NFL Preview - N.Y. Jets (7-7) at Indianapolis (14-0)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Never fear, New York Jets fans.
Even in the wake of an offensively flaccid defeat to the Atlanta Falcons in a game where a win would've provided a giant step forward in terms of playoff positioning, all postseason hope is not lost as your beloved Gang Green heads into the season's final two weeks.
In fact, to hear resident North Jersey blowhard, errr...head coach Rex Ryan tell it, losing at home to a sub-.500 team to kick off the stretch drive was exactly what was needed to re-focus the troops on the holiday season task at hand. In fact, he says, the mind-numbing setback probably made things easier.
"We're actually in a better situation right now than we were last week at this time. That's unbelievable," Ryan said in Monday's week-opening press conference. "We've got a chance. We've got a chance to make the playoffs. Hey, we're going for it, no doubt.
"Throwing in the towel is not who I am. That isn't who this football team is. We ain't quitting. I don't care if we haven't won a game. We ain't quitting - ever - anything we do in life.
"If you'd fight me, you'd find that out."
In lieu of a fistic showdown with a collection of middle-aged, fast food-eating beat reporters, however, the Jets will have a chance to flex their coach's verbal muscle on the field against a slightly more worthy opponent - none other than the unbeaten and untied Indianapolis Colts.
The rumble is set for Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
Incidentally, along with a win over the aforementioned Colts, here's a rundown of what else will need to occur to provide Ryan and Co. the chance to control their own destiny for a playoff berth - read: torture their fans by failing in traditionally memorable fashion - entering Week 17 against visiting Cincinnati.
1. Jacksonville loss at New England; and 2. Miami loss to visiting Houston; and 3. Baltimore loss at Pittsburgh OR Denver loss at Philadelphia
And as for all those other instances when motivation would have lessened the improbable load in the final two weeks, forget them. This time, says Braylon Edwards, we really mean it.
"This is pretty much our Super Bowl, no ifs ands or buts about it," Edwards said. "This, for us, is going to decide what we really want to be on offense. Can we come out and execute? Can we put it together to win a game that we need? Can we be a team that can win in December? Everything that we have, we need to put it on the line in this game."
Meanwhile, you'll forgive Peyton Manning and the Colts - you know, the guys who've won 14 straight against a string of opponents fueled to be the first to beat them - if they handle themselves as if it's production on the field, rather than breathy proclamations off of it, that really matter.
In fact, the only drama on their side during the early-week run-up seems to be whether or not - or if so, how long - the first-teamers will be on the field. Indianapolis locked up the AFC's No. 1 playoff seed in Week 13 and played almost all of its starters in last week's 35-31 victory at Jacksonville.
"Right now, I could not tell you exactly what it's going to be, whether or not a guy plays one series or the entire game, I couldn't tell you that honestly right now," Colts coach Jim Caldwell said. "We're still going to base it on the health of each and every one of our players, as to what their situation is. Medical professionals will certainly give us direction in that and that's how we'll proceed."
Indianapolis holds a 40-25 edge in its all-time regular season series with the Jets, and has won two in a row since New York won at the RCA Dome in 2001. The Colts were 31-28 road winners when they last faced the Jets in 2006, and took a 38-31 decision when the clubs last met in Indianapolis, in 2003.
In addition to the regular season series, the teams have met on two occasions in the postseason. The first-ever meeting between the franchises resulted in a landmark 16-7 win for the Jets over the then-Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. Also, in a 2002 AFC First-Round Playoff, the Jets scored a memorable 41-0 home victory.
The Colts' Caldwell and Jets' Ryan will be meeting each other, as well as their counterpart's respective teams, for the first time as head coaches.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Another week in which the Jets enter a game as the most prolific rushing offense in the league at 164.1 yards per game, while simultaneously holding their breath every time Mark Sanchez - he of the 20 interceptions, including three last week against Atlanta - drops back to pass. The inglorious effort against the Falcons lowered the USC product's passer rating to 62.3, nearly 40 points shy of the 101.2 mark established by his likely signal-calling counterpart in this game. Still, he did have a career-long 65-yard scoring pass to Edwards last week and now holds the franchise record for pass yards by a rookie with 2,275. Running back Thomas Jones is two yards away from tying his franchise record of 13 ground TDs and 117 yards away from his personal-best of 1,335 yards. On the outside, Jerricho Cotchery is two catches shy of 50 for the fourth straight year, and Edwards's 105 yards Sunday were his best as a Jet.
Who actually plays, and for how long, will go a long way toward determining just how difficult Sanchez's day at the dome is likely to be. The Colts' pass rush is still led by fleet end Dwight Freeney, whose 11.5 sacks are a team-best second in the conference. In the backfield, Howard University alumnus Antoine Bethea is tops on the unit with four interceptions. Statistically speaking, Indianapolis surrenders 337.9 yards per game, a number that pales in comparison to the 383.3 garnered by its offense, and falls closer in line with the 323.1 the Jets have averaged. Just more than 112 of the Colts' allowance have come on the ground, leaving 225.5 through the air. In last week's four-point defeat of Jacksonville, the Colts gave up 345 total yards - including 139 via the rush. Rookie cornerback Jacob Lacey posted his second INT of the season in that win, while tackle Eric Foster notched a career-best two sacks.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Again, the precise length of time Manning stays on the field ought to have a lot to do with the final outcome. He was once again at his dramatic best against the Jags, engineering another fourth quarter comeback and finished 23- of-30 for 308 yards and four TDs - connecting at least once with eight receivers. The passing attack is first in the league with 297.2 yards per game, leaving Manning just 345 shy of his franchise-best 4,557 yards from 2004. The Tennessee standout has thrown for four TDs in two straight games. On the ground, Joseph Addai went for 84 yards and a TD in his lone career meeting with New York. He has 788 yards on 213 carries thus far in 2009. Among the aerial targets, Reggie Wayne is eight catches away from 100 for the second time in his career and is two TDs away from the personal-best of 12 he caught in 2004. Meanwhile, tight end Dallas Clark has five TDs in the last two games.
For as long as Manning and his first-team mates compete, it'll be a good barometer for the Jets, who once again enter with the gaudy title of "Best Defense in the NFL" thanks to No. 1 rankings in yards allowed per game (262.8), pass yards allowed per game (159.8) and points allowed per game (15.8). Situationally, however, the team has given up decisive scores in late-stage losses to the Falcons, Dolphins, Bills and Jaguars. In fact, only two of the team's seven losses have come by more than five points. Shutdown corner and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Darrelle Revis looks for a third straight road game with an interception. His six INTs in 2009 are tied for second in the conference. Veteran end Shaun Ellis ranks first with 6.5 of the team's 27 sacks, a half-sack ahead of linebacker Calvin Pace. Meanwhile, linebacker David Harris is No. 1 with 117 tackles, including 76 solos.
In what's likely a championship week for leagues around the country, Jones screams out as the No. 1 running back choice in this game even after a sluggish week against Atlanta. The fact that he's facing a No. 16-ranked rush defense that's likely to be playing second-stringers makes it even more of a no- brainer. Also a strong pick is the New York defense. For the Colts, Manning is a stud no matter how many snaps he takes, though Wayne suffers with the matchup against Revis. The No. 2 and 3 options, Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon are dark horse plays, as is the versatile Addai. Clark, however, is a must-play. On defense, the Colts have at least one INT in 10 straight games.
Go ahead, make a logical argument. The Colts are unbeaten and at home, but may rest much of the squad that's gotten them 14 wins. On the flip side, the Jets are fighting for their playoff lives, though it didn't do a lot of good against a below-average foe at home last week. So, all else being equal, talent should be the determining factor. And in this case, the Colts' offense is the single most talented unit on the field. Expect Manning to play 30 minutes, score 20 points and get within a game of perfection.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Colts 24, Jets 21
12/23 14:16:49 ET