I apologize if this game preview winds up being a little bit shorter than game previews from the regular season. There's a couple legitimate reasons for that happening (if it indeed happens):
One, I'm currently "vacationing" in San Diego...which means until Sunday I have way too much planned for each day and I'll probably wind up late (or missing) everything I have scheduled. So time is of the essence.
Two, for as much as I'm going to look back at these "teams" in the regular season for this game preview, the playoffs are a different animal. You can get a feeling for how good a player is during the regular season, and that player could become five times less effective or five times more effective in the playoffs for no other reason besides stress and the fact that the playoffs are typically played a little faster than regular season games. In summary, the past is not as meaningful as it once was.
So, in the following game preview, instead of breaking down every single matchup I'm going to give you my game prediction and why I think it'll unfold that way.
When the Jets Have the Ball
We'll split this prediction into two sides like this. When the Jets have the ball, the advantage lies in the hands of the Chargers. Again, that's just my belief, but it's supported by the fact that the Chargers have been a pretty stable defense this year. For all the yards they've given up, and all of the random drives where they've slipped into "soft zone" and looked terrible (twice against the Browns), this is not a defense that gives up a ton of first downs or a ton of points to opposing offenses.
On top of that, it is a defense that can be a bit confusing. Corner blitzes, Safety blitzes and a mad genius MLB in Stephen Cooper means that there's a good chance Mark Sanchez may not know where the blitz is coming from when it's coming. I like that.
Rookie QBs are usually in that group of players that get five times worse when the playoffs come around, and I think that trend will continue on Sunday. So, why was he so good against the Bengals last week? There are a few reaons, starting with the fact that most of the Bengals best defensive players finished the season on Injured Reserve. Another reason is that the Bengals are one of the few teams left in the NFL that play a 4-3 and rarely blitz, meaning Mark and the rest of the Jets knew exactly who was coming on each player and could exploit matchups they had against former backup LBs with short passes and strong inside runs.
While the Chargers defensive line is filled with former backups itself, the linebackers group and the entire secondary is healthy and talented. This is a defense that, contrary to Cincinnati, has gottten better all season and is capable of holding powerful offenses like the Cowboys' to less than 30 points.
Obviously, the key to the game is the Chargers offense. They can take away the Jets' running game simply by putting up points. If this game is close, the Jets running attack might do some damage....but I remain unafraid. Call me silly, but I am not the type to fear something that has yet to happen. Since the Chargers made drastic changes on the defensive side of the ball after getting shredding by the Ravens' and Steelers' running games, I don't know that I've seen a RB be really effective against the Bolts. Certain players, like Marion Barber, could pick up 7 yard runs but also could be stopped on the very next play.
I woulsdn't go so far as to say this tatement is true, but I might be convinced if somebody within the team said that the 4.5 YPC against the Chargers defense had more to do with the fact that the team is not looking at the run when they're up by 2 scores in the second half and they're essentially "garbage yards". I'm not saying I think the Chargers run D is great....I just don't think any team, including the Jets, is going to be able to run it 90% of the time and score points on San Diego.
When the Chargers Have the Ball
Similar to my stance above, my belief in the Chargers offense has everything to do with the fact that I have not seen them struggle. Against very good defenses in Dallas and Philadelphia, the Chargers defense seemed to perform at about 80% it's potential....which still makes it the best passing offense in the league.
Darrelle Revis doesn't scare me for this one reason: In the mdidle of the season, when Vincent Jackson had about 5 games with little to no production, the Chargers offense was still putting up a ton of yards and ton of points with the same amount of ease. Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd stepped up, Mike Tolbert started to get more involved in teh passing game, and Philip Rivers kept the team moving towards and into the end zone.
Call me a homer, but I'm not different from the Colts fans with Peyton Manning or the Saints fans with Drew Brees. If the worst you can do is take away Philp's 2nd favorite target (I think Gates led the team in receptions again this year), I'm still confident that he's going to do what he wants to do with all of the weapons he has left. If you're going to blitz him, it makes it even easier for him (since he's the best QB in the league against the blitz).
As much as everyone respects Vincent Jackson and understands his ability to stretch the defense, at this point we're ready to follow Rivers into battle with any other receivers by his side. The guy is Mozart in the pocket: avoiding the rush, finding the open receiver and putting the ball exactly where it should go in his hands. Whether that receiver is Jackson, Gates, Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Buster Davis, Darren Sproles, LaDainian Tomlinson or Mike Tolbert means no different to him, the offensive output and therefore...the fans feelings about the offense.
When I think about this game, one thing keeps coming to mind. If you, like me, believe that at the end of the season the Bengals were a "bad" team that could no longer overcome their injuries or the emotional drain of losing Chris Henry, these Jets have not beaten a good team since Week 2 of the Regular Season. Sure, they've beaten bad teams like the Bills and Bucs, but that does not make them a playoff-caliber team just yet. Those are baby-steps.
The Chargers are in the league that the Jets just cannot compete in, unless the Chargers turn the ball over and make mental mistakes (like penalties). In the past, I've always said that the Chargers turn the ball over less and are penalized less than just about every other NFL team over the last three years. As long as they stay true to form in that regard, I don't think anything can stand in their way of beating the Jets.