Thursday, January 20, 2011

AFC Championship Preview

Prediction remix:
"Patriots in a game that's close but not really all that close."

Um, no. In fact, it was just the opposite--while the Jets won by just a touchdown, it never felt that close.

"This one comes down to the last play. ... Steelers by three."

Actually, seven. But I'll take it.

#6 Jets @ #2 Steelers
Sunday, 5:30 CST

-Amazingly, Mark Sanchez has led the Jets to the AFC Championship in each of his first two seasons; the franchise had only been to two prior to last year. The Jets haven't reached the Super Bowl since 1969.

-Sanchez has also already tied the record for road playoff wins by a QB with four.

-The Steelers won the AFC Championship in '06 and '09, winning the Super Bowl in those years as well.

-These two teams faced off in Pittsburgh in Week 15, with the Jets managing a 22-17 win.

-The Steelers traded receiver Santonio Holmes to the Jets this previous offseason after one too many off-the-field incidents. He had over 700 yards and six TDs this season, and had a beautiful touchdown grab against the Patriots last week.

What to watch for: The Steelers allowed an absurd 62 rushing yards/game this season; next-best in the NFL were the Bears at 90. In third? The Jets, at 91. I expect both teams to utilize short passes and screen passes so as to avoid third-and-long situations.

X factor: I have two:

1) Holmes. He's a big-play receiver (see: game-winning catch in Super Bowl XLIII) and would undoubtedly love nothing more than to burn his former team.

2) Brad Smith of the Jets. The receivers/running back/return man averaged eight yards per carry this year and had two kickoff return TDs, one against the Steelers.

(and Troy Polamalu too)

Prediction: The Jets have proved vulnerable to good defenses this season: they lost to the Ravens and Packers, and while they scored 22 against Pittsburgh earlier this year, nine of those points came on the aforementioned kickoff return TD and a safety. I've already picked against the Jets wrongly twice--why stop now? Steelers 21, Jets 13.

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