NBC happened to pick the Chargers/Broncos game for the nightcap—mostly due to the drama surrounding the ending from the last time these two teams played, but since we think that San Diego will win this one going away to wrap up the AFC West with an ultra impressive 8-8 record, we’re sticking to this game.
After surging to an 8-3 record, to put them alone in first in the AFC East, the Jets really find themselves in between a rock and a hard place. If the Jets win, but so do the Patriots, they are home for the playoffs; if the Jets lose, then they are out as well and it’ll be at the hands of the quarterback they were so eager to show the door once Brett Favre became available. Either way, the aftermath of Sunday’s action is sure to leave Jets’ fans disappointed.
On the other side of the field, will be the Miami Dolphins, who were 1-15 a year ago. This is shaping up as one of, if not the, greatest stories in NFL history. And the other story lines, in addition to the turnaround record wise (Parcells’ history with the Jets, Pennington’s with New York, etc.) should make this even more intriguing.
Here’s how Pro Football 101 sees this game playing out:
When the Jets are on offense, look for them to commit to the running game. If there’s been one bit of consistency to the Jets, aside from Favre throwing picks, it’s been the running of Thomas Jones. After the team spent millions to acquire him a year ago, they’re finally seeing dividends.
So look for Jones to be the focal point of the offense and get at least twenty carries in this one. But the problem with this is that the Dolphins are aware that he’s the one guy who must be stopped and so they will stack the line to take him away.
And when the Jets pass, they’ll need to figure out a way to get rookie TE Dustin Keller involved once again. During that stretch which included wins over the Patriots and Titans, Keller became Favre’s go to guy on third downs and a main target in the offense. But since then, he’s really tailed off. And this is not good for NY.
If Keller is getting open, this means that the safety must cheat over to help out which opens up things outside for Coles and Cotchery. So we think this is how they’ll have to run their passing game for them to have any chance on Sunday, because if Miami’s defense only has to worry about stopping the receivers, it’s easier to defend.
When the Dolphins have the ball, we like them to use a mixture of running and passing to keep the Jets off balance and put points on the board. The Fins ground game features talented runners—Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams—but is hardly imposing.
It works better when it’s mixed in with the wildcat (formation) and the short passing game. And since the Jets are pretty good against the run—although not in the past few weeks—don’t look for Miami to have a great day on the ground, but a good one is well within reach.
And when they pass the ball, look for 90% of the throws to be short to mid range. Pennington’s arm strength is one reason for this, but another is that the Dolphins subscribe to Parcells’ philosophy of moving the ball down the field with safe, short passes, and that plans works well when you’ve got the personnel to do it: TE Anthony Fasano has been a pleasant surprise this season and rookie Devon Bess is great on the underneath routes.
And once this has been established, look for Miami to take its shots down field with speedster Ted Ginn Jr., who might be able to shake off stud CB Darelle Revis and get deep for a long one.
As this huge game brings the regular season to a close, we like the Dolphins to complete one of the most improbable football stories in decades and secure the AFC East title by beating the Jets to the tune of 20-14 or 24-17. It’ll be close, as both defenses will play pretty well, but the deciding factor will be Pennington’s efficiency over Favre’s reckless nature.
So the Miami Dolphins will claim the No. 3 seed in the AFC and a home playoff game on Wild Card Weekend while the Jets will be knocked out of the playoffs and have a lot of soul searching to do, and a lot of time to do it.