Time to break down tonight's NFL Wildcard Playoff game between the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts and Jets have met on three prior occasions in the postseason, the most recent being Indianapolis' previously-mentioned victory in the 2009 AFC Championship. The most memorable, however, was the Jets' landmark 16-7 win over the then-Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, and New York scored a 41-0 home rout of Indianapolis in a 2002 AFC First-Round Playoff as well.
Indianapolis holds a 40-26 advantage in its all-time regular-season series with the Jets, but New York recorded a 29-15 win at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 16. In that contest, Colts head coach Jim Caldwell pulled Manning and a bulk of the team's starters with Indianapolis ahead, 15-10, early in the third quarter, sparking a firestorm of debate about the undefeated team's decision not to play at 100 percent to attempt to win the game. The result snapped a two-game winning streak for the Colts in the set, which included a 31-28 road win in 2006 and a 38-31 decision at the RCA Dome in 2003.
Caldwell and Ryan are 1-1 against one another as well as their counterpart's respective team, and both possess 2-1 lifetime records in postseason play.
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
While Sanchez (3291 passing yards, 17 TD, 13 INT) showed great improvement from his 20-interception rookie season, the Jets' offense makes its money on the ground, where it ranked fourth in the NFL with an average of 148.4 yards per game. Tomlinson (914 rushing yards, 6 TD) led the club with 219 carries and was tied for third among Jets players with 52 catches, while Greene (766 rushing yards, 2 TD) carried the ball 185 times after beginning the season as the starter. The duo ran behind a line that features a pair of Pro Bowl picks in left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold and was tied for eighth in the league with just 28 sacks allowed. Sanchez did a great job in the regular season of using all of his weapons, with tight end Dustin Keller as well as wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes all finishing with over 50 catches. Keller (55 receptions, 5 TD) led the club in receptions, while Edwards (53 receptions, 7 TD) had the most touchdown receptions of any receiver on the roster. Edwards caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez in last year's AFC Championship Game, while Holmes (52 receptions, 6 TD) is averaging 17.2 yards per catch in the playoffs. No Jets receiver went over 1,000 yards, with Edwards' 904 leading the way.
Though the Colts ranked 25th in the league in run defense (127.0 ypg), they were able to shut down three talented running backs during their winning streak in the Titans' Chris Johnson, the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden of the Raiders. Indianapolis allowed just 79.8 yards per game on the ground over its season-ending win streak. If the Colts can stop the run, it will allow the Pro Bowl defensive end duo of Dwight Freeney (25 tackles, 10 sacks) and Robert Mathis (60 tackles, 11 sacks) to wreak havoc. Freeney is one postseason sack shy of becoming just the ninth player in league history since 1982 to reach 10 for his career. Linebackers Pat Angerer (88 tackles, 1 sack) and Gary Brackett (74 tackles) hope to be joined this weekend by Clint Session (38 tackles, 1 sack), who is questionable with an elbow injury. Safeties Aaron Francisco (59 tackles, 2 INT) and Antoine Bethea (106 tackles, 1 INT) have played well this season even though the Colts lost depth at that spot with season-ending injuries to Bob Sanders (biceps) and Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), and the pair gets help from corners Kelvin Hayden (61 tackles, 2 INT) and Jacob Lacey (64 tackles, 1 INT). Hayden, who tied for the team lead in interceptions with cornerback Jerraud Powers and Francisco, is also a question mark due to a neck injury.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Though Manning (4700 passing yards, 33 TD, 17 INT) did struggle at times, especially during a three-game slide from Nov. 21-Dec. 5, the Colts still ranked first in passing offense (288.1 ypg) while he himself set a league record with 450 completions and a personal best in passing yards. His interception total was its highest since he had 19 in 2002, but the four-time league MVP also has plenty of past experience and success in the playoffs. Manning, in fact, ranks third in NFL postseason history with 435 completions and 5,164 passing yards, behind only Brett Favre and Joe Montana in both categories, and is the game's all-time leader with eight 300-yard passing games in the playoffs. The Pro Bowl quarterback will miss Collie and Clark, but he still has the reliable wideout Reggie Wayne (111 receptions, 1355 receiving yards, 6 TD) to throw to. Wayne, also a Pro Bowl selection, set a career best this season in catches and has nine touchdowns in 16 career postseason games. Garcon (67 receptions, 6 TD), meanwhile, had 11 catches for 151 yards in last year's playoff game versus the Jets, while tight end Jacob Tamme (67 receptions, 4 TD) has been great in replacing Clark. With Collie, who led the Colts with eight touchdown catches, out, Blair White (36 receptions, 5 TD) should continue to see time on the field. The Colts did rank just 29th in rushing offense (92.7 ypg), and Donald Brown (497 rushing yards, 2 TD), Joseph Addai (495 rushing yards, 4 TD) and Dominic Rhodes should all see time carrying the ball in this one.
The Jets figured to be one of the league's top defensive teams in 2010 and they did not disappoint, ranking third in total defense (291.5 ypg) and sixth in scoring (19.0 ppg). Revis (32 tackles, 0 INT) saw his numbers dip after posting six interceptions in 2009, but that was more likely because teams threw away from him and he was still selected to his third straight Pro Bowl. Revis has two picks in three postseason games and needs one more to tie Greg Buttle for the most in team playoff history. New York hopes that Cromartie (42 tackles, 3 INT) will be the difference-maker in this year's rematch after a successful debut with the Jets this season. Safety Eric Smith (54 tackles, 1 sack) had been filling in for the injured Jim Leonhard (61 tackles, 1 INT), who is on IR with a fractured tibia, but he missed the last three games due to a concussion. Smith could return in this one to start alongside Brodney Pool (53 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), with Dwight Lowery (19 tackles, 2 sacks. 3 INT) returning to his reserve role. Linebackers Bart Scott (81 tackles, 1 sack) and David Harris (99 tackles, 3 sacks) were the only two defensive players to start all 16 games, while defensive end Shaun Ellis (36 tackles, 4.5 sacks) is slated to play in his club-best 10th playoff game. Harris had two sacks in last year's playoff matchup with the Colts, while linebacker Bryan Thomas (39 tackles, 6 sacks) was this year's regular-season leader in that category. Calvin Pace (51 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 1 INT) and Jason Taylor (36 tackles, 5 sacks), the NFL's active sack leader, add to New York's excellent linebacker depth.
Jets versatile kick returner Brad Smith ranked second in the league with an average of 28.6 yards per return and took a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns during the regular season. Jerricho Cotchery has been handling punt return duties with Leonhard's injury. Punter Steve Weatherford matched an NFL record with 42 kicks inside the 20-yard line, while kicker Nick Folk hit 30-of-39 field goal tries and connected on a club-record 56-yard boot versus Denver on Oct. 17.
Late-season addition Rhodes is listed No. 1 on the Colts depth chart as the kick returner, ahead of Justin Tryon (21.4 avg.). White averaged eight yards on 10 punt returns. Punter Pat McAfee stuck 21 of his 65 punts inside the 20 and Vinatieri missed just two of his 28 field goal attempts, but did not try one from beyond 50 yards.