If the Jets backed into the playoffs then the Chargers made a dead out sprint into the postseason, running the table after their 34-23 loss to Denver back on Oct. 19. This may be the ugly duckling of the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs with the underwhelming Jets headed into San Diego as nine-point underdogs. However, the AFC Championship Game matchup will not be settled until the Jets and Chargers tangle at 4:40 p.m. in Qualcomm Stadium.
Rookie coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez were gift wrapped a trip to the playoffs after the Colts and Bengals laid down in the final two weeks of the season. However, there was no laying down last week when the Jets defeated the Bengals, 24-14, on the road in the Wild Card round. The win impressed a lot of people, including the fans who have been skeptical if the team would even make t to the playoffs. Bookmakers moved the longshot Jets from 45-1 to win the Super Bowl to 14-1 after just one round. The Jets defense and running games proved to odds makers that the Jets could be contenders, if they wanted to.
Sanchez is returning home to Southern California where he made a name for himself in his one year starting for the USC Trojans. He is garnering a lot of attention as the Jets make another stride this season, but the real reason the Jets are still playing football this late into January is their defense and their ability to run the ball. So Sanchez will really have to prove himself in his home state that he can really lead the Jets to victory and not just Thomas Jones or Shonn Greene.
The old formula for success in the NFL, running the ball and playing defense, has been lost by most teams but the Jets are the team in the playoffs with the best total defense and best rushing attack (172 yards per game). Of course, there is a reason the Jets are nine-point underdogs and the No. 5 seed. They are second to last in the league in passing but they are not the only one-dimensional team in this game. The Chargers rank second to last in running the ball and they will lean heavily on the arm of Philip Rivers in these playoffs. LT has not been himself over the past 2-3 years. The Jets defense has been spectacular against the run so expect LT to make little impact on Saturday.
It’s clear what the Chargers will be trying to do — pass the ball — and what the Jets will be trying to do — rush the ball. If the game comes down to that, and it very likely could, the Jets could actually even the playing field a little bit. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis has been the definition of a shutdown corner this year. Let’s not get into the fact he was snubbed for the Defensive Player of the Year. He will likely get the task of shutting down Vincent Jackson much like he shut down Chad Ochocinco last week. That could open things up for tight end Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd. Gates surpassed 1,000 yards receiving this year and Floyd was third on the team with 776 receiving yards. So the Jets secondary will be very busy in both man to man and zone defense.
Add in Darren Sproles (45 receptions for 497 yards) and LaDainian Tomlinson (20 receptions for 154 yards) and Rivers should have plenty of options, even against the league’s best pass defense. For the Jets, the responsibility on offense will be shared too. Thomas Jones is a major impact player in this game for the Jets. He rushed for over 1,400 yards this season. Shonn Greene came on strong late in the season and in the Cincinnati win and Leon Washington (when playing) and Brad Smith are dangerous out of the wildcat package. Remember, Brad Smith can play QB, TE, WR, and whatever else Brian Shottenheimer has planned.
From a wagering standpoint, getting points in this game is ideal. The Chargers have strung together 11 consecutive wins to close out the regular season but they were involved in countless nail biters including a one-point win at the Giants and three-point wins over the Redskins, Bengals and Cowboys. The Jets have won their last 3 games and against top teams. It might have been against second stringers in some cases, but the Jets did not back down in each game. It is oging to be a tight game. Maybe fate will come to the Jets and give Jets fans what they have wanted for the past 40 years, an AFC Championship game at home. But for the last game, it will truly be Jets Stadium…….if it happens.