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AFC Championship Preview: NY Jets at Pittsburgh

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Much like its NFC counterpart, the AFC Championship game will be a rematch of a recently played matchup. The New York Jets, fresh off of defeating Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks will take their talents to Pittsburgh in an attempt to knock off Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. In week 15, the Jets traveled to Heinz Field and found a way to hang on late vs. a Polamalu-less Steeler team, 22-17. Sunday’s game is a whole different ball of wax though as a Super Bowl appearance is on the line.

I’m not going to bother to break down complex offensive-defensive matchups simply because in this case, the Steelers are clearly the better team. I will provide a look at the tale of the tape though.

QB: Ben Roethlisberger is 4 times the quarterback media-darling Mark Sanchez is (to be fair, that doesn’t say much. The Jets best QB, 63 year-old Mark Brunell is sitting on the bench as a backup). Roethlisberger has 2 Super Bowl wins and is gunning for his third, while Sanchez is trying to successfully navigate a third playoff game without getting benched. To be fair, Sanchez is coming off probably his best career performance last week, but that was against a New England defense who in the words of Jets’ Bart Scott: “couldn’t stop a nosebleed.”  Advantage: Steelers

RB: This is a close call. The Jets have the two-headed monster in LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene, while the Steelers have Rashard Mendenhall. I’m going to give the nod to Pittsburgh simply because it’s the Championship Game, and we’ve seen how LT performs when all the chips are on the table. Coupled with the fact that despite the love LT gets for his “career resurgence,” he hasn’t been all that impressive this season. He went for 82 yards against the Colts, which was the first time since week 5 that he rushed for more than 60 yards in a game. Green has been equally as disappointing. He was supposed to be the next big thing, but instead has been a dud, aside from one of the best celebrations in NFL history last Sunday late in the game. Mendenhall on the other hand is a legitimate top-tier running back. He struggled on Sunday against Baltimore, but went for 100 yards on 17 carries against the Jets a few weeks back. Neither team will give up much on the ground, but I’ll take Mendenhall. Advantage: Steelers

WR/TE: As I am going through these lineups it really is crazy how much hype the Jets get for simply being from New York. Santonio Holmes has had a brutal postseason with drops, but he did make a great TD catch last week, so all of the drops were forgotten. Braylon Edwards is a human drop, but like Holmes, made one big catch and all of his past sins are forgiven. Jerricho Cotchery has always been a poor man’s Hines Ward, but this year he has devolved further into a poor man’s Dennis Northcutt. Hard to believe that Cotchery is only 28 when he plays like he’s 47. The tight end matchup is pretty even with Dustin Keller and Heath Miller. Both bring the same things to the lineup with Miller being a hair more reliable. As for the Steelers receivers, Mike Wallace is a gamebreaker. He has the speed of the credit card machines at Target paired with actual wide receiver ability. Hines Ward is in the twilight of his career, but still turned in another 90+ catch season. Manny Sanders & Antonio Brown have both stepped up as of late for the Steelers giving them two more weapons to utlilize. Both teams have the ability to get tricky with former QBs turned receivers. The Jets rely on Brad Smith in that role, while the Steelers counter with veteran Antwaan Randle El. I’d give the Jets the nod in gimmick plays. Advantage: Steelers

OL: The Steelers are so banged up they are forced to start Lyle Overbay at tackle this Sunday. Which brings me to my next point, how can ANY team in the world pay Lyle Overbay 8 million dollars per year?? Only the Pirates… but maybe he will actually prove that he’s not a complete failure and do a decent job at right tackle.  The Jets are pretty solid across the front and have done a nice job this year. They will have their hands full with the Steeler defense, but the Steelers makeshift line is strong in the middle, but thanks to injuries, very susceptible to rushes and zone blitzes from the edges. Advantage: Jets

DL: This is another close matchup. Both teams run a 3-4 and have quality pieces in place to anchor the line. Both teams succeed in freeing up the linebackers, but the Steelers have more overall talent and depth. Advantage: Steelers

LB: The Jets have a very good linebacking corps, but the Steelers is flat-out the best in football. Just mention the names Harrison, Woodley, Timmons, and Farrior to any offensive coordinator and they will immediately start crying. Throw in the Dick LeBeau factor, and the Steeler defense is far and away the best in the league. LeBeau is the master of masking what is actually coming behind a smokescreen of what the QB thinks that he remembers from filmstudy. His mastery is awe inspiring to watch. Advantage: Steelers

DB: The Jets have Darrelle Revis. They also have Antonio Cromartie who couldn’t cover the 2011 version of Mike Ditka. The Jim Leonhard injury hurt as that leaves the Jets with Brodney Pool and Eric Smith back there. Both decent players, but nowhere near what anyone would call gamebreakers. On the flipside, the Steelers secondary is led by what many consider to be the best defensive player in the league in Troy Polamalu. He may finally be close to 100% and that is scary for the Jets. The Steelers’ secondary isn’t a one trick pony like the Jets, they pair Polamalu with another excellent safety in Ryan Clark. They upgraded their defensive backs in the offseason and while it is still the weakpoint on the defense, does a much better job than in years past. Advantage: Steelers

ST: The Jets nightmare may be seeing Nick Folk line up for a 46 yard field goal for the win. For every clutch kick that he’s made, he’s blown a 26 yarder the next week. He has all of the necessary skills to be very good, and has proven he can do it… but has also proven he can flop like Vlade Divac. That said, the return game is a clear advantage for the Jets. Brad Smith can change a game quickly. Coupled with the Steelers coverage lapses the Jets could find themselves with some nice field position. Advantage: Jets

Head Coach: Both Rex Ryan and Mike Tomlin are very good head coaches capable of maintaining success for a long time. Ryan is a hell of a cameraman though, so he gets the nod. Advantage: Jets

Much like the Seahawks the week before, the Jets won their Super Bowl last week, while the Steelers will not settle for anything less than a 7th ring. It helps that the Steelers have the experience advantage and are better in nearly every category across the board. One interesting note is that indications are that Darrelle Revis is preparing to man up on Hines Ward. Is this simply protecting Revis from Wallace? Sure Revis will probably do a great job on Ward, but generally you would want your best corner on their best receiver, unless you think he will be exposed. If this is true, it’s great news for Roethlisbeger and the Steelers. The line on this game is 3.5 with the Steelers as the favorite. Makes sense since all of the hype is on the Jets. I just don’t see them pulling another rabbit out of their hat on the road. If they do manage to win somehow, I’ll be forced to avoid all pregame coverage comparing Mark Sanchez (and his 29TD/33Int, 70.2 career passer rating) to Joe Montana. For reference, JaMarcus Russell in his 28 games as a starter put up a passer rating of 67.4.

Steelers 27 – Jets 13

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