AFC East: Troy Polamalu

Belichick spares Ridley on fumble

November, 3, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was spared responsibility for his third-quarter fumble by coach Bill Belichick, as Steelers safety Troy Polamalu ripped the ball out of his grasp after he caught a pass along the right sideline.

Since Ridley was benched in the season-opener due to ball-security issues, Belichick's post-game remarks were most significant.

"I thought Stevan did a good job. It was really a tremendous play by Polamalu," Belichick said. "Stevan caught his ball with his back to the defender. As he turned, Troy came in there and instead of making a tackle he was able to dislodge the ball. He anticipated Ridley turning up and Troy made a good play on it. I don't think Stevan really had much of a chance to do anything but turn.

"Sometimes turnovers are a result of real good defensive plays. Sometimes they're a result of sloppy plays offensively. I would, unfortunately, have to credit that one to Polamalu. He made a great play and that's one of those things you have to live with."

That will be welcome news to Ridley, who was charted on the field for a running back-high 51 snaps, as the Patriots turned to him as their workhorse one week after limiting him to just 20 snaps.

Belichick liked what he saw as Ridley totaled 115 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns. It was Ridley's first 100-yard game of the season and fifth of his three-year career.

"Stevan ran hard, like he always does," he said. "He's a tough runner, he gets his yards, and then he always gets a few more because of his running style and his toughness and his pad level and getting downhill. He gave us that again."

Ridley, perhaps sensing that his role and fluctuating snaps would be a focal point of media-based discussion, declined comment after the game. But his teammates were happy to speak on his behalf.

"He runs so hard. You give it to him, you have so much confidence that you're going to gain yards," quarterback Tom Brady said. "He has a great spirit and energy about him, in what he brings to our offense in emotion. When he's confident, it helps our team immeasurably."

Polamalu remains big focus for Patriots

October, 30, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Gone are some of the familiar faces on the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense, as James Harrison is now in Cincinnati and James Farrior is in his second year of retirement, but the back end of the defense remains intact, led by safety Troy Polamalu, now in his 11th NFL season.

While some would suggest Polamalu's play has slipped as he's aged into his 30s, it's clear that he remains a focal point for the New England Patriots' offense this week as the unit prepares for a Sunday showdown.

"He is super-instinctive," tight end Rob Gronkowski said of Polamalu. "It's just unbelievable, the knack he has for the game of football. The way he busts into a gap, you don't know what gap he's going to bust in. He can come flying down into the line. He's an unbelievable player and you've got to watch out for him and watch out for him on every play."

"You just can't take him for granted," echoed quarterback Tom Brady. "You have to keep your eyes out and keep your eyes open for him and then hope you get a guy to block him. He's a great player."

Both Gronkowski and Brady stressed that part of the challenge in preparing for Polamalu is accounting for his ability to seemingly come out of nowhere.

"He's not really in a system where there's clearly defined roles," Brady said. "He's just a playmaker for them, so you know, you have to account for him on every play, you can't just go, 'Well, he's going to be here.'"

"He's a rare player," added Gronkowski. "You just watch film on him, see how he does it, you just prepare, think of different scenarios of stuff and what he can do. He's a great player."

Sage Steelers school Jets' rookie QB

October, 13, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Geno Smith called it an intentional throwaway. Rex Ryan said it was a forced pass into heavy coverage. See, this is what happens when a rookie quarterback faces the Pittsburgh Steelers: It's so befuddling that you can't figure out what went wrong, even two hours after the fact.

Makes for a tough autopsy.

No matter how it's defined, Smith's third-quarter interception was the killer mistake in the New York Jets' 19-6 loss Sunday at MetLife Stadium. His pass, on a first down from the Steelers' 23, was thrown into the middle of a Pittsburgh team meeting, a trio of Steelers surrounding third-string tight end Konrad Reuland. The Jets, trailing by 10 points, squandered a chance to make it a one-possession game.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsGeno Smith and the Jets couldn't find the end zone versus the Steelers.
Such is life on the Geno-coaster.

Six days after his electrifying, breakthrough performance in Atlanta on "Monday Night Football," Smith met up with the wrong team at the wrong time. He was intercepted twice, both deep in Pittsburgh territory, and failed to do what he does best -- throw the long ball. He was booted from his comfort zone by a trio of Steelers graybeards: 76-year-old defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, who were in Smith's head all day.

LeBeau, Polamalu and Clark have a combined total of 63 years of NFL experience. Smith has six games. Yeah, it was a mismatch.

"They've played that way, shoot, for 15 years," Ryan said of the tradition-steeped Steelers.

Not recently, though. The Steelers started 0-4, with their once-ferocious defense playing like lap dogs instead of junkyard dogs. Incredibly, they produced zero turnovers in the first four games, threatening to make NFL history with another oh-fer.

Then along came Geno.

In a defense-oriented game, the Jets (3-3) needed their rookie to hang with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but Smith imploded in the second half with his 12th and 13th turnovers -- his ninth and 10th interceptions.

"Well, you can tell those guys had time to prepare," said Smith, alluding to the Steelers coming off a bye week heading into the game.

You give LeBeau two weeks to prepare for a rookie quarterback, and it's like Einstein enrolling in Physics 101. Since 2004, LeBeau's record against rookie starters is 16-2.

The Steelers' No. 1 priority was to take away the long ball, so they relied on a two-deep safety look with their usual array of fire-zone blitzes up front. It frustrated Smith, who was forced to adjust.

Statistically, he entered the game as one of the most dangerous deep passers in the league, having completed 21 of 36 attempts with three touchdowns and four interceptions on throws longer than 15 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. On Sunday, he was a mere 2-for-10 with an interception.

"They covered our verticals pretty well and carried the seams," Smith said. "I think it's a testament to having guys like Troy and Ryan Clark, who've played in the league and seen those plays time and time again."

Maybe so, but Smith has no one to blame but himself on the first interception.

Under no duress, he launched a laser toward Reuland, who was at the goal line. The seldom-used Reuland was forced into a role because of Kellen Winslow's suspension. Rob Gronkowski could've been the intended receiver, and it still wouldn't have mattered. The throw had no chance.

You knew right there that Smith had left his magic in Atlanta.

"I wish I could take back the throw," he said. "It was an attempted throwaway, and the guy [Clark] who I least expected to even get over there and make the play got over there. That's not to make an excuse. It can't happen. We've said that time and time again, especially in the red zone or in critical situations."

Smith's head coach saw it differently.

"He's going to try to make the throw he thinks is there, but in that case -- obviously hindsight being 20/20 -- you'd have liked to have seen him throw the ball away there and not force it," Ryan said.

It didn't look like a throwaway. A throwaway should sail into the second row of the stands, not the second row of defenders. Reuland said he wasn't sure what it was; the only thing he acknowledged was that he wasn't open.

No matter how you classify it, it was a horrendous play. The Steelers had a hunch it was coming. Cornerback William Gay recognized the formation and shouted, "Verticals!" Clark said he covered tight end Jeff Cumberland, forcing Smith to the outside.

"He floated the ball enough so that I had an opportunity to catch it," Clark said.

There's nothing more deflating than a red-zone interception. The Jets struggled to move the ball and they finally had something going. In a moment, the momentum was gone.

"It's tough. You have to deal with it," Jets guard Willie Colon, a former Steeler, said of Smith's inconsistency. "We have to stay behind Geno. We're a unit. It's not about one guy messing up."

The Steelers, playing for the season, afforded Smith few opportunities. There was one lapse in the second quarter, when they let Stephen Hill get behind them. Smith maneuvered the safeties with his eyes and he had Hill in the clear for what should've been a 77-yard touchdown, but the pass was overthrown.

"I think Geno is going to be a guy who's going to win a lot of games for the New York Jets," Clark said. "I'm excited for him and the organization."

Typical Steelers: Confuse the kid, then compliment him. They have the routine down pat.

Steve Johnson's $10K fine is too light

November, 30, 2011
I'm usually against the heavy fines handed out by the NFL. Big hits can equal up to $50,000 or $75,000, which I think is absurd for a collision sport.

But Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson's $10,000 fine for mocking Plaxico Burress' accidental shooting this past Sunday is too light. I think Johnson got off easy.

It's hard to understand the NFL's system for levying fines.

For example, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was fined $10,000 recently for calling his wife on the sideline following a concussion. To suggest Johnson's tasteless display of an event that resulted in jail time for Burress is equal doesn't send the right message. Also, tweeting during a game once cost Chad Ochocinco $25,000. Was that violation worth more than twice the fine Johnson received?

To Johnson’s credit, he apologized to his teammates, coach and eventually to Burress for his antics. Johnson is smart enough to learn from his mistakes and realized pretty early that it wasn't a good idea. Once Johnson pays the fine, it will be time to move on.

Morning take: Dolphins and Bill Cowher

October, 25, 2011
Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday morning in the AFC East:
  • Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports Bill Cowher is keeping an eye on the Dolphins.
Morning take: This would be the perfect target for Miami owner Stephen Ross. But a top-shelf coach like Cowher could have several options. Would Cowher choose Miami over a team with less rebuilding?
  • Danny Picard of Comcast Sports New England writes the Patriots still have a lot of respect for Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu.
Morning take: When healthy, Polamalu remains one of the most dynamic players in the NFL. The Tom Brady-Polamalu chess match will be fun to watch.
  • Jay Skurski of the Buffalo News reports Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick did not speak to the media on Monday.
Morning take: I don't see any reason to be concerned. This probably is a sign a contract extension is coming, as ESPN's Chris Mortensen recently reported.
  • Rich Cimini of writes about Jets head coach Rex Ryan admitting to throwing too much early.
Morning take: With an extended lockout, new receivers and a young quarterback, I'm not sure why the Jets decided to throw 40 times a game. That was a flawed plan from the start. But at least the Jets went back to what they do best.

Polamalu secondary to Revis on DB list

June, 7, 2011
General consensus says Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is the NFL's best defensive player.

He was voted The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year.'s Power Rankings panel made him the unanimous choice when voting on the best defenders last month.

But in a segment for the NFL Network, a pair of opinionated and decorated veterans didn't rate Polamalu even the best defensive back in the game.

New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber assembled their top-10 list of the greatest defensive backs. With one safety and one corner compiling the order, there was no positional bias.

This is what Sharper and Barber came up with:
  1. Darrelle Revis, Jets cornerback
  2. Troy Polamalu, Steelers safety
  3. Ed Reed, Ravens safety
  4. Nnamdi Asomugha, Raiders cornerback
  5. Charles Woodson, Packers cornerback
  6. Champ Bailey, Broncos cornerback
  7. Nick Collins, Packers safety
  8. Adrian Wilson, Rams safety
  9. Devin McCourty, Patriots cornerback
  10. Aqib Talib, Buccaneers cornerback

I believe Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL, but it's a little strange to see him rated higher than Polamalu, who's coming off such a great season.

That's also an impressive showing for McCourty after one NFL season. Sharper and Barber ranked him the fifth-best cornerback ahead of guys like Asante Samuel, Antoine Winfield and Tramon Williams.

Brady, Tebow on Forbes' influential list

May, 10, 2011
PM ET reporter Mike Reiss passed along an interesting item that underscores Tom Brady's standing in the sports world.

Forbes magazine assembled its top 10 list of the most influential athletes.

Brady ranked second, but first among the traditional big four sports.
  1. Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR driver
  2. Tom Brady, Patriots quarterback
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR driver
  4. Shaquille O'Neal, Celtics center
  5. Michael Phelps, swimmer
  6. Troy Polamalu, Steelers safety
  7. Peyton Manning, Colts quarterback
  8. Jeff Gordon, NASCAR driver
  9. LeBron James, Heat forward
  10. Tim Tebow, Broncos quarterback

No baseball or hockey players or golfers made the rundown. Tiger Woods, for obvious reasons, dropped off the list. Lance Armstrong also was absent because he retired.

A 15-player trade? We can outdo that ...

February, 22, 2011
The Carmelo Anthony megatrade is a dominant sports story at the moment.

Anthony is headed to the New York Knicks in a three-way trade that involves 15 players and draft choices plus $6 million in cash.

NFL writers are comparing the trade to the Herschel Walker jaw-dropper in 1989. The Dallas Cowboys sent him to the Minnesota Vikings in a deal comprised of 18 players and draft picks.

That got me thinking ...

Rather than rehash some of the most leviathan trades in AFC East history, let's conjure up something that would be in the Anthony or Walker ballpark.

My assignment to you: Sketch out a trade scenario involving an AFC East club and a superstar that involves more components than an assemble-it-yourself entertainment center.

The rest I'm leaving up to you. Be as creative as you want. The featured player could be coming into the division or exiting. Send Tom Brady to the Arizona Cardinals. Lure Michael Vick to the Miami Dolphins. Swap Darrelle Revis for Troy Polamalu as a starting point.

Drop your proposal in the comments section underneath this article. I'll sift through the submissions and highlight the best in a future post. I'll be on the lookout for the most reasonable, unwieldy and imaginative offers. Bonus points if you explain your logic.

Now get transcrackin'.

NFL alumni pick Rivers over Brady

February, 7, 2011
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was a unanimous selection for The Associated Press 2010 Most Valuable Player Award and for the All-Pro squad. He also won the AP's 2010 Offensive Player of the Year.

Fans, players and coaches voted him the AFC's starter for the Pro Bowl.

But the NFL Alumni Association didn't view Brady as the NFL's best quarterback in 2010.

Alumni membership voted San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to their annual all-star team.


I can't argue with the credentials of the voters, at least.

The all-stars were selected by simple majority of NFL Alumni. Miami Dolphins consultant Bill Parcells compiled the list of nominees, three at each general position.

The AFC East sent two teams to the playoffs, but couldn't get anybody honored by the NFL alumni. Provincial nominees were Brady, New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller, Dolphins offensive lineman Jake Long and outside linebacker Cameron Wake and Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Kyle Williams.

Parcells did not list Brady among his three candidates for Player of the Year, meaning the star quarterback couldn't be elected for that award. Parcells also didn't include Bill Belichick among his top coach candidates. Parcells' former defensive coordinator was the landslide winner of the AP's 2010 Coach of the Year Award.

The NFL Alumni awards for 2010:
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was a unanimous selection for The Associated Press 2010 Most Valuable Player Award and for the All-Pro squad. He also won the AP's 2010 Offensive Player of the Year.

Fans, players and coaches voted him the AFC's starter for the Pro Bowl.

But the NFL Alumni Association didn't view Brady as the NFL's best quarterback in 2010.

Alumni membership voted San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to their annual all-star team.


I can't argue with the credentials of the voters, at least.

The all-stars were selected by simple majority of NFL Alumni. Miami Dolphins consultant Bill Parcells compiled the list of nominees, three at each general position.

The AFC East sent two teams to the playoffs, but couldn't get anybody honored by the NFL Alumni. Provincial nominees were Brady, New York Jets tight end Dustin Keller, Dolphins offensive lineman Jake Long and outside linebacker Cameron Wake and Buffalo Bills defensive lineman Kyle Williams.

Parcells did not list Brady among his three candidates for Player of the Year, meaning the star quarterback couldn't be elected for that award. Parcells also didn't include Bill Belichick among his top coach candidates. Parcells' former defensive coordinator was the landslide winner of the AP's 2010 Coach of the Year Award.

The NFL Alumni awards for 2010:

* Quarterback: Philip Rivers, Chargers
* Running back: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars
* Wide receiver: Roddy White, Falcons
* Tight end: Jason Witten, Cowboys
* Offensive line: Josh Sitton, Packers
* Defensive lineman: Ndamukong Suh, Lions
* Linebacker: Patrick Willis, 49ers
* Defensive back: Aqib Talib, Buccaneers
* Special teams: Devin Hester, Bears
* Spirit Award: Felix Jones, Cowboys
* Coach of the Year: Todd Haley, Chiefs
* Player of the Year: Troy Polamalu, Steelers

Video: Stevie Johnson taking the Packers

February, 6, 2011

Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson, winner of the 2010 Vizio Top Performer Award, gives his thoughts on the Super Bowl matchup and his breakout season. Johnson picks the Green Bay Packers to win and prefers Aaron Rodgers to Ben Roethlisberger if forced to choose which quarterback he'd want with the game on the line.

Revisiting Cam Wake and the DPOY debate

February, 3, 2011
A couple days ago, I asked whether or not Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake was slighted because he didn't receive any votes for the Associated Press 2010 Defensive Player of the Year Award.

In the comments section underneath, the discussion was entertaining and the opinions passionate on both sides. I thought it would be worthwhile to revisit the issue and share some of the thoughts that were hashed out.

As I posted there, one of my chief concerns about debating Wake's season was that readers were quoting all sorts of inaccurately inflated stats. Some claimed Wake led the league in combined sacks and tackles for losses and insisted he notched double digits in both categories.

That's difficult to declare. While sacks are an official NFL stat, tackles are not. They are open to interpretation and charted by each coaching staff while reviewing game film. Teams apply different criteria to TFLs. Must they be solo tackles only? Are assists counted? Is a half-sack worth a full TFL?

For the record, the Dolphins credited Wake with 21 tackles for losses. That includes his 14 sacks. But the Dolphins also count a half-sack as one TFL, and Wake had two half-sacks in his total.

That means Wake had six TFLs not related to sacks. The math: 13 full sacks plus two half-sacks equal 15 TFLs directly from sacks. Subtract that from his 21 TFLs.

Now for the assertion Wake led the league in combined sacks and TFLs ... Wake finished third in sacks behind Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Tamba Hali.

The Cowboys credited Ware with nine TFLs. The Chiefs pegged Hali with 6.5 TFLs, showing they don't subscribe to the Dolphins' policy of counting a half-sack as a full TFL. Either way, both finished with a higher combo of tackles behind the line of scrimmage than Wake.

And neither Ware nor Hali received any defensive player of the year votes either.

Now that we've cleared that up, what about the general idea that Ware deserved to finish among the seven who received a vote? A reminder:
Most criticism from Wake supporters focused not on Polamalu, but on Matthews. Some readers contended Wake was more dominant than Matthews.

Wake did have a half-sack more than Matthews, who played one fewer game and battled hamstring and shin injuries for a portion of the season. We can't say for sure how many TFLs Matthews recorded because the Packers don't believe in them. But he did have an interception return for a touchdown and two forced fumbles. Wake had no interceptions and three forced fumbles.

So it's an interesting discussion, I suppose. Wake is an elite pass-rusher. He dominated backfields at times. But I think the Associated Press panel simply valued defenders who were more forceful all over the field.

Plus, Wake steadily compiled sacks throughout the season and didn't hold his brief NFL lead until the Dolphins were out of the playoff hunt. By then, nobody was paying attention to the Dolphins anymore, including their fans based on all those empty Sun Life Stadium seats in November and December.

Matthews, meanwhile, generated a lot of buzz with his torrid start.

Longtime AFC East blog follower Lori Chase (aka LCHASE2249), maybe the most astute reader-analyst out there, also pointed out the following about sacks leaders:
Fourteen sacks -- which ties [Wake] for 96th on the all-time single-season list -- and Finfans are miffed that none of the AP voters thought their guy was the greatest defensive player in the league in 2010? Take off those aqua-and-orange-colored glasses, folks. Even if he had led the league (which he didn't), do you know how many times the NFL sacks leader has won that season's DPOY award? Five. Five times in the 29 years since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.

The five were Lawrence Taylor with 20.5 sacks in 1986, Reggie White with 21 in 1987, Pat Swilling with 17 in 1991, Bryce Paup with 17.5 in 1995 and Michael Strahan with 22.5 in 2001.

Chase pointed out all were first-team All-Pros (Wake wasn't). Three played on division champions, with the two exceptions White and Strahan. White registered his 21 sacks in 12 games. Strahan broke the single-season sacks record.

In summary, Wake had a brilliant season. He established himself as a pass-rushing fiend, one of the NFL's best and certainly worthy of his Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro selections.

All in all, I found the discussion in the comments section to be insightful and a great example of why I like to exchange ideas with readers there as much as possible.

Be sure to check the comments sections under my blogs and feel free to get involved. I try to visit as often as I can, and now that all four AFC East teams are done playing, you can expect to see me there quite a bit.

Was Cameron Wake snubbed for DPOY?

February, 1, 2011
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu won the Associated Press 2010 defensive player of the year award by two votes over Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews.

Nothing untoward there.

But a Dolfans faction was riled up outside linebacker Cameron Wake didn't receive a single vote of the 50 cast and filed their grievances with me Monday night on Twitter.

Marc Serota/Getty ImagesCameron Wake didn’t receive any votes for defensive player of the year.
Wake had a phenomenal season, but I happened to agree he didn't deserve defensive player of the year consideration. I was called a fraud and accused of being on drugs. One of those allegations is completely false.

Let's take a look at who did receive votes. All seven went to the playoffs:
Wake had a breakthrough campaign after being ridiculed by former teammate Joey Porter at this time last year. Wake recorded 14 sacks, 21 tackles for losses, 28 quarterback hits and three forced fumbles.

But Wake didn't stand much of a chance for defensive player of the year. Although the Dolphins ranked sixth in total defense, they failed to make the playoffs and won a single home game. That doesn't necessarily reflect on Wake, but it's hard to think of a player as a difference-maker on a team that loses more often than it wins.

The other problem was the same AP panel didn't vote Wake first-team All-Pro, meaning he wasn't among the top two players at his position. Matthews and Harrison were. Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker and NFL sacks leader DeMarcus Ware received as many All-Pro votes as Wake did.

To vote somebody the NFL's best overall defender when he's not the best at his spot is difficult.

There also was a strong sentiment Wake was snubbed in DPOY balloting not because he didn't win the award, but because he didn't receive any votes. But it must be noted, the AP panel doesn't vote for first, second and third place on their annual awards. Each ballot includes one name. Therefore, the voter is going to choose the single most-deserving player. There are no bones to throw out to make the also-rans feel appreciated.

Unfortunately for Dolphins supporters, their guy didn't get a vote despite a terrific season. A lot of others stars weren't named either, including Ware, New England Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork, Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. A lot of awesome players there.

What do you think? How badly was Wake snubbed?

Video: Jets at Steelers 'Field Pass'

January, 22, 2011

ESPN analysts Tedy Bruschi, Mark Schlereth and John Clayton highlight the biggest matchups in Sunday night's AFC Championship Game between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.

Troy Probable-malu against the Jets

January, 21, 2011
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets fans shouldn't be concerned with all the names on the AFC Championship Game injury report. Jets head coach Rex Ryan announced Friday everybody will play Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers list four names on their report. The two biggest are safety Troy Polamalu (probable, Achilles) and defensive end Aaron Smith (doubtful, triceps). Polamalu missed practice Wednesday and Thursday, but participated fully Friday.

Cornerback Bryant McFadden (abdomen) and safety Will Allen (knee) are questionable.

For the Jets, receiver Brad Smith (groin), defensive end Shaun Ellis (knee), cornerback Drew Coleman (knee) and safety James Ihedigbo (knee, ankle) are questionable.

"They're questionable. They're playing. OK," Ryan said after rattling off the injury report at the start of Friday's news conference. "That's pretty much it."

Listed as probable are quarterback Mark Sanchez (shoulder), receiver Santonio Holmes (quadriceps), center Nick Mangold (shoulder), defensive tackle Mike DeVito (neck), defensive tackle Sione Pouha (back), outside linebacker Jason Taylor (concussion), cornerback Darrelle Revis (hamstring) and cornerback Antonio Cromartie (groin).

Final Word: AFC Championship

January, 21, 2011
Conference Championship Final Word: Jets-Steelers | Bears-Packers

Five nuggets of knowledge about Sunday's Jets-Steelers AFC Championship Game:

[+] EnlargeNew York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson
Michael Hickey/US PresswireJets running back LaDainian Tomlinson is on the verge of his first Super Bowl appearance in his 10-year career.
For LaDainian Tomlinson to reach the Super Bowl, he'll need to do more than most. Despite a surefire Hall of Fame career, Tomlinson never has reached the Super Bowl. The onus will be on the Jets' run game. As always, the Jets' ground attack with Tomlinson and Shonn Greene will be crucial to moving the offense and making the game as manageable as possible for quarterback Mark Sanchez in a difficult environment. The Steelers led the NFL in run defense during the regular season, allowing a paltry 63 yards a game. But in a Week 15 victory at Heinz Field, the Jets rushed for 106 yards. In the postseason, however, Tomlinson averages 3.7 yards a carry and has six touchdowns in nine career games, but only four in his seven with the San Diego Chargers.

The Jets can win the game on special teams. The Steelers' special teams are mediocre. Brad Smith set a tone for the Jets by returning the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in Week 15. In last week's divisional playoff game at Heinz Field, Baltimore Ravens punt returner Lardarius Webb had a 55-yard touchdown wiped out by a holding penalty. Webb also had a 38-yard kickoff return, and the Steelers' special teams were flagged three times. The Jets' venerable special-teams coordinator, Mike Westhoff, is as opportunistic as they come.

After two games of holding back, expect the Jets' pass rush to get aggressive. The Jets focused more on keeping defenders in coverage than sending extra pass-rushers after Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. The Steelers, however, are vulnerable on the offensive line. Even when healthy, the Steelers' pass protection makes the game an adventure for Ben Roethlisberger, and tackles Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott are hurt. The Steelers surrendered 43 sacks in the regular season. Only seven teams allowed more. The Ravens sacked Roethlisberger six times last week. Jets outside linebackers Calvin Pace and Jason Taylor and defensive end Shaun Ellis must be excited about the possibilities.

In addition to the return of Troy Polamalu, don't underestimate the presence of Heath Miller. Much attention has been dedicated to how the Steelers' defense will be different with Polamalu at safety. He didn't face the Jets in Week 15. Neither did Miller, a dangerous weapon in the Steelers' passing game. He caught 42 passes for 512 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie can handle the Steelers' receivers, but Miller can pose a matchup problem. Here's a noteworthy stat: The Steelers are 8-1 in the postseason with Miller on the field.

The Jets have the best receiving corps left in the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers have the best quarterback. The Steelers have the most bling. But the Jets boast the best crew of receivers of the final four. That will be important if the Jets need to mount a late comeback and especially if the Steelers play prevent defense. The Steelers have a stellar duo with Mike Wallace and Hines Ward running routes. But Santonio Holmes is a former Super Bowl MVP and (mostly) has been a clutch receiver all season. Braylon Edwards has distanced himself from that butterfingers reputation. When Jerricho Cotchery is your third receiver, you know you're in good shape. Then there's tight end Dustin Keller, and Tomlinson makes catches out of the backfield. The Jets would prefer to have success on the ground, but with receiving options like those, they still have a shot to win through the air.