What a long, strange trip it’s been.

The game's outcome depends on how many plays you can make, Mark. No pressure, kid.

We’ve had more than our share of downs over this season of Jets football, but this euphoric up we’re currently riding could erase nearly 41 years of heartbreak.

That’s the magnitude of what we are witnessing, folks.  Sure, the Jets were good when they met the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game 11 years ago, but everyone knew deep down that John Elway would not be denied a championship, and the “Same old Jets” mantra was still in play.

This time around?  Anything is possible.  Because this team is riding a wave that goes beyond conventional wisdom.  They were nothing more than a .500 club with considerable potential through the campaign’s first 14 weeks, with even their own head coach tossing in the towel on the team’s playoff hopes.

Now they are a team that has finally put it all together.  They have arguably the best offensive line in the game, and the league’s number one rushing attack.  They have a relentless defense that loves to put pressure on the quarterback, and they have an all-galaxy cornerback that can wipe your best receiver off the face of the earth for three hours.

Suddenly this team is riding a momentum the likes of which we’ve only seen from the great Cinderellas in sports history.  Cosmic forces are at work when the New York Jets take the field.  How else can you explain five missed field goals over two weeks, from two of the most consistent kickers in the NFL?   You can’t.

Call it luck, call it skill, call it whatever you please.  If you think the Colts will stroll through this one en route to their second Super Bowl in four years, you’re dreaming.  These J-E-T-S have the stars on their side, and when you add in the fact that every single member of this team truly believes they can win the whole ball of wax, whoever this team plays the rest of the season will be in for the biggest dogfight of their year.

So how can Gang Green keep these cosmic forces on their side?  Can they wear the glass slipper for three more weeks, or will the clock strike midnight on Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis?  We’re just one day away from finding out just that, but before the ball’s teed up, let’s get you prepped for the big clash with an AFC Championship preview, JetsInsider.com style


Let’s take care of the things we know will happen Sunday:

The Jets will run the football, even if they can’t run the football. Do not expect them to abandon the run unless they are trailing by more than two scores.  The running game is what this team’s identity is built on offensively, and last week’s game against San Diego proved they continue to pound at the wall until they can eventually bust through it.  Expect 40 total carries from the two-running back tandem of Thomas Jones and Shonn Greene, and expect their big offensive line to do their best to wear down the smaller but quicker defensive front of the Colts.

The defense vs. Peyton Manning is the most important matchup in this game. The chess match between head coach Rex Ryan and Manning will be one for the ages.  A brilliant defensive mind vs. a brilliant offensive mind.  Ryan calls the plays for the defense, and Manning basically calls the plays for the Colts’ offense.  Heck, we can’t even really be sure he’s not coaching the whole team at this point.

The defense must disrupt Manning’s timing, be around his feet and in his face consistently, or they’re going to be in for a long day.  If he gets time to make throws, look out.  He’s the best in the league at making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, so the defense will need to vary their looks and blitz packages from play to play and series to series.  They might even take it one step further, and change things drastically over the course of the game to try and confuse #18.  If they can’t, he’ll pick them apart from their opening possession.

Somebody, anybody, has to stop Dallas Clark. I don’t care who it is.  Pull somebody out of the stands if you think he can do it.  Darrelle Revis is canceling out Reggie Wayne, or whoever the Jets decide to put him on from play to play.  So that leaves Clark, the tight end who grabbed 100 balls this season, as the primary weapon for Manning.  Antonio Gates torched the Jets last week to the tune of eight catches for 93 yards, though he didn’t reach the end zone.  A similar output by Clark would be a win for the Jets, as long as they can keep him out of paydirt.

The offensive line must contain the Colts’ talented defensive ends. This will be a tough task for the line.  Dwight Freeney is one of the best ends in the league, and Robert Mathis is no slouch on the other side.  Mark Sanchez needs time to make good decisions with the football, so if he’s getting hurried consistently, watch out for mistakes from the rookie.

This point brings me to the biggest variable in the biggest game of the season for Gang Green.  Just what, exactly, can we expect from the guy taken with the number five pick in last year’s draft?

He’s been rock-solid throughout the postseason, making very few mistakes and making all the plays necessary for his team to win.  But here’s where the wrench gets thrown in.  He was playing good teams before, with fine quarterbacks.  Phillip Rivers is even entering the conversation as a top-five passer in the NFL.  But neither one of the guys he’s faced is Peyton Manning.

The Colts will score points Sunday.  Of that we can be sure.  They won’t score as many as they usually do, but they will certainly score enough so that there’s pressure on the Jets’ offense.

And that’s where Sanchez comes in.  At some point in this postseason, he is going to have to make plays that will win his team a game.  It’s just impossible that a team could go through an entire postseason and not have one situation where they need a big play from their qb.  Every postseason has those crucial third downs, those huge touchdown throws in a tight game, the huge scramble for a first down that keeps a drive alive.

Can Sanchez make those plays?  Can he lead his team back if they’re trailing late in the game?  Can he hang in a high-scoring affair which might force him to put the ball in the air?  These are the types of questions we might get answered Sunday.  And that’s why #6 is the biggest X factor in this game.

A 100 yard passing performance is not going to get it done against the Colts, unless the running game plans on running for over 200.  If they can’t, Sanchez will be forced to make big throws in the biggest game of his life.  Is he up for the task?  Funny you should ask…

Prediction: Sometimes, there’s just no explanation for a magical run.  The Colts are an unbelievable team, but they messed with the football gods by pulling their starters against the team they now face Sunday, and ruining a perfect season.  The Jets look like a team that’s finally put it all together, and it doesn’t appear the train is stopping any time soon.

Peyton Manning starts out on fire, but adjustments are made that forces the Colts offense to virtually stall for the remainder of the afternoon.  On the flip side, the Jets do enough offensively to hang with Indy, keeping themselves within a score throughout the day.

But the fourth quarter is won by Gang Green, with none other than Sanchez himself leading a two minute drill down the field, setting up a game-winning Jay Feeley field goal in the game’s final minute.

Pack your bags, Jets fans.  If this writer’s prediction comes true, you’ll be heading to South Beach.

Final Score: Jets 23, Colts 20.

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