Posted by Josh Katzowitz
CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As a bonus, enjoy our playoff podcast preview:
1. New York Jets (No. 6, AFC, 13-5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 2, AFC, 13-4)
For the second-straight season, the Jets somehow have risen from a Wild Card team to a squad that will play in the AFC championship game with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Last year, they fell to the Colts. This year, though, they’re riding a big hot streak, having knocked off Indianapolis and then the formerly-invincible Patriots, and they’re looking for their first Super Bowl appearance since 1969.
The Steelers, meanwhile, are coming off a nice come-from-behind victory against the Ravens last week. Like the Jets beating the Patriots, Pittsburgh exerted a ton of energy, rallying to beat their biggest rival for the second time this season. There’s been some talk about emotional letdowns, especially on the Jets side, but this one is for a Super Bowl berth. An emotional letdown, like Jets coach Rex Ryan would say, is impossible.
2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking
Both AFC games last week were great matchups and featured great results. It’ll be hard for this one to top those. Maybe I’m the one who is emotionally let down, but 3.5 Mora Faces is the max rating.
3. Key Matchup to Watch: Jets secondary vs. Steelers WRs
Last week, the Jets shut down the Patriots WRs. New England couldn’t create separation, and at times, QB Tom Brady was stuck holding the ball for 5 … 6 … 7 … 8 seconds before having to scramble because his receivers simply could not get open.
The Steelers will have to do a better job than that. Assuming Jets CB Darrelle Revis – who has dominated Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne and New England’s Deion Branch so far in the playoffs – matches up against WR Hines Ward, don’t expect Ward to have much of an impact. In the Steelers Week 15 matchup against New York, Ward was targeted only three times and caught two passes for 34 yards.
That means the speedy Mike Wallace will have to be the game-changer for Pittsburgh. He’s had a big season, catching 60 passes for 1,257 yards and 10 TDs in the regular season. We assume Jets CB Antonio Cromartie, also a rather speedy fellow, will attend to him. Thing is with Cromartie: sometimes he’s great, like last week, and sometimes he’s very beatable, like with Colts WR Pierre Garcon two weeks ago.
Hell, Cromartie might be the biggest factor of all. Especially if Ben Roethlisberger tries to avoid Revis and, instead, targets Cromartie. Hey, at least Cromartie didn’t call Roethlisberger an a------.
4. Potentially Relevant Video
If Revis makes Ward somewhat irrelevant in the passing game, the Steelers WR still can be a nuisance on the field. Ask Bart Scott about that this video, featuring Ward’s greatest hits.
5. The Jets will win if ...
They can get big-time production from both running backs, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. Tomlinson, after a swoon in the second half of the season, has run well the first two rounds of the playoffs, and Greene has rushed for 77 and 70 yards in the two games. If Greene can inch closer to the 100-yard mark and Tomlinson can average about 5 yards a carry, that would keep the ball out of the hands of Rashard Mendenhall and Roethlisberger for much of the game and bring the Jets a win.
6. The Steelers will win if ...
They can pound and pressure Mark Sanchez for much of the day. Yes, Sanchez threw three touchdown passes last week, but he still has struggled – for the past two weeks – with his accuracy. The Steelers have plenty of defenders (ahem, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley) who can harass Sanchez and make him have to release the ball too early. Which certainly won’t help his aim.
7. Prediction: Jets 20, Steelers 17