The New York Jets were finally able to exercise some demons this past weekend, after beating the Indianapolis Colts on the road to begin their post season run into the playoffs.
Many people wondered how Rex Ryan's defense would fare against Peyton Manning and the Colts passing game, and it "passed" the test. Pro Bowl corner Darelle Revis was able to shut down Colts Pro Bowl WR Reggie Wayne, limiting him to only one reception on the night, and that made it easier for the Jets to double some of the other receivers in blue uniforms.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez wasn't spectacular, but he was efficient on the final drive of the game, putting kicker Nick Folk in position for a game winning field goal. As expected the Jets came out in this game establishing the run behind running backs Shonn Green and LaDanian Tomlinson, which made life easier for Sanchez throwing the football downfield.
Sanchez however, was only 18-31 for 189 yards in the contest, which isn't acceptable when you consider some of the downfield chances he had because of one-on-one opportunities outside. The Colts were forced to add another defender in the box to stop the run, and Sanchez was not as accurate on downfield throws.
Sanchez will have to play much better this week on the road at Gillette Stadium if the Jets are to have any chance of continuing on in the post season.
The New England Patriots are the best team in football right now, and their quarterback will be the league's MVP this season. Tom Brady has thrown 36 TD passes versus only 4 interceptions. To make matters worse for the Jets, he has won an NFL record 28 straight games at home as a starter.
Bad news if you're a fan of Gang Green.
Back in week 13, the Patriots made an example of the Jets at home, winning 45-3, claiming their dominance not only inside the AFC East division, but within their conference as well.
Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions in that game, and simply put, he cannot afford to turn the football over this weekend if the Jets want to win. There has been a lot of trash talking coming out of the Jets camp this week, so I anticipate a very heated football game on Sunday. These are two teams that, simply put, do not like each other.
Couple this game with yet another Steelers vs. Ravens playoff showdown, and the AFC will boast the better slate of games this weekend in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Don't Discount Seattle
Is anybody giving the Seahawks a chance to beat Chicago this weekend?
Who would have thought that a team who scraped into the post season with a 7-9 record would still be alive in the playoffs?
We all witnessed a truly inspired effort as the Seahawks knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints last weekend. Matt Hasselbeck was on fire, completing 25 of 35 passes for 272 yards and tied a franchise post season record with four touchdown passes.
I always enjoy watching Hasselbeck play, because in my mind he is one of the two most fundamentally sound quarterbacks in the NFL along with Tom Brady. But surely the Seahawks don't stand a chance agains the 11-5 Bears right?
Not so fast.
The Seahawks actually beat the Bears back on Oct. 17 by a score of 23-20, and they did it at Soldier Field!
Looking back on that game, the Seattle defense did a great job getting pressure on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. The Seahawks were able to sack Cutler sox times, and it clearly rattled the Bears signal caller. Cutler ended up completing less than 50% of his passes, and was never able to find a rhythm.
The Seahawks defense has been able to consistently apply pressure all season long, as ends Chris Clemons and Rahim Brock have combined for 20 sacks this year. Look for Seattle to try and bring added pressure this weekend in order to equal their earlier outcome from the regular season.
Don't sleep on the Seahawks. At this point in the season, it doesn't matter what your record is, it only matters that you're in the playoffs.
It's amazing to think that a team that won their division with a 7-9 record, will host the NFC Championship game with a win in Chicago, paired with a Packers win over Atlanta this weekend.
Who would have thought!
Can the Packers go all the way?
The Green Bay Packers are the wild card team that I think has the best chance of winning the Super Bowl this year.
I think back to the unlikeliest of Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants back in the 2007 season. The Giants entered the post season as the #6 seed, needing to win at Tampa Bay, followed by Dallas, then Green Bay. The Giants were able to win all three games, before upsetting then undefeated New England in Glendale, AZ, to pull off one of the greatest post season runs in the history of sports.
The Giants were able to accomplish all of this because they peaked at the right time of the season. They were playing their best football right before the post season began, narrowly losing to the Pats at home in their final regular season game.
You could make the argument that the Packers have followed the same blue print.
After looking strong down the stretch run with impressive wins over the Giants and Bears, the Packers were able to knock off the Philadelphia Eagles last weekend on the road, and now face the #1 seed in the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons.
The Packers narrowly lost to the Falcons by 3 points earlier this year in the Georgia Dome on a game winning field goal by Matt Bryant, but I think this will be a different outcome.
The reason: quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Most people admit that Peyton Manning is the most mentally prepared QB week in and week out in the NFL. I would argue that Rodgers is a close second. It is evident that Rodgers is dialed in to head coach Mike McCarthy's west coast offense, every time we see him take the field.
Rodgers plays without hesitation, because he knows where to go with the football each and every snap. In fact, Rodgers was my pre-season pick to win MVP this year!
One of his best games this season came against the Falcons, when he completed 74% of his passes for 344 yards. Packers rookie running back James Starks provided over 100 yards rushing versus Philly, which provides this offense much more balance heading into this weekend.
Couple that with a defense that has steadily improved all season long, and I think the Packers are looking at yet another upset this weekend.
Panthers Un-Luck-y with first overall pick
Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck shocked the football world when he decided to return for his junior season next year.
Luck was considered the sure fire first overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft had he come out, and all of a sudden there are many questions surrounding the Carolina Panthers, who hold the first overall selection.
Luck is considered a "once in a generation" type quarterback, a la Peyton Manning, and surely you would have expected the Panthers to select Luck, even though they took Jimmy Clausen in the second round last year.
Many expected that the Panthers would have traded Clausen to another team that had given Clausen a high grade, and was in need of a quarterback (ie Seattle). So with Luck staying put for another year, it forces the NFL draft experts to begin shuffling their draft boards, and determine who are the best players available.
It is becoming more and more obvious that defense is the strength of this year's draft class, particularly on the defensive line.
Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley has not yet committed to the NFL, but if he does, will likely become the best player available on most team's boards. I watched the dominant Fairley up close this past Monday, as he controlled the line of scrimmage and played a huge part in leading Auburn to their first National Championship since the 1957 season.
At 6'5 315 lbs, Fairley possesses the strength to push linemen back into the pocket, but also possesses the speed and quickness to put pressure on the opposing quarterback, as evidenced by his 10.5 sacks.
When you are talking defense, it all starts on the defensive line, and defensive tackle is a good place to build your foundation with a guy that commands double team attention.
We saw how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to build around Warren Sapp, the Panthers could do the same with a player like Nick Fairley.
The draft is still a long way away, but because of Andrew Luck's return to college, there will be a lot of debate in the coming months surrounding "who to take".
It will begin with the Carolina Panthers.