If the Jets backed into the playoffs then the Chargers made a dead out sprint into the postseason, running the table after their 34-23 loss to Denver back on Oct. 19. This may be the ugly duckling of the divisional round of the NFL Playoffs with the underwhelming Jets headed into San Diego as nine-point underdogs. However, the AFC Championship Game matchup will not be settled until the Jets and Chargers tangle at 4:40 p.m. EST in Qualcomm Stadium.
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Rookie coach Rex Ryan and rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez were gift wrapped a trip to the playoffs after the Colts and Bengals laid down in the final two weeks of the season. However, there was no laying down last week when the Jets defeated the Bengals, 24-14, on the road in the Wild Card round. The win impressed a lot of people, including the oddsmakers. Bookmakers moved the longshot Jets from 45-1 to win the Super Bowl to 14-1 after just one round.
Sanchez is returning home to Southern California where he made a name for himself in his one year starting for the USC Trojans. He is garnering a lot of attention as the Jets make another stride this season, but the real reason the Jets are still playing football this late into January is their defense and their ability to run the ball.
The old formula for success in the NFL, running the ball and playing defense, has been lost by most teams but the Jets are the team in the playoffs with the best total defense and best rushing attack (172 yards per game). Of course, there is a reason the Jets are nine-point underdogs and the No. 5 seed. They are second to last in the league in passing but they are not the only one-dimensional team in this game. The Chargers rank second to last in running the ball and they will lean heavily on the arm of Philip Rivers in these playoffs.
It’s clear what the Chargers will be trying to do -- pass the ball -- and what the Jets will be trying to do -- rush the ball. If the game comes down to that, and it very likely could, the Jets could actually even the playing field a little bit. Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis has been the definition of a shutdown corner this year. He will likely get the task of shutting down Vincent Jackson much like he shut down Chad Ochocinco last week. That could open things up for tight end Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd. Gates surpassed 1,000 yards receiving this year and Floyd was third on the team with 776 receiving yards.
Add in Darren Sproles (45 receptions for 497 yards) and LaDainian Tomlinson (20 receptions for 154 yards) and Rivers should have plenty of options, even against the league’s best pass defense. For the Jets, the responsibility on offense will be shared too. Thomas Jones is a major impact player in this game for the Jets. He rushed for over 1,400 yards this season. Shonn Greene came on strong late in the season and in the Cincinnati win and Leon Washington and Brad Smith are dangerous out of the wildcat package.
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From a wagering standpoint, getting points in this game is ideal. The Chargers have strung together 11 consecutive wins to close out the regular season but they were involved in countless nail biters including a one-point win at the Giants and three-point wins over the Redskins, Bengals and Cowboys.