Hello again, Jets fans. Stephen Haynes back with you for this week’s installment of GDL: Division Round Edition. So join us for stats, updates, randomness and, of course, the useless pre-game analysis.

Guess what? It’s a must win!

In my years of watching sports, I’ve learned that there is no such thing as house’s money in the playoffs. Certainly not for the players and, though many fans believe in it (hey, it can be used as a readymade protective force field for emotions in case of a loss), it’s as real as the Boogeyman and Sasquatch getting together in Boca Raton to play Canasta every February 31st. Nope. Certainly not in a sport where injuries are as common and devastating to a team as they are in football. One bad hit or an awkward landing to the wrong player could realistically slash a team’s win total from the previous year in half. So nothing can be taken for granted in the NFL. Teams must strike, even if the iron is lukewarm.

And when the ball is kicked off in a playoff game, everything leading up to it goes out the window. Of course the talents and tendencies of the teams are a factor, but the odds and who’s the favorite and who’s going to do what and how no longer matter. The team’s paths, whether GPS’d or wandering and circuitous, brought them to the same point.

House’s money says the Chargers are the better team (they are) and the Jets, in the fact that they’re playing today alone, have accomplished more than most expected so whatever happens, it’s cool. That’s poppycockian balderdash! The Jets want it bad and you, you yearning fan base, want it worse. I know it’s one game at a time (from p. 17 of the Book of Athletic Clichés and Coach Speak), but zoom out a little. This team, the one that took you on a four-month ferris wheel ride and brought as much aggravation as joy, needs just three wins to make "Same ol’ Jets" become that thing you used to say but now laugh about.

Step one comes first. But, hey, alls they gotta do is beat the league’s hottest team! I’m gonna go short on the preamble ramble and get into what matters.

First Quarter

Little bit o’ luck goes the Jets way as Nate Kaeding missed a 36-yard field goal with 6:31 left in the first quarter. The kicker hit 32 of 35 field goals in the regular season, including 23-for-23 on kicks under 40 yards. And that’s why the games often make liars of the stats and render pre-game analysis useless. So, despite the Chargers having outgained the Jets, 54 yards to 5, it’s 0-0 with 5:29 remaining in the quarter.

 Second Quarter

The Chargers take a 7-0 lead on Phillip Rivers' 13-yard touchdown to fullback Kris Wilson with 12:22 left in the half. Wilson broke free on a crossing route and made the catch in the back of the end zone, just keeping his feet in bounds. 7-0, Chargers.

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Halftime: The Chargers lead, 7-0. All things considered, the Jets have been fortunate. San Diego has outgained them 212 yards to 106, but has failed to capitalize. And that includes two missed field goals by normally sure-footed Nate Kaeding; the second going way wide right on the final play of the half. Mark Sanchez is 7-for-15 with 59 yards and Shonn Greene has nine carries for 35 yards to lead the Jets. David Harris’ seven tackles leads the defense, which has done some bending but hasn’t snapped. On the other side, Phillip Rivers, who hasn’t faced a great deal of pressure, is 13-for-19 with 159 yards and a touchdown. Darren Sproles has three carries for 33 yards and LaDainian Tomlinson has 20 yards on the ground. Antonio Gates has done the damage in the intermediate range, with five catches for 58 yards. Safety Eric Weddle has six tackles and a sack. Neither team has turned the ball over.

Third Quarter

Jay Feely hit a 46-yard field goal to put the Jets on the board at 10:45. After Dustin Keller caught a pass for four yards, setting up fourth-and-1 at the Chargers’ 28, the Jets offense went out, but Rex Ryan called timeout and changed his mind. 7-3, Chargers.

- And there's the first turnover. Sanchez threw for Braylon Edwards on a go route from the flanker position and the pass, tipped by Steve Gregory, is pulled in by Quentin Jammer and taken back 24 yards to the Jets' 38. It was a bad decision to throw it (not quite double-coverage, but there were too many Chargers in the area) and the pass was underthrown.

- Two turnovers for the Chargers now. Phillip Rivers, backed up in his end zone, overthrew Vincent Jackson on an in cut and the ball went right to Jim Leonhard, who took it back to the Chargers' 16 with 12 seconds left in the quarter. Rivers' pass before that, at 4:36 in the quarter, was picked off by Revis on a deep ball attempt for Jackson. The Jets, obviously, has been presented a golden opportunity.

Jets videos

Fourth Quarter

Jets take the lead, 10-7. Mark Sanchez rolled right and hit Dustin Keller for a 2-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone. The Jets, setup by Jim Leonard's interception of Phillip Rivers at the end of the third quarter, moved 16 yards on four plays and got their first lead of the game with 13:35 left. 10-7, Jets.

- It might be happening. The upset. The Jets take a 17-7 lead on Shonn Greene's 53-yard touchdown run with 7:26 left. He started off right guard, broke a tackle and then cut left to greener grass. Greene now has 112 rushing yards in the game on 17 carries. 17-7, Jets.

- Kaeding missed again. On a fourth-and-2 from the Jets' 22, the Chargers opted to go for the 40-yard field goal and Kaeding, who had never had a three-miss game before, pushed it wide right again. So the Jets hold on to their 10-point cushion with 4:42 left.

- Chargers with the ball at their 43 with 3:07 left after a false start.

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- Rivers goes deep to Jackson, who makes a leaping catch along the sideline at the 28, just getting both toes inbounds. It was called a catch and looks so on the first replay, but it was close and the Jets are challenging. Then Jackson wipes 15 yards off the play (if it's upheld) by kicking the challenge flag and being slapped with an unsportsmanlike conduct. 

- It's a catch and the penalty is enforced, giving the Chargers a first down at the 35... Darren Sproles picks up 19 yards on a swing pass along the right sideline. 2:53 left. Rivers shakes off Shaun Ellis and scrambles right for three yards and gets out of bounds with 2:45 left... Rivers throws over the middle to Gates but it's between two defenders and it's swatted down by David Harris, bringing up a 3rd & 7... Rivers goes to Jackson on a crossing route and he runs for yards after and dives to the 1.

Rivers QB sneaks it in for the touchdown with 2:14 left. 17-14, Jets.

- The Chargers attempt the onside kick and it's hauled in by Kerry Rhodes, after a couple deflections, as he falls out of bounds. The Jets have it at the Chargers' 38. San Diego has one timeout and the two-minute warning left. The Jets are 2:13 away from the AFC Championship Game.

- Shonn Greene runs two times and nets four yards. The Chargers call timeout with 1:55 left and the Jets are facing a third-and-6.

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- On third down, Greene rumbles for what looks like five yards (a little short). The measurement has the Jets about 16 inches short of the first down.

- The Jets bled the clock down to 1:09 then called timeout.

- And the Jets go for it on fourth down and convert the first down as Thomas Jones plunges up the middle. And here's the victory formation... It's over. The Jets upset the Chargers.

Final: Jets win, 17-14, and advance to the AFC Championship Game where they'll take on the Colts. It looks like Cinderella might've worn two pairs of socks to make sure the slipper didn't slip off. For the first time since 1998, the New York Jets are in the conference title game. The term "SOJ" is in critical condition right now.

Tidbits

The second-seeded Chargers’ 11-game winning streak is the longest active in the NFL. They were the AFC’s highest-scoring team and the 11th-ranked defense ranked (20 points per game).

In the last three years, they’ve gone from being a team reliant on the run to a run-heavy team to a team that seems to only run for the sake of LaDainian Tomlinson’s pride and because the football proverbs say it’s required. Philip Rivers, in the last two years, has become an elite quarterback. He threw for 4,254 yards and 28 touchdowns with nine interceptions (and those numbers were a little down from last season). San Diego has a daring, relentless and aggressive offense.

For the Jets, youth has done some serving. Mark Sanchez has found a nice wave of his own the last few weeks. He hasn’t thrown an interception since the Falcons game. In that three-game stretch, he‘s 32-for-50 (64 percent). He hasn’t cracked 200 yards and has just one touchdown, but it’s worked for the Jets. Good ol’ game management. Heck, Dustin Keller had 99 yards receiving last week against the Bengals. And Shonn Greene was the spark, rumbling for 135 yards and a touchdown. (His emergence creates what’ll be an interesting quagmire this offseason. Leon Washington’s contract is up and Thomas Jones will be entering the last year of his. Will Washington, coming off a broken leg, be re-signed? If so, how will the carries be split? But that’s for another time.)

The last time the teams faced each other was Week 3 of last season, with the Chargers winning 48-29 (and it wasn’t that close). Rivers threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns. If your memory doesn’t serve and you were wondering: Brett Favre threw two interceptions in that game and Kellen Clemens had another.

The teams have only met once in the playoffs with the Jets winning, 20-17, in 2004 on Doug Brien’s 28-yard field goal in overtime. The Chargers, however, are 19-12-1 all time against the Jets.

Much like the Jets, the Chargers last season got hot and lucky at the right time and just eked their way into the playoffs at 8-8. They upset the Colts in overtime to reach the second round, where they lost 35-24 to the Steelers.

Keys to the Game

Offense

If you ever meet me, you’ll have every right to yell "DUH!" at me for this one: The Jets have to protect the ball. I know, it’s what TypicalFootballAnalystGuy bloviates about all the time as if it’s not obvious. But it’s more important in some games and for some teams than others. The "Greatest Show on Turf" Rams led the league in giveaways a couple times and nobody noticed. But the Jets, with their offense, really can’t afford to get sloppy against anyone, let alone a team capable of scoring quickly. Think back to the Saints game early this year. And the Chargers’ +10 in turnover differential was the best in the AFC. Though San Diego’s defense isn’t what it was (injuries and underachievement the last two seasons), it’s still got playmakers and guys who are capable of making an offense pay for carelessness. Sanchez hasn’t had a turnover in three games. That’s difficult to keep up, but in this game, one might be the turnover.

And that’s in part because the Jets will have to be somewhat aggressive. No team has kept the Chargers under 20 points (the Cowboys held them to 20) so the Jets will likely need three touchdowns. And for them to put it on San Diego’s defense, it’ll take the running backs, Brad Smith delivering a "Tiger" uppercut (tell me someone got that reference) and Sanchez being more than just a babysitter of the ball, but a productive passer of it. I’m talking 200+ yards and some big plays.

And that means Braylon Edwards has to step up. The Jets probably won’t as easily be able to overcome another big play aborted because of a drop. Edwards caught just 47% of the 95 passes thrown his way this year. He’s not a great route-runner and everybody knows about the drops. Even in 2007, his career year with 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns, he only caught 52% (he was thrown to 153 times). He’s been a guy who needs a lot of chances to get going, but this offense doesn’t often allow for that. Which means he can’t afford the drops or whiffs on balls within his reach. He’ll likely see a lot of coverage from Quentin Jammer, who’s physical and plays decent underneath coverage, but doesn’t have great downfield speed. Edwards could get his chance to make a game-breaking play.

Teams have been able to run on the Chargers. They were 20th against the rush (117.8 yards per game on 4.5 YPC) and the weak spot on their front seven is the right edge, where they’re giving up 5.30 yards per carry. That’s going at Luis Castillo and Shawne Merriman. The flip side of that is the Jets only ran that way 16% of the time this year and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, for the strides he’s taken a pass blocker, still isn’t a powerful run blocker. The flip of that flip side is the Jets do most of their running off the guards and behind right tackle Damien Woody, which is where they have the most success (5.06 YPC).

Defense

The good thing for the Jets is the Chargers don’t run that often or that effectively, so they should be able to keep both safeties back in coverage. But the tough part is they’ll need to be in coverage and all over since the Chargers attack every part of the field.

They’ll have to defend the flats because Rivers likes to go underneath to the running backs for dump-offs, angle routes, flares, screens and even the wheel route if there’s a favorable man-to-man matchup (e.g. a slower outside linebacker on Darren Sproles). He threw 172 passes for less than 10 yards and 71 behind the line of scrimmage.

They’ll have to cover the middle because that’s where Rivers is most accurate and has his best velocity. He completed a ridiculous 83.7% of passes over the middle and had a 142.0 rating. And, uh, that’s where Antonio Gates often does his work. The tight end doesn’t run that many routes, nor odes he possess great speed, but the routes he does run are precise and he’s able to get separation on breaks. He’s dangerous on quick outs, curls and posts. And if the box is stacked and he can get one-on-one with a linebacker, the go route up the seam is a possibility.

They’ll have to defend the outside because the Chargers receivers run a lot of intermediate outs, corners and comebacks, which allow them to use their size to shield the ball away from defensive backs. And - you already know - they’ll have to defend deep. Rivers doesn’t have a great arm and many of his deep balls tend to float, but they’re usually on the mark. As well, his receivers get enough separation to buy the ball time, and since they’ve got a team of small forwards, a lot of the jump-balls and contested throws are hauled in. They led the league with 67 completions of over 20 yards. They also run shotgun quite a bit. Rivers attempted 254 passes from that formation, completed 65.7% and had 16 of his touchdowns from it.