Countdown to Kickoff: NFL Wild-card
AFC Wild-Card Playoffs: N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis, 8 p.m. ET
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: In last year’s AFC championship game loss to the Colts, Peyton Manning was calling out in detail what every Jets defender was doing on each play prior to the snap. Manning’s knowledge of Rex Ryan’s defense kind of freaked out the Jets’ secondary, which eventually crumbled in the second half — losing 30-17 after racing to a halftime lead.
Ryan hopes to fix that terminology while also believing that he has superior coverage players in the secondary than he had last season. Last offseason, he got rid of Lito Sheppard, Donald Strickland and Kerry Rhodes in favor of Antonio Cromartie, Kyle Wilson and Brodney Pool to go along with All-Pro CB Darrelle Revis, who will focus on Colts WR Reggie Wayne.
But to limit Manning’s possession time, the Jets must be able to run and control the clock as much as possible. Conversely, the Colts have been playing better run defense during their four-game winning streak to end the season.
But Indy's running game should be no match for the Jets defense. Even with Wilson available, Drew Coleman, who was picked on by Manning last year, will be the nickel defender for the Jets. One good thing, though, about Coleman is that he’s an excellent blitzer. He also must keep track of Colts TE Jacob Tamme, who has averaged seven catches per game over the last three games.
On the flip side, how much arm strength will Mark Sanchez have in the second half? And can he effectively challenge young Colts cornerbacks Jacob Lacey and Justin Tryon, who should start for Kelvin Hayden (neck)? The Jets have some WR playmakers in Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards although TE Justin Keller has been dropping too many passes lately.
The other concern for New York is whether RT Damien Woody, who has missed the last three games, can start ahead of Wayne Hunter. The Colts can really bring the pressure with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and they will focus on Hunter if he starts.
CZAR’S SCOOP: If the Jets lose, it will be interesting to see how management responds to Ryan’s poor judgment in his and his wife’s Internet scandal. In many other cities, particularly in the Midwest, Ryan would be facing serious heat for some of the more graphic shots of his wife, Michelle.
Colts GM Bill Polian has made a lot of great personnel moves, but there was no financial way to keep defensive lineman Raheem Brock, who led the Seahawks with nine sacks this season. Brock was a tremendous situational rusher and defender for the Colts, who simply couldn’t meet his price tag in free agency. Brock’s replacement, first-round pick Jerry Hughes, has played so poorly that Polian even said he made a mistake and should have drafted OT Rodger Saffold, who was taken by the Rams atop the second round. But the biggest bust has to be Jets’ LB Vernon Gholston, who has played three full seasons without a sack.
Sanchez was limited in practice Thursday, but Ryan said his quarterback was “throwing the ball great.” Safety Jim Leonhard, who broke his right leg in practice last month and had a metal rod surgically inserted in his shin, hopes to be off crutches next week.
You can bet that with Oliver Luck saying that Peyton Manning, who opted to remain at Tennessee in hopes of winning a Heisman Trophy, talked with his son, Andrew, about remaining at Stanford instead of opting for the NFL, that Tom Condon, Manning’s agent, will invariably be brought into the discussion.