Daily Blog • January 24th, 2010

AFC Championship • 3:00 ET • CBS

NY Jets

The AFC comes full circle here. Having already dispatched Cincinnati in the Wildcard Round the Jets have the opportunity to take out the other team that essentially gifted them a playoff spot. Indianapolis had a 15-10 lead after the 1st drive of the 2H in the 1st meeting when they pulled Manning & the rest of the starters. At that point Indy had 16-7 FD & 254-115 yd edges & the Jets TD came when Brad Smith returned the 2H’s opening KO 106 yds for a TD. However the combo of Jones & Greene had 68 yds (4.5) rushing in the 1H. The Jets #1D sacked Indy QB Painter on his 2nd series forcing a fumble which they returned to take the lead & the run defense took over. Last week was a story of 2 halves for the Jets as while they were outgained 212-99 in the 1H they allowed just 1 TD as San Diego missed 2 FG’s. In the 2H the Jets had a 163-132 yd edge & held San Diego to just 9 yds on their 1st 4 drives of the 2H. Indianapolis quieted doubters about how ready they would be after shutting it down for the final 2 games. The Colts #18 defense used their impressive team speed to hold Rice to just 67 yds (5.2). Manning is 4-1 vs a Rex Ryan defense avg 227 ypg (62%) with a 9-2 ratio.
            Rex Ryan took the same formula that got the ‘08 Ravens into the playoffs with a rookie head coach & QB by relying on their #1 rush attack & #1 D. Sanchez is the 1st rookie QB to start & win the first 3 games of a year (202 ypg, 59%, 4-2) since 1969. He then averaged 169 ypg (49%) with a 6-14 ratio in his next 7 starts (1-6) until Ryan got involved with the “color code system.” Since then he’s avg 131 ypg (59%) with a 2-4 ratio except for the Tampa Bay game (knee sprain) but last week joined Baltimore’s Flacco as the only rookie QB’s to win 2 Playoff games. The Jets boldly traded for Edwards & he still has a tendency to drop balls (49% catch rate with Jets). Cotchery is back to being a solid #2 & TE Keller rounds out a decent receiving unit. The backbone of the #20 offense is RB’s Greene & Jones who along with San Diego’s Tomlinson & St Louis’s Jackson are the only active RB’s with 5 straight 1,000 yd seasons. Jones finished 3rd in rushing this year thanks to a formidable OL that has started all 16 together. Greene has been the star of the playoffs leading the league with 263 (6.0). Over the last 6 regular season games the D held opposing QB’s to a comb 33.7 passer rating with 1,054 ypg (43%) & a 1-10 ratio. The Jets are the 1st team to lead the NFL in scoring D, total D & rush offense since the 1986 Bears. The best NFL CB in ‘09 has been Revis who leads the NFL with 37 pd & hasn’t allowed an opposing WR to have more than 50 yds this year. The ILB’s are Scott & Harris who didn’t miss a beat with the loss of NT Jenkins in run support. While the Jets are just 18th in sacks it’s misleading as they own an 8-17 ratio. Shaun Ellis is a rare active pass rushing DE in a 3-4 (hybrid) & has 6.5 sacks. Pouha has done a good job taking over at NT since the loss of Jenkins & NYJ have allowed 93 ypg rush (3.6) since 10/18 (Buffalo). The Jets special teams are an average group (#14) which isn’t bad as they’ve cycled 7 punters thru since the draft & aren’t the same with the loss of Washington.
            Despite the outcry over the loss of “a perfect season” the fact is that the Colts have 7 straight seasons of 12 or more wins which is a record. Manning has won his 4th MVP which he earned with 5 straight come-from-behind wins this year & the Colts are the only team in the NFL with double digit wins & playoff berths since realignment. What makes this season standout is the changeover at WR with 2nd year WR Garcon & rookie Collie taking over for departed Marvin Harrison & Anthony Gonzalez who sprained his knee in Week 1. Despite their inexperience Indianapolis finished in the Top 10 (9th) in total offense for the 10th time in 11 years. The Colts have 5 players in the top 100 for receptions this year with Wayne & Clark tying for 5th with 100 receptions. Clark is the 2nd TE in NFL history with 100 receptions & the Colts offset their #32 run game with Addai in the short pass game (51 rec, 6.6). They have struggled in the short yardage area which is where Brown was supposed to help out but he’s been bothered by a shoulder injury. Indy’s 13 sacks allowed is the 4th time in 5 years the Colts OL has given up 15 or fewer sacks. They didn’t have a 100 yd rusher in any game this year & only broke that number as a team 3 times this year. Despite finishing 25th vs the run (4.3) the D under DC Coyer is improved allowing 112 ypg (4.1) prior to the Jets/Bills. Indy also places much more emphasis on speed & sure tackling than other teams. They allowed an NFL best 27 pass plays of 20 or more yds & gave up a 19-16 ratio (3 TD’s vs BUF) which is a big dropoff from last year’s 6-15 ratio. FS Bethea is the only player in the secondary to start all 16 this year & had an All-Pro season. Brackett remains a steady force in the middle but the team doesn’t place much priority on LB’s. Mathis & Freeney combined for 23 sacks despite basically resting for 3 games at the end of the year. Once again Indianapolis struggled on special teams finishing 31st in our rankings due to some very poor return units (22.2 KR, 5.2 PR).
            This is the 1st time an NFL championship game will  feature a pair of rookie head coaches. However I really don’t consider Caldwell a rookie. He is a long time veteran of the Colts & while he made some coaching changes when he took over (DC & special teams) he was groomed for the job by Dungy & inherited a talented roster. Ryan has plenty of experience running the Ravens defense & was with them when they won their Super Bowl. I expect this game to get off to a slow start as the Colts use the 1st Quarter to figure out the Jets defense & the Jets try to establish the run. While the Jets did keep the 1st game close there are some key differences here. The Colts didn’t play Pierre Garcon (hand) & LT Charlie Johnson, CB Jerraud Powers, LB Clint Session, DE Robert Mathis didn’t even suit up. They pulled Dwight Freeney early in the 1st Qtr & in a must win game the Jets only had 7 FD & 115 yds in the 1st half for 3 points. San Diego clearly underestimated the Jets played to their defense & run game without making mistakes. It wouldn’t be a shock to see the Jets win this game but the Colts will have their full roster available, are used to these big games & their smaller & faster defense will key in on the run & force the Jets to make plays in the air. The Jets have done an excellent job of developing Sanchez but Manning is the elite QB at home that has seen versions of this defense twice this year.


NFC Championship • 6:30 ET • FOX

New Orleans

This game is the matchup the fans were hoping for late in the year when they were competing for the #1 seed. Both teams easily dispatched their foes last week as they took advantage of key injuries. Arizona was running man to man prior to CB Rodgers-Cromartie injury (knee) then Brees (247 yds 72% 3-0) dismantled an undermanned zone defense. Minnesota’s defense swarmed the Dallas OL after LT Adams (calf strain) left. Then Dallas shifted protection to the left so the Vikings went after RT Columbo. Romo was held to 63 yds (56%) with a 0-1 ratio in the 2H & Dallas only crossed midfield on their initial drive of the 2H.
                        In ‘08 Minnesota finished 17th in total off, 25th in pass, 12th in pts & was -6 TO’s. This year behind a 40 year old QB they finished 5th in total off, 8th in pass, 2nd in pts & were +6 in TO’s. Minnesota knew they were a veteran QB away from being a serious contender for the Super Bowl. When Favre decided to come out of retirement again they made the highly publicized, but right, move to get him. Favre set a team record with 10 games of 100+ QBR while personally passing for his most TD’s in a season since 1997, had the fewest int (7) & his best comp % (68.4) in his career. Peterson took some heat for a decline in rushing production (-377 yds from last year) as Minnesota went from 5th to 12th in rushing. This was partially due to the OL but Minnesota also had 110 more pass att’s this year & he more than doubled his receptions vs last year (21 to 43) which made his overall production +311 yds. Rice benefitted the most out of the addition of Favre with 68 more receptions & 1,171 more yards than ‘08 as he stayed healthy all year. He tied an NFL Playoff record with 3 TD receptions vs Dallas. Harvin finished 2nd to New York Giants’ Nicks in receiving yards by a rookie & was named Offensive ROY with a 27.5 KR avg & 2 spec teams TD’s. Their OL isn’t as good as its reputation due to a 1st year Center & rookie RT but their 34 sacks (15th) is more a factor of Favre taking a sack rather than risk a turnover. The Vikings #6 D starts & ends with the DL. Allen finished 2nd in sacks as the “Williams Wall” absorbed most of the double teams & allowed him to beat OT’s 1 on 1 for most of the year. Minnesota’s biggest injury of the year was the loss of MLB Henderson (broken leg) & while rookie Brinkley is good vs the run he is a weak link in coverage. CB Winfield has played most of the 2H of the year with a foot injury & while they have a 26-11 ratio overall they only given up 209 ypg (65%) with a 9-6 ratio at home. Minnesota has our #10 special teams thanks to solid return units (#11 PR/KR) but their KR defense can be exploited (22.6).
            While leading the #1 offense this year Brees finished 1st in comp % (70.6), QBR (109.6), TD passes (34) & tied Rodgers & Romo for 2nd with 39 pass plays of 25 or more yards. Brees also spreads the ball around (7 players with 35 or more receptions this year) which diffuses the defense’s ability to lock onto a single player. Colston is the only player who’s had 1,000 yds receiving with Brees at the helm but he’s done it 3 of the last 4 years. Henderson is the possession WR but the offense really started clicking with a healthy Shockey who opened up the middle of the field. Meachem was GM Loomis’ preseason breakout player & he didn’t disappoint as his 16.0 ypc was 9th in the NFL. The Saints best previous finish in rushing was 11th in 2003 & this year they came in 6th. The combo of Thomas, Bell & Bush worked despite injuries as Payton rolls with whichever RB he feels will exploit the opposing team. Combined the trio would be 2nd only to Chris Johnson in rushing this year. New Orleans’ OL is a bit overrated with Brees being sacked 20 times (4th, 1 every 27.2 pass attempts) due to his lightning quick release. Miami & Dallas were the only teams with deep & physical secondaries who were able to jam New Orleans receptions & throw off the timing enough for the edge rushers to get to Brees (9 sacks). Gregg Williams led the Saints to the #9 D after the 1st 5 weeks but injuries caught up to them & they finished the year 25th allowing 384 ypg & 23 ppg over the final 11 weeks. The Saints have played much of the season without its starting CB’s Greer & Porter with Jenkins having growing pains as a nickel CB. Sharper tied for the NFL lead with 9 int & MLB Vilma proved that he is a cornerstone player here. New Orleans did lose DE Grant (triceps) vs Carolina but will have DT Ellis here & with him in the lineup New Orleans only allowed 103 ypg (4.2) rushing. New Orleans has my #30 special teams due to 4.6 PR avg (31st) & the KR coverage unit giving up 24.5 (29th).
            Minnesota has “struggled on the road” this year only going 4-4 which normally is a pretty decent record in the NFL. The problem is that 3 of the losses came in December & the Vikings had already earned the media spotlight due to their success. Minnesota does have some injury concerns here with DE Ray Edwards sprained knee being at the top of my list. Edwards had a monster game vs Dallas with 13 plays behind the line of scrimmage & a forced fumble. Minnesota will still have their team speed on defense here but lose the snap count advantage & make no mistake the Superdome will be historically loud here. Favre has plenty of experience with the silent count & it wouldn’t be a surprise if Peterson gets his 1st 100 yard game in 8 tries as Minnesota sets the pace here. I expect New Orleans WR Meachem & TE Shockey will play here & the Saints have the weapons to make this a shootout. The key here will be Minnesota imposing its physical style of play on the Saints OL & jamming the WR’s at the line to disrupt the timing. Brees is an excellent rhythm QB but I’ve noticed that if he gets knocked off it for 2 or 3 series he starts to press & struggles to get it back. I really respect what New Orleans has done & this will be a very tough venue to play in but in the end I believe Minnesota’s defense wins the game up front.