The Minnesota Vikings probably won’t be paying much attention to it on Sunday, but there is a game that precedes their NFC Championship game with New Orleans Saints that could have a great affect on their future. The New York Jets travel to Indianapolis on Sunday to take on the Colts in the AFC Championship and the winner punches a ticket to the Super Bowl in Miami, where they will face the winner of the Vikings-Saints game.
Of course, then you probably knew that. But what you don’t know is who is going to win the game and become a prospective Vikings foe. The Jets-Colts game is a rematch of week 16, when the 14-0 Colts, deciding to rest their starters with a slim lead in the third quarter, gave up the lead and a chance to have an undefeated season. (Head coach Jim Caldwell rested them for all but a series the following week in Buffalo, where the result was the same–another loss.) The decision to do so received much criticism from around the league and within the Colt fan base. The irony, of course, is the win helped the Jets get in the playoffs, and they have been on a tear ever since, landing in the title game against those same, generous Colts.
Add to all that, the ancient history of Super Bowl III when Jets quarterback Joe Namath (correctly) guaranteed a victory over the Baltimore Colts, plus the fact that current Jets coach Rex Ryan said his squad should be favored to win this Super Bowl before the playoffs started, and you have plenty of back story for an exciting matchup on Sunday.
None of that will have much impact on the outcome of this game, however. The AFC Championship will be played on the field, and even though New York has the number one defense, and number pass defense during the regular season, games of this magnitude come down to efficient quarterback play. And the Colts 4-time (and current) league MVP Peyton Manning has it all over rookie Jets QB Mark Sanchez.
The Colts were the worst rushing team in the league and will abandon the run early and rely on Manning’s arm to carry the day, despite their opponent’s ability to stop the pass. The Colts’ best and most experienced wide out, Reggie Wayne, will be locked up with the best shut-down corner in the league, Darrelle Revis, so that means Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie will have to step up–and they have produced for much of the season.
On the other side of the ball, the Jets have the best rushing offense in the league to rely on, but if they don’t get untracked, it will be a long day for their offense. Sanchez, who will be under the gun, has performed well all season, but two terrific pass rushers in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis will make things uncomfortable for him. The Jets will run the ball on the Colts 24th’ ranked rushing defense, but they may have to catch up fast as the Colts will be effective at home in their dome. The Jets’ offense still ranks 17th in points scored, whereas Indy ranks 7th (a difference of more than four points per game), and that is still a fairly important factor.
As to which team would make a better matchup for the Vikings, the Jets versus the quarterback who spurned them makes for a good story, and defensively the Purple might matchup better with the Jets than the Colts. Manning might be able to pick apart the Vikings secondary. But actually, it is of no consequence, as the Vikings would be happy with either team because that means that they got by the Saints in the NFC Championship. Indianapolis Colts 20-New York Jets-17
(Tomorrow, the Vikings-Saints preview.)