New York Jets at Indianapolis Colts, Saturday 8:00 EST
The AFC playoffs get under way Saturday night when the New York Jets travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts. The game will be a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, which the Colts won by a score of 30-17. This match-up is arguably the most intriguing of the weekend, as both teams have been inconsistent this season despite being among the most talented teams in the NFL.
The Colts, of course, are led by Peyton Manning, who has carried the team to the playoffs this year after they suffered an onslaught of injuries that would have spelled doom for almost any other team. And it almost did. Just a few weeks ago, the Colts looked like they had a legitimate shot at missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001, as they sat at 6-6 and were looking up at the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite that hole, the Colts were able to fight their way into the playoffs by winning their final four games, and also earn another AFC South division title, giving them at least one home playoff game.
On the other side, the Jets have slowed down considerably after talks of them taking the AFC’s top seed, losing three out of five. The slide took the Jets from potentially having home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs to being the sixth seed and having to play three road games if they get to the Super Bowl. The Jets have been held back by quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has a completion percentage of just 54.8, an atrocious number for this day and age, and a quarterback rating of 75.3, which puts him at 27th in the NFL.
To beat the Colts, the Jets will have to limit Sanchez’s mistakes and run the ball effectively, which can be done against this Colts team that has the worst run defense of any team in the playoffs. For the Colts, it will once again be on Manning’s shoulders. The Colts have the fourth-worst rushing offense in the NFL, and the Jets have the third best rush defense. If Indianapolis wants to score points on the Jets, it will have to be through the air.
On paper, it looks like a great match-up, and it has a chance to be the best game of the weekend. Both teams have their strengths, along with glaring weaknesses, making it the most unpredictable game of Wild Card Weekend. If the Jets win, they will travel to New England to face the Patriots. If the Colts win, they will travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers.
Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday 1:00 EST
The Baltimore Ravens will travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the surprising Kansas City Chiefs in the other AFC Wild Card match-up. The Chiefs, a team very few expected to make the playoffs, finished the season at 10-6 and won the AFC West division for the first time since 2003. The Chiefs biggest strength is their running game, which features Pro Bowler Jamaal Charles and veteran Thomas Jones. The two combined to give the Chiefs the top rushing offense in the NFL at 164.2 yards-per-game.
With the run being such a major part of their game plan, the Chiefs could run into problems when they face the Ravens, who have prided themselves on shutting down the run for years. 2010 was no different, as the Ravens had the fifth best run defense in the NFL.
Although the Ravens are great against the run, they have been beatable through the air. That is where the key to the game will lie with the Chiefs. Quarterback Matt Cassel had a solid season, throwing 27 touchdowns with only seven interceptions. Most of those, 15 to be exact, went to Pro Bowl receiver Dwayne Bowe. The Chiefs will have to take advantage of any mismatch Bowe can give them and take their shots if they want to stay in the game with a much more talented Baltimore team.
In the end, Baltimore just looks too strong for the Chiefs. Kansas City is a nice story, but they got where they are largely because of a soft schedule. They only beat one team with a winning record (9-7 Chargers in week one), and only beat one playoff team, which was the 7-9 Seahawks. They haven’t been able to beat anyone on the same level as the Ravens, and they most likely won’t this week either.