Saturday, January 9th, at 4:30, the New York Jets led by rookie head coach Rex Ryan will take the field to play a first round match up against the Cincinnati Bengals. This match-up will come just six days after the Jets pounded a less than enthusiastic Bengals squad to secure the #5 seed in the AFC. While there is no doubt this match up will garner the least amount of press, these two teams should put on a display of hard nose defensive football, with two of the top five defensive teams on display.
The Jets started the season with a quick 3-0 start, including a win against the division rival New England Patriots. Exciting their fan base is something the Jets are good at; disappointing is something in which the Jets are great. The Jets followed up with a 1-6 record over their next 7 games, falling seemingly out of playoff contention. Behind strong defensive play and a "break" in the schedule, the Jets went on a 3 game winning streak to take their record back above .500 to a solid 7-6 after 13 games. With the help of some surprising losses, the Jets once again found themselves in playoff contention, and once again disappointed their faithful fan base with a heartbreaking 10-7 victory in the Medowlands to the Atlanta Falcons. This loss prompted Rex Ryan to say "We're obviously out of the playoffs, and that's unfortunate."
The 1 PM games on Sunday, December 27th, broke every way possible for the Jets. With Tennessee, Jacksonville, Miami, and Baltimore losing, the Jets went into Indianapolis knowing their next two opponents had nothing to play for, while two wins guaranteed them a playoff spot. The Colts seemed to come out hoping to build an insurmountable lead, playing their starters well into the 3rd quarter. The Jets defense spoiled that plan, and Indy's undefeated season, as the Jets stayed close enough to take the victory when Indy's 2nd stringers took the field.
The New York Jets had once again sparked their fan base, and took the field Sunday Night as 10 point favorites over the Cincinnati Bengals. Brad Smith took the lead role in the "Seminole" (Jets version of the wild cat) and ran the Jets into a big first half 27-0 lead against the Bengals. The Jets defense was equally dominate holding Carson Palmer to zero passing yards, while Dwight Lowery picked off his third pass of the season. While many football fans across the nation labeled these victories and the Jets playoff spot as mere "luck", the Jets fan base senses a new generation of Jets players and coaches who relish the chance to succeed in the clutch.
The Cincinnati Bengals season could not have started off more heartbreaking with a last minute miracle deflection catch by Brandon Stokley to lead the Broncos over the Bengals. However, like all good teams, the Bengals bounced back to win their next 4, including three divisional match ups. After splitting their next 2, the Bengals headed into their bye week with a very respectable 5-2 (3-0) record.
The Bengals season could be made in weeks 9 and 10, with match ups against division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Against Baltimore, the Bengals defense stood strong holding Joe Flacco to 195 yards and 2 INT's, while Cedric Benson continued to prove as a great addition piling on 117 yards and a TD. This victory gave the Bengals the season sweep and widened the gap from the Ravens. The following week, the Bengals had to travel to Pittsburgh for an opportunity to seize virtual control of the division. The Bengals were proud to show off their newly hardened defense and after a field goal in the 1st quarter Bernard Scott took the kick off 96 yards for the games only touchdown. A game which Marvin Lewis called the most "grinding game I have ever experienced", a game which neither QB passed the 200 yard mark, while no runner reached 40 yards, a game with 9 punts and 9 field goal attempts, the Bengals came out victorious and took a strangle hold on the division.
The Bengals went on to finish the year up as division champs, but not without tragedy. On December 17th, 3 days before the Bengals were ready to travel to San Diego to battle for a first round bye, Chris Henry tragically died. A man who seemed to be in trouble his whole life, was making an effort to change. The Bengals honor Chris Henry with #15 decals decorating their uniforms and helmets, however fall to the San Diego Chargers to cement either a 3 or 4 seed.
On January 9th, these two teams will meet again, and here is my hopefully fair and balanced preview:
The New York Jets approach will be simple; time of possession, defense, field position, defense, ball security, defense, running attack, defense, and....defense. The Jets boast the #1 running game and defense in the NFL, and like your first car, will ride them into the ground. In a game which the first team to 20 will probably win, the Jets will rely on defense and special teams to create easy scoring situations for Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense. While the Seminole took a big hit when Leon Washington was placed on IR, Brian Schottenheimer has placed the versatile Brad Smith as the primary component of this formation. Look for the Jets to throw this formation into action 7-10 times Saturday, with Smith, a former QB in college potentially taking a chance with a pass attempt.
The Jets traditional running attack will feature Thomas Jones and a tough hard nose rookie in Shonn Greene. Jones, who had over 1400 yards and 14 TD's has once again flow under the radar as one of the premier backs in the NFL. Shonn Greene, a third round pick out of Iowa, has stepped in to replace Leon Washington, only his style couldn't be any more different. Greene, who has yet to receive a pass, is a hard nose downhill runner, who prefers to go over than around a defender.
Mark Sanchez leads New York's passing attack. While the rookie out of Southern California has had his share of ups and downs, his play has steadied from his mid-season struggles. Unlike many other teams in the playoffs, the Jets use the pass to keep the defenders on their heels. Schotty will not be afraid to call a few play actions to keep the line backers steady on future running plays. The Jets are also not afraid to go deep, with a down field threat in Braylon Edwards. The Jets will take a chance or two deep every game with Edwards. Jerricho Cotchery (WR) and Dustin Keller (TE) are the go to receivers for the Jets on third downs. Sanchez will look towards Jerricho on quick slants, and Keller for square outs on the first down line.
The Cincinnati Bengals hold the leagues #4 ranked defense, and are sure to be ready to prove that they are every bit, if not more powerful than the Jets. Allowing 18 PPG and boasting two of the leagues top corners in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, the Bengals defense will be salivating at the chance to face a rookie QB in their house Saturday. Hall and Joseph who have 71 and 69 tackles respectively will look to contain the Jets running game in between the tackles while blanketing Edwards and Cotchery.
The Bengals run a 4-3 defense, and with the loss of Pat Sims, need Tank Johnson, Domata Peko, and Jonathan Fenene to be healthy Saturday to take on the Jets stacked offensive line. They will take on the blocks to set up Dhani Jones, team leader in tackles, to halt the Jets running game. If the Bengals can hold the Jets running game in check, their secondary, led by Hall and Joseph should have a field day with rookie QB Mark Sanchez.
The Cincinnati Bengals offense has been the subject of much local criticism this season. With the loss of TJ Houshmandzadeh in the off season, the Bengals passing attack has been bleak to the custamary numbers they put up. Carson Palmer threw for just over 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns to lead the Bengals passing attack. With an improved powerful defense, the Bengals will to their running game in cold weather low scoring games to guide their offense to victory, and expect them to do just that Saturday.
One of the best pick ups was Cedric Benson by the Bengals. He amassed 1250 yards, while scoring six touchdowns and only fumbling one time this season. With the Jets leading tackler in David Harris, suffering an ankle sprain in week 17, look for the Bengals to pound the ball early to test Harris and his mobility.
For those of you who have no interest in either teams, the premier individual match up is without a doubt Chad Ochocinco vs Darrelle Revis. Last weekend Palmer took a few shots torwards Chad, failing to complete one. Revis, perhaps the best corner in the league, lets his play do all the talking; while Ochocinco chooses to let his mouth compliment his proven ability. The Bengals offense will try keep Ochocinco involved, however I see Revis with edge here.
On the other side stands Laveranues Coles, a story not all that exposed. Coles, a career long Jet, was a big supporter of Chad Pennington, and became publicaly upset with the orginzaion over the release of Penningotn and subsequent trade for Brett Favre. Coles signed with the Bengals this offseason to replace Houshmandzadeh. While Coles has been less than spectacular, accumulating just over 500 yards and 5 TD's, he would love nothing more than to burn his former team in the playoffs. The Jets weak point of their defense is rare lack of pass rush and consequent open receivers against the #2 corner, whether it be Lito Sheppard, Dwight Lowery, or Donald Strickland. Look for the Bengals to have Coles run long crossing routes across the field, and for Palmer to hit him in stride for a couple decent gains.
The bottom line is defense will win this game. The team that can create and win the turnover battle should have the upper hand Saturday. Look for field position to play a huge factor, as I don't see either team being able to have many, if any, length of the field drives. I feel the Jets running attack will preform at a high level, and Bart Scott and David Harris will hold Cedric Benson in check, as the Jets will move on in the playoffs with a 17-12 victory.