The AFC Championship Game Preview: Jets @ Steelers

 

We’re almost there. With only three games, and four teams left in the 2011 NFL season (excluding our favourite trip to Hawaii next weekend), we know our AFC representative in the Superbowl will hail from either Pittsburgh or the green side of the city that never sleeps. So, let us present the Any Given Sunday (Night) guide to the AFC Championship Game.

 

New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers

 

An AFC Championship game at Heinz Field. This has become a bit of a staple in the NFL over the last ten years or so, with this being the fifth occasion that the boys in black and gold have dragged an unsuspecting victim back to Steeltown in the last decade. Twice they have won the match-up, going on to win the Superbowl in the process, whilst twice they have lost, both to the hands of a certain Tom Brady and his band of Patriots (with a little help from Drew Bledsoe). But this year, there is no Brady. There is no Manning. Hell, there’s not even Jake Plummer. There’s just one quarterback who no-one can really work out. Mark Sanchez, of the New York Jets.

 

The Jets emerged from one of the more shocking divisional match-ups in recent years last weekend in beating Superbowl-favourites, the New England Patriots, 28-21 in their own backyard. Prior to the game itself, the Jets resorted to the down-and-dirty tactics for which they and their coach Rex Ryan have become famous for, drawing Patriots WR Wes Welker into similar unsportsmanlike/hilarious behaviour in a press conference that earned him a place on the bench instead of on the field at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots, whilst not out-classed, were out-played and, more importantly, out-psyched by Antonio Cromartie, Ryan and friends. So, how do the Jets approach the hard-playing Steelers?

 

With respect, it seems. Well, respect, that is, from the former-Steeler in their ranks. Earlier this week, Santonio Holmes called Steelers safety Troy Polamalu “… the greatest player I’ve ever played with” and admits the Jets will have to stay away from him with the ball to have any hope of leaving Pittsburgh with a win on Sunday evening. With the Patriots, and in particular coach Bill Billichick, appearing too proud and dignified to resort to a battle in the gutter with New York last week, the Jets appear to have recognised the Steelers are a whole different ball-game; a hornet’s nest that, if disturbed, will likely sting you. Whether this stifles the Jets’ sense of self-belief remains to be seen.

 

So what of the Steelers. As we’ve said, they’ve been here before, and recently too. Their Superbowl-winning MVP Holmes may have moved on to their rivals, but the Steelers still have a veritable array of talent at their disposal, even before we consider the afore mentioned “greatest player in football” at safety. These stars shone through just in the nick of time against the Ravens last week after a series of turnovers put them in at 21-7 down at half-time. Two touchdowns from ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger at the start of the third quarter later, the game was tied, and the rest of the game was tied up by a Rashard Mendenhall rushing TD to punch in a 31-24 winning scoreline. This victory also drew some respect from another previously foul-mouthed member of the Jets camp, with Antonio Cromartie (a week after calling Tom Brady ‘an asshole’) saying “I love Ben, man. Ben’s a competitor”. Praise indeed. Are the Jets worried?

 

Players To Watch

 

The Steelers are favourites to win this game, meaning the Jets may spend a bit of time of the back foot. So this week, we choose Darrelle Revis at cornerback at our player to watch for New York. In recent weeks, Revis outrageous pace and athleticism has taken out some of the most threatening receivers out of the game at key moments. Deion Branch suffered for the Patriots, Reggie Wayne couldn’t get out of the blocks for the Colts, and all this time, the MVP quarterbacks for these respective sides had to resort to a rather shaky plan B. Plan B didn’t work, and the Jets came away with a win. This week, Revis will have his sights set on Mike Wallace, and if he can take away Big Ben’s big play down the field, and his linemen can keep the QB in the pocket, the Jets may just have a shot at the Superbowl.

 

It’s tempting to suggest keeping an eye on the entirety of the Steelers offense and defence, such are the talents they have the potential to burst out with. However, if you saw the Steelers go down 22-17 at Heinz Field to the Jets in Week 15, you may have missed a certain million-dollar haired safety sitting out. Sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole tale, but when Pittsburgh are a quite astonishing 31-8 with Troy Polamalu in the side, and 6-7 without him, the importance of one of the league’s greatest ever defensive players cannot be underestimated. Without Polamalu in Week 15, a sack-shy Steelers side (getting to Sanchez only once) allowed the Jets quarterback to make short, safe passes upon the blitz, leaving the Jets to hold onto the ball for large portions of the game away from home. With Polamalu in the side, that option is gone. If Sanchez wobbles, that balls goes right to the hair, and the Steelers win.

 

Prediction

 

Sorry Jets fans, but it’s the end of the road. Far be it from me to mock a side that has swept aside the Colts and the Patriots in recent weeks, but I think we can all agree that, despite fantastic Jets performances in both, we saw a beaten-up Colts side and a frankly weak Patriots outfit fall victim to Rex Ryan and his merry men. This week, there has been no mention of grudges, no trash-talk, no shouting and balling. The Jets are eerily quiet, and if you listen closely, you can hear that Steel bell tolling. Pittsburgh by 14.

 

David Dickson.

Advertisements
  1. David, Pittsburgh by 14!

    The Jets will win this, and they’re taking the Super Bowl home.

    Disclaimer: I may have pre-season money on the Jets.

  2. Oh people really do not like that prediction…!

    • Thor
    • January 21st, 2011

    Bring on the disrepect, David. I love cheering for the underdogs. Jets by 2. CAN’T WAIT!

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: