The Jets already broke the longest regular-season winning in streak in the NFL when Indianapolis coach Jim Crawford effectively took a knee by pulling league MVP Peyton Manning in the third quarter of what became a 29-15 Colts loss a couple weeks ago. Now, they have a chance to do it again Sunday in the AFC divisional playoffs at San Diego, where the Chargers have fashioned an 11-game winning streak after a 2-3 start.
The chance for a more legitimate shot at upending the Colts was at least postponed when sixth-seeded Baltimore upset New England Sunday to send the Jets (10-7) across the country to meet the Chargers (13-3) in a match of the NFL's top defense against one of its most explosive offenses.
But I believe San Diego actually is the most favorable matchup for the Jets. Despite the presence of running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who is one of the all-time greats, and elusive backup Darren Sproles, San Diego basically has a one-dimensional offense.
Tomlinson is near the end of the line, managing only 730 yards rushing this season and a 3.3 average carry, and Sproles only rushed for 347 yards and a 3.7 average. The Jets have the No. 1 rushing defense in the league, and San Diego ranks 31st in rushing offense. Tomlinson's high game this season was 96 yards rushing, and his second-best effort was only 73 yards.
That weakness plays right into the Jets' hands. It means they basically can focus on stopping the NFL's fourth most productive passing attack led by quarterback Phillip Rivers, wideouts Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and tight end Antonio Gates, with Sproles a dangerous threat coming out of the backfield.
The Jets, of course, also have the No. 1-rated pass defense in the NFL, and they can isolate Pro Bowl corner Darrelle Revis on the imposing Jackson (68 catches for 1,167 yards and nine TDs) with ample reason to believe they can win that matchup. The major problem for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is devising a way to keep Gates (79 catches for 1,157 yards and eight TDs) and Sproles (45 catches for 497 yards and four TDs) in check.
Jets linebackers haven't shown a great facility for pass coverage this season, and the secondary might have some nagging injuries to overcome this week. Extra defensive backs Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman both suffered minor injuries during the Jets' 24-14 wild-card win at Cincinnati. But safeties Kerry Rhodes and Jim Leonhard will play a big role in monitoring Gates.
As for the Chargers' defense, it ranks slightly ahead of Indianapolis in terms of total yardage allowed but actually has given up a higher average gain on both rushing and passing plays than the Colts, who faced 93 more plays than the Chargers' defense did. No doubt, the Chargers have tough outside linebackers in Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips and strong corners in Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer, but the Colts' defense has greater team speed to come after Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez with defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Most importantly, as good as Rivers has become, facing him is preferable to facing Manning, who can absolutely dissect any defense and has been sacked less than any NFL quarterback because of his quick release. No doubt, the Jets hope to get a chance to see Manning during the postseason, but their best chance to reach the AFC championship game is through San Diego.
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