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Breaking down the Jets-Bengals wild card game

The New York Jets' Brad Smith (16) scores

The New York Jets' Brad Smith (16) scores a touchdown late in the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at Giants Stadium. (January 3, 2010) Photo Credit: MCT/David Pokress

What’s at Stake:

If the Jets win, they’ll advance to next week’s divisional round and would move one game closer to playing in the AFC Championship game. They won’t know who they’ll play until the conclusion of Sunday’s tilt between the Patriots and Ravens, though. Should the Ravens win, the Jets would play San Diego. If the Patriots win, the Jets would travel to Indianapolis

If the Jets lose, their season is over and they would finish with an overall mark of 9-8 in Rex Ryan’s first year. General manager Mike Tannenbaum & Co. start looking ahead to next season and retooling a roster that has most of the key parts in place. All the questions about potential offseason moves and signings would commence in what could be a very interesting next few months for the Jets, who have a lot of tough financial decisions to make.

3 players the Jets have to stop:

QB Carson Palmer: The Jets really frustrated the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Sunday. He completed only 1 of 11 attempts for zero yards and finished with a quarterback rating of 1.7 before he was pulled in the third quarter. But it certainly won’t be as easy this time around against him because he’s shown he can rally his team back to win in fourth quarter, something he did three times against AFC North opponents during the season. Palmer had a solid regular-season, bouncing back nicely after missing 12 games last season with an elbow injury. He connected on 282 of 466 passes for 3,094 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

RB Cedric Benson: Ok, so he doesn’t know who Jets linebacker David Harris is. But the guy has had an incredible season after being plucked off the scrap head following his 2007 release from the Bears. Despite missing 10 quarters of action with a hip injury and sitting out Sunday’s 37-0 loss because Marvin Lewis wanted to rest him for the postseason, he finished the season ranked fourth in the AFC in rushing with 1,251 yards. His 301 carries were the sixth-most in the league. He has nine total 100-yard rushing games in 23 starts with the Bengals, meaning he tops triple digits every 2.6 starts. That number is better than the ratios posted by Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson, the players who are first and second, respectively, with the most 100-yard games franchise history.

WR Chad Ochocinco: The notorious trash talker was held without a catch Sunday before he sat out the second half with a knee injury, halting his franchise-record streak of 120 games with a reception. It was just the fifth time in 137 career games that he failed to finish with at least one catch. He has a team-leading nine touchdowns and needs one more to tie him with Carl Pickens, who had 63, for the most in franchise record for most receiving touchdowns in club history. Ochocinco is also 48 yards shy of reaching 10,000 receiving yards, which are nearly 3,000 more than anyone else in Bengals’ history. He holds the team record in seven different passing categories.

3 Jets who have to play well:

QB Mark Sanchez: Rex Ryan said the rookie quarterback is even more excited then normal, which means he’s probably going to need a quarter or so before he settles down. Sanchez is as confident as he’s been in his short pro career and that’s in part because of the way he’s managed things over these last two games. He’s completed 20 of 35 attempts for 163 yards with zero touchdowns – he had a 6-yard toss to Jerricho Cotchery changed Sunday to a Cotchery run because it was ruled a backwards pass – and hasn’t thrown a pick. They Jets are 9-0 when they win the turnover battle and 5-2 when Sanchez doesn’t commit one. Taking care of the ball is absolutely critical in the postseason and

Sanchez can’t cough one up.

RB Thomas Jones: The workhorse is dispelling the myth, refusing to buy into the thought that running backs are over the hill once they turn 30. Jones has rushed for a career-best 1,402 yards, which ranks second in the AFC and third overall in the NFL, and it’s the fifth straight season he’s recorded at least 1,000 yards, tying him for the longest active streak. He’s carried the ball a career-high 331 times and established a franchise and career-record 14 touchdowns. He’s just the second running back in club history to post 10 or more rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons, joining Johnny Hector. The Jets are going to need him to have a strong game to take the pressure off Sanchez.

CB Darrelle Revis: Named the AFC’s defensive player of the month yesterday, he’s had an unbelievable season and it’s imperative it continues again Saturday against Ochocinco. Revis locked up the mouthy wide receiver in Sunday’s meeting, holding him with a catch to break his franchise-record streak. He’s the leader of the Jets’ top-ranked pass defense that’s allowing a league-low 153.7 yards. He led the NFL with 34 passes defense and his six interceptions are the most of the team. He’s a legit candidate for the NFL’s defensive player of the year award, a race that Rex Ryan believes shouldn’t even be close when the smoke clears.

The wild card

With temperatures expected to top out at 20 degrees Saturday and the chance of snow flurries possible during the game, the conditions likely won’t be close to ideal at Paul Brown Stadium. So that means special teams could play a huge role in the outcome. Those returning kicks or punts, and holders for extra points and field goals need to use extra caution. “Handling the ball,” special teams coordinator Mike Westhoff said when asked what’s the most challenging thing about playing in cold conditions. “Sometimes it’s kicking the ball because the ball doesn’t compress.”

How the Jets win: The Jets are only going to go as far as their top-ranked rushing attack takes them, so they must run the ball early and stick with it to wear down the Bengals’ seventh-ranked rush defense. Mark Sanchez also has to follow the same blueprint that’s been so effective over the last two weeks, which is getting rid of the ball smartly when his reads are tightly covered and not forcing throws that aren’t there. But they are going to need a couple of big plays from the passing game as well, so the likes of Dustin Keller, Jerricho Cotchery and Braylon Edwards will have to step up and make the tough grabs when need be.

How the Jets lose: The Jets are not a team that plays well from behind because their offense is mostly based on their rushing attack, so if they fall behind by double digits early, they’re in serious trouble. If their ground game gets stuffed and they are forced to throw the ball more than they would like with a rookie quarterback making his first career playoff start on the road, they’re toast. Also, if Sanchez turns the ball over more than once, and reverts back to a turnover machine there’s a very good chance the Jets’ season won’t extend into next week’s divisional round.

>> PHOTOS: Jets playoff history  | Jets 37, Bengals 0

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>> MORE Jets playoff coverage | 2009 season recap

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