minnesota won multiple playoff games? 1987. That’s a long, long time ago.
As for the Saints? Well, they’ve never won multiple playoffs games in a single postseason. Minnesota’s 2-0 vs. New Orleans all-time in postseason play, and the Saints have an overall record of 1-8 against the Vikings since 1994.
So, neither team’s going to win. Well, someone has to win.
And I think it's the Saints who put all those demons to rest early. Again, I think the difference will be the New Orleans defense and a rocking home crowd. Kurt Warner couldn’t hear himself think last weekend; Brett Favre may fare no better. I know the NFL (and CBS) is salivating at the thought of a Manning-Favre Super Bowl, but they’ll have to settle for Manning-Brees instead. Like so many other teams have done this season, Gregg Williams and the Saints D will bottle up Adrian Peterson and make Favre beat them with his arm. In that Superdome environment, against that opportunistic Saints defensive backfield, I just don’t see that happening.
Get the archive footage of Peyton tossing the pigskin around with Archie in the Superdome and the Jim Nantz voiceover ready. It’s going to be the Saints and Colts down in Miami on Feb. 7.
The Pick: Saints 30, Vikings 17
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