So far this playoffs, I am 6-2 in picking the winners and 5-3 against the spread. While the Jets continue to roll, they have officially taken a perch on top of the “teams I hate the most” mantle. I actually found myself rooting for the Patriots to win. While I appreciate the candid manner of the team, I generally dislike what they have to say. Between all the bravado and foot fetish videos, I think I’ve had enough of that team. Regardless, I am trying to look past my biases to make an accurate and honest assessment of the game coming up on Sunday.
At first glance, it seems like the Steelers should have the upper hand. QB play is huge in the playoffs, and Roethlisberger clearly has a much more respectable history of statistics than Sanchez does. Sanchez does have that 4-1 road record in the playoffs, but some of that has been in spite of him, and the Jets tend to rely on that defense and ground game.
Speaking of which, the Jets’ defense and running game have gotten them this far, why not past Pittsburgh? If you know Pittsburgh’s defense, they are very stout against the run. How good, you ask? They surrendered just 62.8 yards per game in the regular season, including just 35 against Baltimore a week ago. It is more of a passing league these days, but the Jets, who ranked 3rd in run defense, gave up 90.9 rushing yards per game, just .8 per game less than the #2 ranked Bears’ run defense. That means Pittsburgh’s run defense is like no other in football. While the Jets do have a tough defense of their own (3rd in the NFL) They gave up 15 more yards per game than the Steelers, meaning this is the first playoff game they don’t have the edge in defenses.
There’s just one more hole in this argument, and it’s that the Jets played Pittsburgh already this season, in Pittsburgh, and won 22-17. The Jets did not turn the ball over that day. Mark Sanchez was a workmanlike 19/29 for 170 yards and they managed to run for over 100 yards as a team. They pressured Roethlisberger into a very mediocre 23/44 passing day, and were able to squeak by.
However, when you look at how Pittsburgh played without Troy Polamalu, who has on average made Pittsburgh’s run defense over 20 yards better per game, and Heath Miller, who can help both in protection and catching balls in the middle of the field, it should make a huge difference in the game. Plus, Pittsburgh outgained the Jets in the previous meeting 378-276. If the Jets are to have any chance on Sunday, Mark Sanchez will have to play a great game and try to take advantage of Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards on the outside.
Prediction: Steelers beat the Jets 24-14 and go to the Super Bowl.
NFC Prediction is coming soon.