This is a tough one for me to admit but the truth is the truth. The New York Jets could actually lose their re-match in the coming Wild Card round against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Fair is fair. I recently wrote about the top five reasons why the Jets will win the Wild Card round and now feel compelled to be ‘objective’ enough to list the reasons why they won’t.
Like it or not, Jets fans need to recognize that winning this game is not written in stone. Real Jets fans know wholeheartedly that their beloved Jets losing an important game like this is far from unlikely. For Jets fans, being surprised to see this team totally blow an important game is a little like being surprised to find out Perez Hilton or Elton John is gay. It’s like, "Where have you been hiding?!?"
So, while it greatly pains me, here are the top five reasons why the Jet faithful should be slightly worried.
The Sanchez Question
Our highly touted rookie QB has been almost as much misery as he has been joy for this team. When this young man is clicking on all cylinders, watch out! We’ve all seen the flashes of brilliance which draw us to him like moths to a flame. However there is that other side of Sanchez, the dark side that is a veritable turnover machine. Sanchez had an AFC leading 20 interceptions in his debut season to go along with nine lost fumbles. The Bengals have a solid pass defense that was ranked sixth in the league.Bengal’s corners Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph have six INTs each and are sure to be salivating at a chance to snag a Sanchez lame duck pass.
Cincinnati Bengal’s head coach Marvin Lewis, once the defensive coordinator for both the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins, has amassed a 36-6-1 record when they win the turnover battle and are 7-35 when they don’t. Winning the turnover battle is mandatory for the Jets or they will lose. The Jets also need to avoid falling behind to this team, which would force them to put the game on the arm of Sanchez. That is a situation that could, and likely would, spell disaster for the Jets. Which Sanchez shows up for Saturday’s game may just be the most pivotal factor in this entire game.
The Bengals Run Defense
This one is bound to be hard to hear and swallow for the Jets faithful. Especially in light of the fact that our beloved Jets come into the post season touting the leagues best defense over all. Hold on to your butts but Cincinnati has a better run defense than we do. Yeah, I couldn’t quite believe it either, but it’s true…sort of. The Jets ended the season with the leagues 8th best run defense while the Bengals ended with the 7th best run defense. Thankfully, the difference between 7th and 8th is an extremely tiny one. The Jets averaged 98.6 rushing yards allowed per game on defense compared to the Bengals 98.3 average.
One would think that these two stats prove that this area will be a wash for both teams but I beg to differ. Should the 7th ranked run defense play to it’s potential, the single biggest asset the Jets have could be rendered useless. Let’s not shrug off the fact that Domata Peko, arguably their best run stuffer, will be back on the field come game day. Should the Bengals manage to disturb or even shut down our run game, it’s good night Irene for the Jets. It is absolutely essential for the Jets to establish the run game early on. Without that amazing running game in sync and clicking we are faced with the prospect of depending on our rookie QB Mark Sanchez to win the game for us and that is just not bloody likely. The best news the Jets face here is that strong side linebacker Rey Maualuga, the closest they have to an impact player, is on IR.
Head Coach "Brago-saurus" Rex Ryan
Love him or hate him, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is a colorful character and a defensive genius. While this is far from Ryan’s first trip to the post season, Rex was on the 2000 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens coaching staff, it is his first as the captain of the ship. Going into his first post season as a head coach, Ryan’s own inexperience could ultimately be a factor that plays against the Jets. It’s a game of inches which means even the tiniest sideline decision from Ryan could make or break this team on game day. Don’t forget Ryan is also trying to buck history as no rookie head coach has ever made it to the big game…never mind winning it.
The Final Two Minutes
Here is another point no Jets fan wants to hear. The Jets defense tends to forget that an NFL game consists of 60 minutes, not 58. Our vaulted defense cost us three in the win column with late-game failures against the Dolphins, Jaguars and Falcons. Despite a litany of rookie mistakes by the young Mark Sanchez, the bottom line in each of those games was that we were winning and it was our defenses inability to make one more stop in the final minutes that cost us dearly. The loss to Atlanta really stands out. Everyone admitted that they knew exactly which play Atlanta was going to run, they knew it was going to Gonzalez and yet…
The return of Bengals RB Cedric Benson will come into play here. Benson gives the Bengals offense a little more balance, helping to prolong drives. Benson has run for a team record six 100-yard games this year and, if he proves to be a factor, could wear our defensive stars down. Should the game come down to a final defensive stand, will the Bengals be facing the number 1 defense in the league or the defense that gave away three games in the final moments?
The Mental Game
By nearly all accounts, the Bengals state of mind is being called into question. Can they over come the beat down suffered at the hands of these same Jets? Has the tragic loss of WR Chris Henry deflated them? Honestly, I don’t believe that the Bengals will over come the mental aspect of all those factors, especially having lost the last 3 out of 4 games to end the season. There is, however, a flip side to this you must consider. With all the negative attention, this team has quite a lot to prove to it’s self, it’s fans, the media and the football world at large. This team could very well show up with a very large chip on their shoulders, channeling all their energy, focus and emotions into a supreme effort against the Jets. It’s one of the intangibles of the game that may come out to bite us.
On the flip-side, you have to worry about over-confidence. An over confident Jets team could spell disaster for our playoff run as well. Over confident players tend to over look their opponents and despite all the negatives faced by the Bengals, they are a professional, playoff football team. Over look them at your own peril.
Xander Diaz is Editor-In-Chief for AFCBeast.com.