AFC East: 2011 Quick Takes

Quick Take: Jets at Steelers

January, 16, 2011
Three things to know about next Sunday's New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers AFC Championship Game:

1. The Jets already have won at Heinz Field this season. The Jets rebounded from humiliating back-to-back losses (45-3 to the New England Patriots and at home against the Miami Dolphins) by going into Pittsburgh and beating the eventual AFC North champs in Week 15. But it wasn't a textbook victory. Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, and Jason Taylor recorded a safety in the fourth quarter that forced the Steelers to go for a touchdown on their final drive rather than kick a field goal. The Steelers made it to the Jets' 10-yard line and had two shots at the end zone before time expired in a thriller.

2. The Jets know they can beat anybody when they come to play. The Jets not only return to a venue they've already conquered, but they also have won consecutive games against future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. For the second year under Rex Ryan, the Jets won two road playoff games and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. Last year, though, they knocked off the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers with the help of some missed field goals. This year's run has been more impressive. The Jets are back after slaying Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in two of the toughest stadiums for a visitor to escape triumphant -- in any sport. Now they'll have to knock off another championship quarterback to reach the Super Bowl.

3. That said, the Steelers didn't have safety Troy Polamalu in that game. The perennial defensive player of the year candidate didn't play particularly well in Saturday's victory over the Baltimore Ravens, but you can't count on him to miss many tackles two weeks in a row. Polamalu is a game-changer for the Steelers and may be the league's ultimate defensive force. His teammates voted him the team MVP for good reason. He had 63 tackles, a sack, seven interceptions, 11 passes defensed and a forced fumble in 14 games.

Quick Take: Jets at Patriots

January, 9, 2011
Three things to know about Sunday's New York Jets at New England Patriots divisional-round playoff game:

1. Getting past what happened in Week 13 won't be easy for the Jets. Their humiliating 45-3 loss will be a psychological barrier they must conquer. The Jets need to find a way to make up 43 points when they return to the scene of their wretched display in front of a "Monday Night Football" audience. It probably will be easier for the Jets' offense to close the gap than it will be for their defense to smother Tom Brady's high-performance outfit. The Patriots haven't scored fewer than 31 points since Nov. 7, lighting up the Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears along the way. The 1991 Detroit Lions were the last team to lose by 40 points in the regular season and have a rematch in the playoffs. The Washington Redskins defeated them 45-0 the first time and 41-10 in the postseason.

2. New England's run defense will decide the game. Unless Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez drinks a magic efficiency potion, he's not going to be able to beat the opportunistic Patriots defense without a sound run game. The Jets were able to overcome Sanchez's shaky play and beat the Colts on Saturday night because of a forceful ground attack. The Jets rushed for 169 yards and averaged 4.4 yards a carry. LaDainian Tomlinson ran 16 times for 82 yards and two touchdowns. New England's run defense has been up and down throughout the season. The Lions averaged 4.8 yards on Thanksgiving, the Jets averaged 4.9 yards in Week 13, and the Buffalo Bills averaged 6.0 yards in Week 16. But the Patriots held seven opponents below 4 yards a carry, including in three of their last four games.

3. The Patriots' offense has multiple ways to win. The Colts were incapable of running Saturday night even though Peyton Manning counted seven defensive backs at times. "They had [cornerback Marquice] Cole at defensive end," Manning said. The Jets then contained Manning by letting him dink and dunk -- aside from one blown play, a 57-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon in the second quarter. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis held Reggie Wayne to one catch for 1 yard. But the Patriots can bulldoze the Jets if they have to. Patriots running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead will keep Rex Ryan's defense honest. And if the Jets gear up too much to stop the run, there's that Brady fellow to contend with.

Quick Take: Jets at Colts

January, 2, 2011
Three things to know about next Saturday's New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts wild-card game:

1. The Jets can find positive energy from last year's loss in the AFC Championship game. The Jets are a dangerous road team. Before they went 6-2 away from the Meadowlands this year, they upset a pair of division champs in the playoffs and held a third-quarter lead over the Colts in the AFC title game with a rookie quarterback last year. QB Mark Sanchez has been erratic in his sophomore season, but he has several clutch moments to draw from in addition to the knowledge he has been in this situation before and held his own.

2. These aren't the same old, dominant Colts. These aren't the 2009 Jets. The 2009 Colts were undefeated when they met the Jets in the regular season and probably should have been unblemished entering the AFC Championship Game. They were awesome and clinched the AFC's top seed early. But they went to the wire this year, not qualifying for the playoffs until Sunday. Peyton Manning doesn't have star tight end Dallas Clark or receivers Austin Collie or Anthony Gonzalez. The Colts also have nine defensive backs on injured reserve. The Jets, meanwhile, aren't the run-dominant offense they were a year ago. Last year's playoff star, Shonn Greene, still is on the team. But they have enhanced their receiving weaponry, adding Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson to give them a dimension they couldn't dial up when they trailed late against the Colts. That said, the Jets aren't as overwhelming on defense this time around either.

3. The Colts ranked 20th in run defense and tied for 29th in average per carry. The diversified Jets have the ability to pass, but they'll take whatever a defense will give them. The Colts are forgiving on the ground. They went into Week 17 allowing an average of 132 yards a game and 4.7 yards a carry. Playing indoors and on artificial turf could be a boon for Tomlinson, whose production has flagged as the season wore on. The longtime San Diego star hasn't played indoors or in a warm environment since Week 9 at Detroit.