It's playoff time, and for the second year in a row, the Colts are taking on the Jets in the playoffs. There's no Super Bowl trip waiting at the end of this rainbow, however. The winner gets to travel to either New England or Pittsburgh. It's not exactly a great prize, but both teams will play their hearts out. Here's what to watch for in Saturday's Wild Card Game:
1. Watch for kick returns. The Jets are going to have to find 'non-traditional' means of scoring. Brad Smith is a dynamic return man, and the Colts are a mess on special teams. If the Jets can get short fields, or even a score from their return game, it could be just what they need to upset the Colts.
2. Watch the big game player. Dwight Freeney has long been a beast in big games for the Colts, and they need him Saturday night more than ever. If the Colts can disrupt Sanchez and force him to make quick decisions, it will dramatically help a struggling secondary. Freeney and Mathis must make plays if the Colts hope to win.
3. Watch the pick up. With the Jets likely to bring pressure from odd angles, the Colts backs will have to pick up the blitz. Addai and Rhodes could see the bulk of the action exactly because of that. Addai could end up playing a huge role in this game, even if he doesn't rush for more than 50 yards.
4. Watch out for the Dark McKnight. And when I say Dark McKnight I mean Jets rookie running back Joe McKnight. And now I apologize, sorry I couldn't pass up the chance at a Batman reference. But back to McKnight, with LT out of gas and a struggling Shonn Greene, McKnight torched the Bills last week for 158 yards. Look for the Jets to try more of the same against the much improved Colts run defense.
5. Watch out for the deep threat. The Colts secondary is depleted. And when I say depleted, I mean they were are beat up beyond belief. Like beat up worse than Hans and his German crew in Die Hard. The Jets don't specialize in the deep ball, but Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and even Jerricho Cotchery have the ability to stretch the field. This weekend the Colts secondary will need to channel their inner John McClane and shut down the deep pass. Yippee ki-yay. Safety Aaron Francisco has become the whipping boy for many a Colts fan. Last week he was running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Let's just say we can't have that again this week.
6. Watch the safety valve. The Colts have been awful at defending against TEs and RBs out of the backfield this year. This is a big change, due in part to young linebackers seeing a lot of time. The Jets will look long, but Sanchez will also have to quickly check down if the pass isn't there. The Colts must contain the Jets on these passes. Watch for Gary Brackett to make a big play.
7. Watch for drops. The Jets are actually not great against #2 WRs this year. The Colts #2 is Pierre Garcon who LIT UP the Jets last year. We all know the issue with Frenchy is the dropped passes. He had some ugly ones last week, so when Peyton comes his way, he has to squeeze the rock or it could be a short playoff run for the Colts.
8. Watch to the outside. The one place the Jets are really bad at stopping the run is wide left. If you see Don Brown come in the game, watch for a run outside left. If Brown can pop a big play, it could swing the game toward the Horse.
9. Watch the Colts running backs (coming out of the backfield). We all know that the Colts running game has resurfaced over the last four games. But just don't watch them running the ball, watch them catching it too. Addai has great hands out of the backfield and Donald Brown has shown flashes of brilliance this season, averaging 10.3 yards a grab. Expect more of the same this weekend. With the Jets featuring good corners, getting mismatches out of the backfield could make all the difference on checkdowns and blitz busters.
10. Watch for Snooki. I don't watch Jersey Shore. I don't know what a Snooki is. From everything I've heard, she sounds like she'd be a huge Jets fan. So if you see an orange smurf getting tazed by IPD, whip out that camera phone and send me a picture of your celebrity sighting.
11. Watch the Blair White Project. As mentioned in yesterday's write-up, White needs to elevate his game for Saturday's match up against the Jets. He doesn't need to break out for a 100 yard game or three touchdowns. But he does need to help take the pressure off of Wayne and Garcon. He needs to run good routes, find the open space, and keep the chains the moving. Five to seven grabs for about 65 yards sounds about right.
12. Watch for M and M. The Jets want to run the ball so it's up to Moala and Mookie to make some plays up front. If the Colts can get run stops and force third and longs, the Jets are toast. Moala got good push last week and has started to become a real player for the Cotls D. A big play out of him is essential.
13. Watch for pressure. Not on the quarterbacks, but on the whole Jets team. Rex has been talking like they are Super Bowl contenders, which they aren't. Indy could use a win, but is mostly been playing with house money. I have a feeling the Jets will come out tight, and if they fall behind, they might well crack. The Colts need to jump on them early and make the feel like a win is hopeless.
14. Watch the Island. Reggie Wayne gets a copious amount of throws from Peyton Manning, but with Revis on him, it'll be interesting to watch if Peyton looks his way. I would expect a few screens and slants early. Peyton will look long to Wayne if he gets Revis one on one on a deep route. The key will be Peyton not putting the ball where Revis can make a play on it. The Colts can't afford interceptions if they hope to win.
15. Watch for OT. I hate the new overtime rule, and I have a miserable suspicion it's going to hurt the Colts. Can't you just see Indy winning the toss, kicking a field goal, only to have the Jets drive the length of the field for a touchdown? Ugh I feel sick about it already.
16. Watch for the blather. It's a Collinsworth game, so you know they'll talk a lot about Manning's struggles in playoff games and never once show his QB rating is in the top 10 all time. They might even show the drop between his regular season rating and his playoff rating. It'll all be nonsense of course, and I'll probably throw something at the screen. Don't worry, I'm using my back up "Collinsworth TV" that I break out just for his games in case I break the screen.
17. Watch for the moment. He had it last year against the Jets. Indy was trailing 17-6, when suddenly everything clicked for Peyton right before the half. He went to Collie repeatedly, and like a cobra, struck for a touchdown. If Peyton has that 'aha moment' tomorrow night, it's over for the Jets. Wait for it. Relish it.
18. Watch for the best we can hope for. I really do love this Colts team, and while they'll have a puncher's chance in any game, winning tomorrow night's game is probably the most we can ask for out of them. It won't be easy, but look for Peyton to find a way to take this team farther than it has any right to go. Colts 24 Jets 23.
Thanks to Nick Pease for his help with 4, 5, 9, 11