The real and spectacular AFC title game pick

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 21, 2010



We went a perfect 4-0 straight up picking the divisional playoff games last week and, most impressively, we absolutely nailed the Jets victory in San Diego, calling for a three-point New York win "in a pretty shocking cross-country upset." Remember, when we call for a road dog to win outright, you can almost always take it to the bank.
 
Our beloved Ms. Hatcher beamed with aroused pride in our performance. She loves when we nail things.
 
However, we went just 2-2 against the, ahem, spread: we expected narrow Colts and Saints wins over the Ravens and Cardinals, respectively. But both  won in blowouts.
 
Our beloved Ms. Hatcher then left us at the end of the weekend unfulfilled, like just about every other woman in our lives.
 
Here in the postseason, we are a meager 4-4 against the spread and 5-3 straight up. It comes after a year in which we went 144-111 ATS, putting us well ahead of most of the "pundits" – including all of those at CBS Sports.com, which is where we get our lines each week (and do so again here).
 
Here's our look at the Jets-Colts AFC championship game; click here for our analysis of the Vikings-Saints NFC championship game.
 
N.Y. Jets at Indianapolis (-7.5)
Meeting of Characters: Jeff Spicoli vs. Terry Malloy
History gives us two great precedents for the surprising Jets-Colts battle in the AFC title game.
 
The first precedent, of course, is one of the great epics of American sporting history: the Jets shocking 16-7 win over the Colts in Super Bowl III, a game universally regarded as one of the great upsets on record. We'll look at that one in a little more detail later today.
 
The second is a little more current: last week's 17-14 Jets victory over the Chargers.
 
And it's that game that provides the best indicator of how the AFC title tilt could unfold.
 
The Jets statistical story is well-known by now, after the late-season surge (and a couple handouts) followed by road playoff wins at Cincinnati and San Diego: the Jets play shutdown defense (No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating) and display a religious commitment to old-school offense, run the ball first and put Mark Sanchez in good situations to execute a conservative but productive passing attack – something he's done quite well in two playoff games.
 
The Colts, meanwhile, are something of a mirror of the Chargers and present similar match-up advantages for the Jets.
 
Peyton Manning is obviously one of the great quarterbacks ever and we don't need to rehash the numbers here. He won MVP honors again in 2009, though his numbers fell short of those posted by San Diego's Philip Rivers in almost every area (Manning, with Rivers' numbers, would have also won MVP honors this year... which says more about the media's infatuation with Manning, but more on that later).
 
And like Rivers, Manning put up those numbers despite the fact he was paired with a poor ground game: the 2009 Chargers ranked No. 32 with an average of 3.33 YPA running the ball; the 2009 Colts ranked No. 30 with an average of 3.54 YPA.
 
So those numbers give the Jets the same opportunity they exploited against the Chargers: the opportunity to make the Colts a one-dimensional offense and force them to win by throwing the ball into the teeth of the league's top pass defense (58.8 Defensive Passer Rating).
 
The Chargers attempted 40 passers last week, while handing the ball off just 15 times to its running backs, gaining 57 yards. Yup, that's one dimensional.
 
Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball, he New York offense, and Shonn Greene, will gash Indy's lowly-rated Defensive Hogs on the ground (The Colts ended the year a dreadful No. 30 in our Defensive Hog Index, ahead of only the Lions and Rams; and No. 19 against the run, surrendering 4.33 YPA).
 
Again, it all adds up to bad match-ups for the Colts.
 
However, you cannot dispute that the Colts have a couple key advantages, the biggest at the most important position on the field, quarterback. Plus, they're simply a more talented team than the Jets and they've proven, more than any other team in football this year, that they can gut out tough wins.
 
This will be a tightly contested battle that will frustrate Colts fans for much of the day: remember, Indy had scored just 15 points against the Jets through three quarters back in December, with Manning at the helm of the offense. But it's unlikely the Jets will get the luxury of three missed field goals, gifts they received last week from the new Mike Vanderjagt, San Diego's Nick Kaeding.
 
The Jets can win, if they find a way to force Manning into three picks or six negative pass plays (remember, according to our updated CHFF Interception Ladder, three postseasoon picks spells almost certain doom). He is famous for his postseason meltdowns: the Colts have averaged a meager 13.4 PPG in their eight Manning Era postseason losses. But that scenario seems unlikely against the Jets.  
 
To put it in the metaphorical terms of our movie-character comparisons: the Colts, who took a dive against the Jets in Week 16, get the second shot to be a contender that had eluded Terry Malloy. They make good on the opportunity.
 
New York keeps it close before falling to the mighty Colts ... however, the Gang Green emerges from the defeat as one of the off-season AFC favorites heading into the 2010 campaign.
 
Indianapolis 20, N.Y. Jets 16

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