Packers vs Falcons Preview
I previewed the two NFC games first because they were games between teams that happened to play this year. The two AFC games are divisional games involving teams that have huge rivalries who split the regular season series.... You don't get much more intense then the two AFC playoff games. I'm going to preview the AFC East game first because regardless of the final scores, the AFC South game is guaranteed to to be more intense. However, I expect that this Jets vs Pats match up is going to be closer than people think its going to be. Everyone remembers the 45-3 beat down that the Patriots put on the Jets back in week thirteen but no one seems to mention that the Jets beat the Patriots week two 28-14. So which game should we expect to see on Sunday? Neither. Both the Jets win and lose came as a result of a Jet getting injured and the Jet that got hurt this week is going to change the game again.
Lets go back to September 19th for a moment. Before the whole country was under snow, before the NBA season started, and before Randy Moss got traded to the Vikings. The Patriot offense with Moss there was very different than it is now. With Moss on the team Moss was obviously the deep threat and the number one receiver who demanded a double from most teams. The rest of the receivers tended to work underneath what they set up with Moss. The Jets would counter how they counter every team - They would stick the opponent's number one receiver (in this case Moss) on Revis Island and play 10 on 10. This year the Patriots came into the first game with a gameplan designed to counter that and were up 14 to 10 at the end of the first half. And on the second Patriot TD Revis got hurt attempting to run with Moss, so things were looking up for the Pats at halftime. So what happened from there? With Revis out the Jets defense changed significantly. While Cromartie is fast enough to handle Moss the Jets still gave him help. The blitzing was dialed back to have extra help in coverage and suddenly the Pats couldn't move the ball. Their game plan was designed to deal with one defense, but once Revis went out they had to deal with a completely different defense. Belicheck teams win more than other teams because of superior game plans not necessarily superior talent.
Jump ahead to the December 6th Monday Night Football game. The Jets defense had Revis back at this point and Moss was long gone from the Patriots.... So how did the Patriots put up 45? A Jet injury. The Friday before the game, after the Jets had already installed their game plan for the week, Strong Safety Jim Leonhard ended up breaking his leg on a fluky game in practice. Leonhard made the calls for the Jet secondary. He came with Rex Ryan from Baltimore and knew the defense so he was the guy responsible for getting the safeties and corners lined up right. Suddenly Eric Smith and Brodney Pool (both Free Safeties) were starting with Smith was responsible for the calls and it didn't end well. After trading Randy Moss the Pats started using their Tight Ends to stretch the field deep and that puts all the pressure on the other team's safeties. They scored their first TD after a pass interference on Pool covering Gronkowski gave the Patriots first and goal at the 1. On their second touchdown drive the Pats went for it on a fourth and three and 4th safety James Ihedigbo missed a tackle and Branch took it too the house. On the third TD to Brandon Tate Cromartie is the closest guy to him when he catches the ball but immediately after the play goes to talk to Brodney Pool, which makes me believe Pool was supposed to be in coverage there. I'd keep going on but I think I've proven my point, the Jets safeties were not prepared to be playing that much in that game. Since that point they have proven themselves to be competent when given full reps in practice all week. That's why I don't expect this game to look remotely like the last one, the Jets were only blown out because they were unprepared.
This Sunday I expect another Jet injury to have a game altering affect. Damien Woody, the Jets starting Right Tackle, was placed on injured reserve this week with an injured Achilles' tendon. Not having Woody in the line-up really hurts the Jets. He missed three games at the end of the regular season and in the two games against NFL teams (aka not the Bills) Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson combined failed to get over 100 yards in either game. In their win against the Pats earlier this year they combined for 128. This Jets team needs to be able to run the ball effectively to win football games. They can't rely on Mark Sanchez's arm to carry them, especially against a Patriot defense that is much more effective against the pass than it is against the run. Belicheck I'm sure is fully aware of Woody being out too. Expect them to try and bring some exotic blitzes off the offense's right side and test how well Wayne Hunter adjusts to pick them up.
I expect that the game will be close but the Jets won't be able to pick up a few crucial first downs running the ball as they would like. I think the Patriots will win but I don't think it will remotely be a blowout like the first game. The intensity of the playoffs is too high for these divisional rivals to not play a close game, so while I like the Patriots to win the game I don't expect them to cover the 8.5 point spread.
How the Jets could win - They manage to run the ball effectively in spite of Woody's injury and Sanchez doesn't make any mistakes.
How the Patriots will win - Tom Brady spreads the ball around, namely hitting whoever Revis isn't covering. They bring the eighth man down into the box to help against the run and Sanchez can't beat them over the top.
Pick - Patriots straight up. Jets +8.5
Final Score Prediction - Patriots 28 Jets 20