I’m not going to get cliché like the preview shows and talk about the obligatory “keys to the game,” but will say that the overall onus Sunday afternoon is on the Jets.
As the prohibitive favorite who’s undefeated in games their starters finish, Indy has nothing to prove; the Jets do.
Mark Sanchez must be better than he was in San Diego; the Jet running game must be just as good, as must the defense be, especially in pass coverage, where the Jets do excel.
On that topic, while Peyton Manning just needs to be himself, Reggie Wayne, who will be covered by Darrelle Revis, needs to have at least four or five catches, while Austin Collie must perform strongly, and Pierre Garcon especially must be better than he was against the Ravens. Revis shuts everyone down (Ochocinco, Johnson, Moss twice), and he likely will Wayne too.
Many local columnists here feel the Colts may get their “comeuppance” versus the Jets after the home team allowed New York into the postseason when starters were pulled on December 27th. But clearly the Jets belong in the postseason tournament, that game notwithstanding.
Indy’s “PR Problem,” one I wrote about before the division round , is long gone now — tickets that were on stubhub for $80 against Baltimore are near triple that today — but could also quickly reappear should they struggle early. Thankfully, the Colts are not overlooking this game, and won’t have that issue. On paper, the game is a mismatch as much as Rex Ryan wants to believe this is not so, and that his team is the favorite.
The local media in NY (which is akin to national media) is confident and drooling over the Cinderella story. The National Media, who also prefers a Jets win Sunday in terms of television ratings on February 7th in Miami, is desperate for Saints-Jets Super Bowl and all the Katrina/Big Apple storylines it will bring.
Many I’ve heard are on record as being pissed at the Vikings for allegedly running up the score last weekend; and the Colts, despite a young, exciting team with the four-time MVP, probably bore them. Therefore, do not look for a great deal of objectivity from ESPN, CBS, talk radio et al this week. But on the other hand, the so-called journalists cannot hide the fact that the Colts are large favorites and should, all things considered, prevail.
While about one in five reporters were predicting a Ravens win last Saturday, I have heard very few daring enough to pick the Jets. Like the Saints, perhaps the Colts quieted the doubters in one impressive evening during the first even playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on January 16.
A Jet fan-friend noted to me that just as New York had to play better versus San Diego than against the Bengals, so too will they have to play “exponentially better” in Indy. He said “a scoreless first half will not be acceptable.” I don’t see the Jets doing much offensively versus a still-disrespected Colts defense, which is much better than San Diego’s (and it’s not as though the Jets really did much vs. SD as is).
Let’s also realize the Jets had about 260 yards of offense the entire game against a San Diego defense that’s mediocre at best. The Colts have a much better defense, even against the run where their stats were tainted in the final fortnight when back-ups were abused in meaningless games.
How much can we expect the Jets to score at Lucas Oil? Ten points? Seven? Ask Baltimore. Barring defensive scores, the Jets will have to hold Manning to under 14-17 points. This is not happening.
I admire the Jets and their confidence, and cheered for them to beat San Diego, who I find to be a poorly-disciplined team (witness all the personal fouls, taunting, etc) with a fair-weather fan base and some very overrated ‘stars’ (i.e. Shawne Merriman and now Tomlinson. I know, I was raised there from 1985-1996), but let’s not forget that the Chargers should’ve been up much more in the first half, which they dominated. The Jets were lucky to be down just 7-0 at that point, as even the same Jet fan friend of mine attending Sunday’s game agreed.
Some New Yorkers I know — and having half my family there and working there for several years, I know many — have compared the Jets to the 2007 Giants. And I think this comparison to the Giants is clever, especially since they play in the same stadium and had to play three postseason road games, but other teams lately have gone wild card to super bowl winner (Indy 2006, Baltimore a few years prior), even all on the road (Pittsburgh in 2005), and the Giants had a MUCH better offense than their neighbors. Though their defense is great, the 2009 Jet offense is quite subpar, and their signal caller is still a rookie — one who threw for 100 yards last weekend with a 60.1 QB rating.
Lastly, as it has been said many times already this week, it’s a mistake to claim “the Jets were only down a few points versus Indianapolis’s starters.” Starting left tackle Charlie Johnson did not play that game; neither did starting cornerbacks Kelvin Haydenor Jerraud Powers. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, the Colts’ most important defensive players, were on a strict play count, and played sparingly. The Jets scored on a kick return, a defensive touchdown off a quarterback literally taking his first NFL snap, and Peyton Manning just barely overthrew a few long ones that would’ve been touchdowns. New York’s running game did not really do anything against Indy’s starters. As Bob Kravitz wrote as part of a brilliant commentary in Thursday’s Indianapolis Star, “The New York Jets did not beat the Indianapolis Colts’ JV team Dec. 27 at The Luke. No, they beat the freshman team. With some oversized eighth-graders thrown into the mix.”
Update: Don’t underestimate the power of the Colts’ past playoff losses as a motivating factor this weekend.
* – Mark Sanchez photo credit: William Perlman/The Star-Ledger via NJ.com