Three things to know about next Sunday’s Jets-Colts AFC Championship Game:
1. The Jets handed the Colts their first loss of the regular season. Fans were bitter and the media was mostly mystified when the Colts pulled their key people in the third quarter of the Week 16 game against the Jets. New York took advantage and won, and won the following week in Cincinnati when the Bengals had no reason to play to win.
Much was made of the Jets earning entry to the playoffs with two such victories, sparking a debate about how to ensure end-of-season games are meaningful.
The Jets got hot and pulled upsets in Cincinnati and at San Diego to get to the conference title game, while the Colts enjoyed a bye and dispatched the Ravens in the divisional round.
If Indianapolis wins the AFC with a win over the Jets, they will surely feel they’ve further vindicated their decision not to worry about going 16-0 and to rest up for the postseason.
2. The Colts will lick their chops at the prospect of going after a rookie quarterback: They made life very difficult for second-year quarterback of the Ravens, Joe Flacco.
The Jets have one of the league’s very best offensive lines, and their ability to slow Indy’s mighty pass rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will be a huge key to whether they can advance to the Super Bowl. Even if the duo is unable to knock Sanchez around, they should be able to get the Jets to expend an awful lot of energy and resources to slow them, creating opportunities for others on a defense with solid players at every level.
Same goes for stopping the run, something to Colts have done better than most people realize. They beat the Titans with Chris Johnson twice this season, and will have to have similar success against the Jets, who had the league’s top rushing attack behind Thomas Jones and Shone Greene.
The Colts will need to do two things to minimize the damage New York’s run game can do: Tackle reliably and see the offense build the sort of lead that prompts the Jets to shift the offensive burden from the run game to Sanchez.
3. The Jets qualify as a super rarity: An underdog from New York? How often do we get one of those? (Sure, the Giants were one against New England not long ago, but how many more can you give me?) New York brings more hype, more attention and more pressure for the Colts.
The Jets are the Cinderella of the Final Four and will rate as big underdogs. That means it’s the Colts who’ve got everything to lose.