The lead up to this week's Wild Card game between the Colts and Jets doesn't seem too different to any other game this month, at least from a Colts perspective. Each of the past 4 games have pretty much been a playoff game, with the exception of maybe the Raiders game (only because the Jaguars lost earlier in the day). However, years from now nobody will remember how the Colts got to 10-6, and they'll only remember the next month when they look back on the 2010 Colts.
Visiting Lucas Oil Stadium, for the second straight year in the playoffs, are the New York Jets, who finished the season at 11-5, second place in the AFC East. Much like last year, the Jets rely heavily on their defense, which is still one of the best in the league. However, their 2010 season seemed to go as their offense went. In fact, in four of their five losses, the offense failed to score a touchdown. This puts most of the pressure square on the injured right shoulder of Jets second year QB Mark Sanchez, rather than on their top-rated defense.
Last year in the AFC Championship game, Peyton Manning played one of the best games in his career in a 30-17 Colts victory over the Jets. After a sluggish first 2 drives, Manning was unstoppable against one of the best pass defenses in recent league history. Pierre Garcon set an AFC Championship game record for catches (11) and receiving yards (151). The defense played admirably, giving up a couple big plays, but stopping the Jets when it was needed.
While the two teams' identities are still the same, they are slightly different than last year. Let's jump into the numbers and see how they match-up...
Statistical Comparison between Colts and Jets (Adjusted):
|Avg Start Pos||27.7||30||30.2||15||33.1||3||28.0||4|
|3 and Outs||3.02||4||4.24||10||4.02||19||5.46||1|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.601||4||0.801||13||0.950||25||0.749||25|
|Net Punts Yds/Game||39.31||14||40.59||29||39.01||16||38.39||15|
Statistical Keys to the Game:
- We'll start with the Colts Defense against the Jets Offense, as I think this is where the game will be won. The Jets have been pretty good at minimizing mistakes this season, ranking 8th in the league in Turnovers. The Colts especially later in the season, has not had much success creating turnovers. They did intercept one Sanchez pass last year, and will have to get at least one on Saturday night.
- The Jets have struggled sustaining drives this season, so keeping that trend going will be key to the Colts. The reason the Jets have been successful despite these below average numbers? Great field position. If they are going to get 27 yards on a drive, force them to start at the 25, rather than the 35, and we'll see the Jets punting rather than going for it or kicking field goals.
- The Jets are not very good in the red zone, ranking 25th in the league. The Colts have really struggled the past 5 weeks in the Red Zone, but now is the time to get back to their first 11 week form. Forcing Field Goals instead of touchdowns will give the Colts offense a huge boost.
- The Jets rushing game is very good, but this won't be any different from the past 4 weeks for the Colts defense, who have seemingly figured out how to stop the run. It must continue, and force Mark Sanchez to beat you.
- On the flip side of the ball, the Jets, much like last year, top the defensive rankings in the Winning Stats. It starts at the top, where they are the best defense at getting the opposing offense off the field. As I've been talking about all year, the Colts are still one of the best teams at driving down the field for scores (only behind the Patriots). Even if the Colts struggle early on, I trust Manning will figure it out eventually. Question will be if he'll have enough time to load up the points.
- A chink in the Drive stats armor for the Jets is on 3rd/4th down. While not bad by any means, it isn't as good as their other Drive stats. The Colts started slowly in this stat, but came on strong towards the end of the season. The "chess match" will be on display on these important downs.
- Turnovers have been the Achilles heel of the 2010 Colts. They have won 30 straight games where they didn't commit a turnover. I think this is a little important.
- Colts are best in the league in the Red Zone, while the Jets defense is slightly above average. Need to score TDs when they get inside the 20.
- Once again, the Colts need their RB Success Rate to be 40+% to win the game. They've done it each of the past 4 weeks, and have won all 4. They need to keep the Jets defense guessing.
- Watch for a penalty or two to go in the Colts favor, as the Jets commit a lot of them, and opponents don't commit many against them. I'll gladly take a first down or three via penalty from the Jets.
Other Keys to the Game:
- The health status of Mark Sanchez. He didn't throw a pass last week against the Bills, nursing a right shoulder injury. He was limited in practice on Wednesday, but I see no way he's not playing on Saturday night. Much like last year, the Colts need to force Sanchez to beat them, especially with a bum shoulder.
- Stopping Brad Smith. He had a KO return for a TD last year in the regular season, and threw a long pass that completely fooled Kelvin Hayden last year, leading to a Jet TD. With Sanchez injured, I'm expecting at least one pass from Smith down the field.
- The Colts attacking the middle of the field. Last year, Garcon had a huge day against a bad CB, but the real damage came over the middle to Austin Collie and Dallas Clark. This year, we all know neither of them will be in the lineup, so Blair White and Jacob Tamme will need to have their best games of the year, especially in route running. This is where the Jets are vulnerable, especially with Jim Leonhard on IR.
- Peyton Manning vs. Rex Ryan. Manning is 5-1 all time against Ryan's defenses, and we all know what that "1" is. I don't care if Ryan wants to make this game personal, or how great he thinks his team is. The fact is Manning owns his defense, and until they actually stop him, Ryan really should stop talking. Can they add in enough new wrinkles, something they did last year but only worked for 1.5 quarters?
Earlier this season, I thought it would be impossible for the Colts to lose at home, because of how well they played their the first four games in Indianapolis. Then the Chargers and Cowboys clearly proved me wrong. However, I think the Colts definitely play much better inside the Climate-controlled Lucas Oil Stadium. They seemed to thrive off of Rex Ryan's statements last year, and have no doubt they'll do the same this season. Until the Colts actually lose to a team, legitimately, to a Ryan-coached team, I can't pick them to lose. I know the injuries are piled up, but the Colts are playing with "house money". The Jets were the team destined for the Super Bowl this year, bringing in big name after big name in the offseason. All the pressure is on them, despite the Colts playing at home. Look for the Jets to jump out early, the Colts take back the lead early in the 3rd quarter, and the Colts ice the game away late.
Colts 27, Jets 24