The AFC Championship features the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets - a team with plenty of playoff and championship pedigree going against a team that hasn't been to the Super Bowl in 42 years. The New York Jets do own a title in one thing - trash talk. They've used it to their advantage against the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots to get this far, but for the most part have kept silent this week. Probably a wise move, since the Steelers need little to motivate them - especially considering the Jets beat the Steelers earlier this season - at Heinz field.
Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan must be thinking his time has come, however. This is Ryan 3rd straight trip to the AFC Championship Game. As the defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008 he lost to the Steelers on this very field. Pittsburgh went on to beat Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII. Last year, it was Ryan's Jets losing to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The Colts, of course, lost to the New Orleans Saints. Is this the year Ryan gets over the hump - and past the Steelers?
For Pittsburgh, they just find a way to win. Down 21-7 to the Baltimore Ravens last week, Pittsburgh forced Baltimore into 3 straight turnovers. In the snap of a finger, the Steelers went from down 14 to up 3. If you are going to beat the Steelers, you had better beat them, then beat them so more. Like a bad horror movie, they always come back.
So what to make of today's game. For me, I always look at the quarterbacks - in a battle between Mark Sanchez of the Jets and Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers I have to side with Ben. Yea, he's a big loser in the game of morality, but when it comes to football, Ben finds a way to get it done. He has two Super Bowl rings already, and could be on the cusp of the 3rd. Advantage Steelers.
The Steelers also have the most dynamic player on the defensive side of the ball - not something many opponents can claim when the Jets are on the field. Troy Polamalu is a difference maker. He finds a way to force some of those turnovers the Steelers seems to get at the most opportune moment. Advantage Steelers.
Oh yea, the Steelers don't allow teams to run on them either - especially in the playoffs. The Ravens, despite leading by 14 points at halftime could only muster 41 yards on the ground last week -and I like their running game better than the Jets. Advantage Steelers.
So why did the Jets win? In Pittsburgh? Special Teams. That is the one place the Jets could have the advantage. New York ran the opening kickoff back for a touchdown. That changes everything. They punted the ball perfectly as well, consistently pinning the Steelers back at their own goal-line. That resulted in a safety. So, nine points, created largely by special teams, and the Jets won 22-17. I don't see all of that happening for the Jets today.
Regardless of the Jets lack of trashtalk this week, the Steelers remember what happened in December. They know the stakes, and if any team is mentally prepared for AFC Championship Games is the Pittsburgh Steelers. They are looking for their 8th AFC Championship - and 7th Vince Lombardi Trophy. That is hard to bet against.
FINAL: Pittsburgh Steelers 27 - New York Jets 13