Posted by Andy Benoit
CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point playoff preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. And as an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:
1. New York Jets (No. 6, AFC, 11-5) @ Indianapolis Colts (No. 3, AFC, 10-6)
Rex Ryan is getting yet another crack at a legendary quarterback who is 5-0 all-time against him (counting Ryan’s days as the Ravens defensive coordinator…and NOT counting the Week 16 Curtis Painter Game from last year). Ryan calls his matchup with Peyton Manning “personal” – almost like it’s a foot fetish issue or something. Or maybe by “personal” Ryan means that he takes the losses personal (yeah…probably that one). In that case, someone can inform Ryan that Manning isn’t making it personal – he tries to exploit the holes of every opposing coach’s system.
2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking (On a scale of 5 'Jim Mora Faces')
AFC Championship rematch? Definitely worthy of primetime slot and 5/5 Jim Mora Faces. (And any game that follows an NFC West-related game is going to naturally look great by comparison.)
3. Key Matchup to Watch: Jets DB's Drew Coleman & Dwight Lowery vs. Colts Blair White & Jacob Tamme
The winner of this weakness-on-weakness matchup could very well determine the outcome of the game. About 10 seconds after they learned they were playing the Colts, the Jets announced that shutdown cornerback Darrelle Revis would shadow 111-catch wideout Reggie Wayne. In the past, Manning has had no problem going elsewhere with the ball when Wayne is bracketed by safety help or facing a superstar cover artist.
Manning’s No. 2 option Saturday is Pierre Garcon, though Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie poses a tough challenge. Cromartie does not have the physicality or technique to grind with the über-strong Garcon, but his lanky 6’2” frame and ball skills give him lethal playmaking prowess. Manning knows all about that playmaking prowess – he’s been picked off four times by the ex-Charger (three coming in an ’07 Sunday night contest).
And so we get to Manning’s third read: wideout Blair White or tight end Jacob Tamme (depending on the formation). Both are better options than you’d guess but, of course, worse options than their injured predecessors (Austin Collie and Dallas Clark). What makes White’s and Tamme’s wild card contributions significant is that the Jets ancillary pass defenders have struggled mightily at times this season. The 45-3 shellacking from the Patriots, for example, was a product of Tom Brady throwing repeatedly to whichever receiver New York’s backup corners lined up against. That said, White and Tamme are not as dynamic as Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez.
As defensive backs go, Coleman and Lowery are both very good blitzers. Though he hasn’t done so nearly as often this season, perhaps Ryan will elect to gamble. Manning, however, is revered around the league for his ability to punish a blitz (he has mastered “the little things”). In all likelihood, the Jets are going to have to rely on their backup defenders winning their man-to-man matchups. Ironically (and fortunately), those matchups are against Indy’s backups.
4. Potentially Relevant Video
There is a certain video involving a certain member of the Jets coaching staff circulating around the internet these days, but at some we have to commit to having maturity and class. So, we’ll pass along something else. Because interceptions were a bit of a bugaboo for Indy’s quarterback this season, and because this game (like all playoff games….and all games in general) will probably come down to turnovers, we’re going with The Manning Face.
5. The Colts will win if ...
Their defense can hold an opponent to 80 yards rushing or less for a fourth straight game. In fact, keeping the Jets’ sixth-ranked rushing attack under 125 yards would probably do the trick.
6. The Jets will win if ...
They can maintain a simplistic, ball-control oriented gameplan for Mark Sanchez. Doing that involves playing for field position, keeping the score close by limiting the Colts’ possessions early and banking on at least one big play (think Brad Smith kick return, Santonio Holmes catch-and-run or a turnover that leads to immediate points).
7. Prediction: Colts 24, Jets 17