Time To Step Up: Antonio Cromartie

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Antonio Cromartie didn’t hesitate to throw himself in the middle of the Jets/Patriots firestorm this week by saying how he really felt about Tom Brady to the media. Yet beyond Cromartie grabbing headlines for his words or his clutch kick return in the wild-card game against Indy, is this reality: he needs to play much, much better on defense this Sunday if the Jets want a chance at an upset.

Cromartie had a relatively strong start to the year, however he has struggled in coverage lately. New England picked on him in their 45-3 route, particularly with Deion Branch. He was beat for a touchdown against the Chicago Bears by Johnny Knox and last week Pierre Garcon beat him up and down the field, including for a 52 yard touchdown.

We know Darrelle Revis is taking the player he is covering out of the game. However, the Jets need Cromartie to compliment him with the Pro-Bowl level play that he is capable of. He has the size to occasionally match-up with one of the Patriots tight ends and the speed to handle any of their receivers.

You can bet that Tom Brady will be throwing at Cromartie early and often on Sunday. If the Jets want to pull off the upset, Cromartie better be ready to tackle in the open field and make at least one of those highlight reel interceptions he is known for.

There is no question #31 has the physical skills to shut down whomever he is matched up against on New England. The question is, can he rise to the occasion in a big game?

Jets Best Defense Will Be Their Offense

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Rex Ryan has talked up the “Ground and Pound” since arriving in New York and we saw it in full force last week.

The primary reason the Jets beat the Indianapolis Colts last week was because their offensive line and running backs completed dominated the second half. Their running game set up manageable third downs, which the Jets routinely converted.

It can’t be any different this week against the New England Patriots, who can be run on. Before you throw away 111 yards on 23 carries, LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene had in the 45-3 beatdown, remember 84 of those came in the first half when the game was still competititve. The two of them also combined for 128 yards in their week 2 match-up, with Tomlinson averaging 6.9 yards per carry.

The Jets must control the clock to keep Tom Brady off the field. It doesn’t start and end with the running game either. Mark Sanchez must be accurate in the short passing game and find ways to convert third downs.

Look at the Jets third down situations in the second half against the Colts –

  • 3rd and 2 – 5 yard by Shonn Greene. First Down.
  • 3rd and 3 – 20 yard pass to Dustin Keller. First Down.
  • 3rd and 7 – 9 yard pass to LaDainian Tomlinson. First Down.
  • 3rd and 1 – 6 yard run by Mark Sanchez. First Down.
  • 3rd and 1 – 1 yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson. Touchdown.
  • 3rd and 5 – Incomplete pass to Santonio Holmes.
  • 3rd and 5- Incomplete pass to Braylon Edwards.

As you can see the Jets were getting themselves in manageable situations through their running game. They finished 5/7 on third downs in the second half. Their only two misses were on a dropped pass by Santonio Holmes and an overthrow by Mark Sanchez to an open Braylon Edwards.

The Jets can’t afford those mistakes this week. No dropped passes. No overthrowing open receivers. Most importantly though is control the clock and setting up third and short through the running game. LaDainian Tomlinson and ShonnGreene both looked fresh and healthy last week and they should be the same this week, as neither reached 20 carries against Indy.

The less time Tom Brady is on the field and the more Jets shorten this game, the more likely it will be a one possession game in the 4th quarter, where one play can swing the game.

Thoughts On Divisional Round Lines

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Betting on the NFL this week offers some intriguing options for gamblers.

In the first game of the weekend, Pittsburgh is currently a 3 point favorite over Baltimore. Both of their games this year were decided by 3 points, with the road team winning each game. The over/under is currently at 37, which could offer some value considering the point total in their two games was 31 and 23, respectively.

In the Saturday night game, Green Bay is only 2.5 point underdogs despite facing the NFC’s number one seed in Atlanta. Many people are on the Packers bandwagon and it is showing in the spread.

Seattle remains heavy underdogs this weekend, as the Bears are favored by 10 points even though they lost at home earlier in the year to Seattle. It will be interesting to see if gamblers have gained any faith in the Seahawks after last week.

The Jets are also heavy underdogs to the New England Patriots, who are 9 point favorites. It will be interesting to see how they respond to losing 45-3 to the Patriots earlier in the year.

TOJ Power Rankings – Divisional Weekend

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Some final thoughts on Wild-Card Weekend, a ranking of the remaining teams, and initial thoughts on the divisional round match-ups —

  • If you would have told me I would pick 3 of the 4 games right for the past weekend and the one I got wrong would be Seattle/New Orleans, I would have never believed you. Who could have seen that coming? Seattle grabbed the momentum and took advantage of a terrific game by Matt Hassleback. The funny thing now is that Seattle has already won in Chicago this year and has a decent shot at doing it again this weekend. Could you imagine the Seahawks actually hosting the NFC Championship Game as a 9-9 team?
  • It was a great weekend of games, outside of the complete dud laid by the Cheifs at home. Baltimore was the superior team but Kansas City could have put up more of a fight. How do you not target Dwayne Bowe once? It isn’t like the Ravens have Darrelle Revis out there.
  • The Packers are peeking at the right time, which is incredibly impressive considering all the injuries they sustained. It felt like Mike Vick was taking Philly in for a touchdown on that final drive but a few inches underthrown and a great play by Tramon Williams ended it.

Divisional Weekend Power Rankings

1. New England Patriots – They are the unquestioned favorite. Let’s see if the Jets can make Belichick and Brady look human again, like they did way way back in week 2.

2. Atlanta Falcons – Would anybody be surprised if Green Bay went into Atlanta and won this weekend? The Falcons don’t have the same clout as most number one seeds normally do.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers – Let’s see how their offensive line holds up in round III vs. the Ravens.

4. Baltimore Ravens – You can’t love football and not be beyond excited for Ravens/Steelers this weekend.

5. Green Bay Packers – The Packers have the feel of a team who is hot at the right time and with enough talent to win it all.

6. Chicago Bears – If Jay Cutler has his head on straight, the Bears should roll to the NFC Championship Game. However, I have a feeling Seahawks/Bears is going to be a tight one.

7. New York Jets – Nobody will give them a chance this weekend. Let’s see if they can shock the world.

8. Seattle Seahawks – Well they shut us up last weekend.

Initial Thoughts on Divisional Weekend

Ravens at Steelers – Tape the knuckles up and get ready for old-school, smashmouth, defensive football between a couple of teams who couldn’t know each other any better and couldn’t hate each other more. Take the under and look forward to one hell of a football game.

Packers at Falcons – Their regular season game a few weeks back was terrific and this one should be even better. A couple of great young quarterbacks and high powered offenses at work in the prime-time game.

Seahawks at Bears – I can’t help but have an early feeling Seattle is going to build off last week and take this game. This is coming from somebody who spent the entire year bashing the Seahawks as one of the five worst teams in the league. However, they did beat Chicago earlier in the year and I am not fully sold on the Bears yet. Remember the playoffs are about who is hot at the right time.

Jets at Patriots – Do I expect the Jets to win? No. Will I spend the whole week coming up with every possible way for them to win and talking myself into it happening? Yes.

Wild-Card Weekend Highlights