They played once before this season, a game that came down to two plays at the end of the game that panned out to nothing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and a 22-17 win for the New York Jets. But that was three games before season’s end. This is now. And the AFC Championship Game offers itself up as the gateway to Super Bowl XLV. If the Steelers get there, it will be their eighth trip, tying the Dallas Cowboys for the NFL record for the most visits, and a chance to add to the record they already hold for the most wins Super Bowl wins, having won six Lombardi Trophies in their seven contests. The New York Jets would be back for the first time since 1969 and the win they enjoyed as the Miracle Jets under Joe Namath. The Jets are not looking for a miracle this time to get to Dallas for the Super Bowl — just a win.
The AFC Championship Game looks to be a defensive contest from the outset, but as ESPN pointed out, All Pro safety Troy Polamalu did not play in that game. And although it might be true that one player does not make a team, that one player’s absence can certainly impact the overall performance of a team. Pittsburgh is 31-8 with Polamalu playing, 6-7 without.
The Steeelers’ counterparts, the defensive squad of the New York Jets, boasts one of the best in the NFL. The Jets come into the game with a defense that is ranked 6th against the pass and third against the rush. The defense was ranked third overall during the regular season, giving up less than 292 yards and 19 points per game.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, who can only boast a 12th place ranking against the pass but finished the regular season #1 against the rush, still finished the season as the second best defense in the NFL. Overall, they allowed their opponents less than 277 yards per game. They only let their opponents score 14.5 points per game as well.
So it’s #2 against #3 on the defensive side of the ball.
On offense, the New York Jets might have the edge to balance out the AFC Championship Game, making the game just a little more difficult to predict. They finished the season with the #4 rushing offense in the nation with Ladainian Tomlinson and Brandon Jacobs combining for nearly 1700 yards between them. But that is where the Steelers play best. Still, the Jets placed 11th in overall offense, churning out 351 yards per game. And the last time the two teams met, the Jets ran at will, crunching out more yardage against the Steelers on the ground than any other team had all season.
At quarterback, Mark Sanchez’ put up comparable numbers to Ben Roethlisberger, but it must be remembered that Roethlisberger missed the first four games due to his suspension for unbecoming conduct.
But that could be the one factor that counters the Jets offense — Ben Roethlisberger. By season’s end, Roethlisberger was the fifth-ranked quarterback in the NFL. Mark Sanchez finished 27th. And if one those two passes had connected at the end of their last meeting, the Steelers would have walked away the winners of that game.
The Steelers’ offense wasn’t too far behind the Jets, finishing 14th overall, punching out over 345 yards on average per contest.
But who will win? Sports betting lines, like those covered by TheSportsGeek.com, are giving the Pittsburgh Steelers a four-point advantage. What does that mean? Absolutely nothing, except at the end of the game, when it is time to pay those who correctly placed their bets. But it does suggest that the Steelers just might be the better team.
Even so, they still have to score more than the Jets to get to the Super Bowl…
The New York Jets take on the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game at 6:30 p.m. EST on January 23 on CBS Television at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
“Jets – Steelers Preview,” ESPN.go.com