The Indianapolis Colts (10-6) and the New York Jets (11-5) take the field at Lucas Oil Stadium Saturday night (8 PM, NBC) for what is sure to be the game of the week. This game could also be one of the most exciting match-ups of the whole playoffs. The Colts come in on an end of the season roll while the Jets have been showing a lot of weaknesses over the last few weeks.
The Colts have been hampered by the injury bug this year, but Quarterback Peyton Manning (450-679, 4,700 yards, 33 TDs, 17 Int.) has been nothing short of magical with the pieces of the puzzle he still has left on offense. The Jets and Quarterback Mark "The Sanchise" Sanchez (278-507, 3,291 yards, 17 TDs, 13 Int.) are not the same team that beat the Patriots early in the season. They struggled mightily in their Week 13 rematch (a 45-3 Patriots win). The next week they dropped another game against the Miami Dolphins, and two weeks ago the Jets took a beating at the hands of the Chicago Bears by a score of 38-34. The Colts ended the season on a strong note with 4 straight wins after a string of three losses against New England, San Diego, and Dallas.
Manning looked poised to beat the Patriots in the last seconds of that Week 11 game until a spectacular interception ended the late game threat while the Colts were driving for the win in the red zone. Manning wants the rematch and will be fighting tooth and nail to get there with a team full of backups working harder than ever to compete. The Colts are first in the league in the passing yards per game category. Manning will go to the air early and often in this one to keep Sanchez and his offensive squad off the field. No back on the Colts squad exceeded 500 yards rushing this year, so there's slim chance for a Colts victory if the passing game doesn't work wonders for Manning at home. Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon have a dozen touchdowns and over 2,000 yards combined, but Wayne has been bothered by a knee injury. He'll have to be healthy and at his absolute best to rise to the occasion in this one.
The Jets have arguably the best off-season acquisition toiling as the leading rusher: LaDainian Tomlinson (914 yards, 6 TDs). Behind him is Shonn Greene (716 yards, 2 TDs), who seems to be learning from LT and developing into a great runner. If the Jets want to win this game they have to open up plenty of holes for these two and eat up some major clock time when it counts if they get the lead in this game.
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The Jets defense will also have to work to come up with turnovers. Cornerback Drew Coleman comes in with 5 forced fumbles and an interception. Inside Linebacker David Harris leads the team in tackles with 99 on the season. Harris also has one forced fumble and three sacks. The team's sack leaders are OLBs Bryan Thomas (6) and Calvin Pace (5.5). All these key players will have to come together and keep pressure on Peyton Manning while the secondary plays tight coverage on all of Indy's deep threats. Manning has been downright sloppy at times this season, and this defense can force him to make quick decisions and give up the ball if they play to their potential.
The Colts defense will also have to work hard to win this one. The veterans on this team will step up in a huge way and get it done. The sack leaders are Defensive Ends Dwight Freeney (10 sacks, 5 forced fumbles) and Robert Mathis (11 sacks, 1 forced fumble). Free Safety Antoine Bethea leads the team in tackles with 106. Indianapolis can keep Sanchez and his stacked backfield in check if these superstars shine.
Look for the Jets to jump out to an early lead and the Colts to catch up and crush them in the second half. This game will be tight for a while until a few long bombs help the Colts break away once the defense figures out the Jets running scheme and shuts it down. Manning is built for the playoffs and Sanchez is simply not ready for a serious run at the Super Bowl this year. The Colts get the victory even if it takes 5 or 6 field goals from Adam Vinatieri.