When Rex Ryan declared his team Super Bowl contenders in the offseason, it raised a few eyebrows. Yes, last year the Jets engineered a run deep into the postseason on the back of then-rookie Mark Sanchez, before finally falling to the Colts in the AFC Championship. Sure, they added what many considered a washed up LaDainian Tomlinson, and a suspended Santonio Holmes, but did they have enough firepower to run with the big boys in the AFC? They certainly looked that way early, bursting out of the gate to a 9-2 record, keeping them level with the New England Patriots. Then all of a sudden, some of the luster wore off, and the Jets were no longer the stalwarts on defense that everyone thought. Not only that, their offense completely dried up, and questions about Mark Sanchez began to crop up. This was especially apparent in their prime time clash with the Pats, which many penned to be the game of the season. Instead, the Patriots steamrolled the Jets 45-3, leading Rex Ryan to go as far as burying the game ball. Things didn’t improve quickly, as the Jets lost to a punchless Dolphins squad, and managed to score only 9 points between those two weeks. While the Jets seem like they have turned the ship around with a hard fought win in Pittsburgh, there are still doubts about the defense, which must be the strong point of their team if they are to have success. These doubts were most visible two weeks ago, when they lost a shootout to the Bears 38-34. While Revis Island has still managed to claim a few victims this season, he is no longer the lights out defender he was a year ago, largely due to a reduced preseason and lingering injury issues. For the Jets to win on the road, they will need a top level performance from their defense, something that has only occurred fleetingly this season. Meanwhile, Sanchez needs to prove last year that the playoffs were not a fluke, as his regular season was inconsistent, as he threw for just 17 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions. Tomlinson has cooled off considerably since his hot start, so it may be up to Shonn Greene to have the breakout game that everyone has been waiting for.
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For the first time in seemingly a long time, the Colts had to work hard to earn their division title, right up to the final week of the season. After a midseason funk saw Peyton Manning and his crew fall to 6-6 and out of last place, the Colts had to finish the season by rattling off 4 victories, none of which came easily. The most important game was week 15’s tilt against Jacksonville, where a Colts loss would have clinched the division for the Jags. Fortunately for Colts fans, it was around that time that Manning emerged out of his mini-slump that saw him throw 13 interceptions in 4 games. Manning looks to be fully back on track now though, which is bad news for opposing defenses. One major blow is that Austin Collie remains out after sustaining another concussion, and with Dallas Clark already gone for the season, Manning will need to expect a lot out of some of the lesser known receivers on his team. Of course, he will still have Reggie Wayne, who is Manning’s go to guy, along with Pierre Garcon, Blair White, and Jacob Tamme at tight end, who has done a solid job filling in for Clark. One major area the Colts need to pay more than lip service to is their run game. With Joseph Addai finally healthy again, the Colts hope to revive their running game, which has been a non-factor for most of the season. Dominic Rhodes has been fairly impressive since re-joining the team in week 16, and we can expect Rhodes to split carries fairly evenly with Addai, relegating Donald Brown to spot duty.
A big story of the game will be how the Colts cope with the two headed running attack of Tomlinson and Greene. Indy has struggled against the run all season, although they managed to contain Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden later on in the season. If the Colts can stuff the run and force Sanchez to lead his team to victory, this plays very much into the hands of Indianapolis. The other major plot line will be to see if the Jets can slow down Peyton Manning. Manning has had Rex Ryan’s number over the years, and is 5-1 against him, including 2-0 in the playoffs. For the Jets to leave Indianapolis with a win, they need to figure out a way to stop Manning. Whether Darrelle Revis covers solely Reggie Wayne all game, or rotates to some of the other receivers remains to be seen, but New York’s secondary’s ability to contain Manning and the Colts passing game will likely be the deciding factor in this one. The Jets have only allowed 200.6 passing yards per game, so they have a pretty good track record, but you can bet that Manning will be rearing to go in this one as he tries to lead the Colts to back-to-back Super Bowl visits. The other major question will be the ability of the 12th man to motivate the Colts. Getting a home game at Lucas Oil Stadium is huge for Indy, as they went 6-2 at home, as opposed to posting a .500 record on the road. Fortunately for New York, they do travel well, as their brand of hard-nosed defense and a strong running attack is well suited for travel. They are 6-2 when sleeping in a hotel the night before.
Jets vs Colts Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
New York Jets +2.5
@ Indianapolis Colts -2.5
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Jets vs Colts Betting Predictions/Picks for AFC Wildcard
Spread Prediction (Top Play): Although the Jets do play the type of game that translates well on the road, Peyton Manning is back in top form, and gets to play at home. Yes, the Jets still have one of the better defenses in the league, but they have not demonstrated that they are at the same level as last year when they won two games on the road in the playoffs. Even without Clark and Collie, Manning has proven that he can get it done without a star studded supporting cast. On the other side of the ball, Mark Sanchez has not shown anything too impressive this season, and although he has a reputation for playing well in big games thanks to last year, one year is not enough of a sample to discount the fluke factor. While Indy no longer has the vaunted defense it has possessed in years past, they are more than capable of putting heavy pressure on Sanchez and forcing him to make mistakes. If the Colts can stake themselves to an early lead, that also eliminates the Jets’ running game to a degree. Looking back at a big sample, the Colts are 35-16-3 ATS after a straight up win, and have only lost 7 times ATS in their last 27 games against teams with winning records. Meanwhile, the Jets are 0-4 after an ATS win, and 1-4 on the road against teams with a winning record at home. Look for Manning and the Colts to send the Jets packing for the second straight year.
Game Total Prediction: Manning will be out with guns blazing in this one, and the Jets may have no choice but to engage in an aerial shootout if they get behind early. While this one won’t have a boatload of points, both offenses are capable enough of holding their own, and neither defense is a complete shutdown unit. The Over is 6-0 when the Jets are a road underdog of a field goal or less, while it is 6-0-1 when the Colts are favored by that same amount. The Over is also 4-0 in the last 4 matchups between these two clubs. This game should be able to put up enough points for the Over, and may even have a few left over after that. Back the Over.