The Jets head to Pittsburgh on Sunday as road underdogs for the third consecutive week. As of Friday morning, the Steelers are favored by 3.5 points for the AFC Championship game.
The Jets were 2.5 point underdogs against the Colts in Indianapolis two weeks ago, and 9 point underdogs against New England last week.
Evidently, teams aren’t supposed to go on the road against elite playoff teams and win, yet that’s what the Jets keep doing.
In the past two weeks, the Jets have knocked off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, two quarterbacks with a combined four Super Bowl rings and five (for now) MVP awards between them. Brady is likely going to be named league MVP again this year, so that number could be six when it’s all said and done.
Yet on Sunday, the Jets will face what some people are saying will be their toughest game yet, against the Pittsburgh Steelers with the right to go to Super Bowl XLV on the line.
After all, Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl rings of his own, and one of the league’s best defenses to boot.
Say what you want about Manning and Brady, but as the old adage goes, defense wins championships, and that has never been more true than this year.
The Steelers and Jets finished 2nd and 3rd in total defense, Green Bay and Chicago were 5th and 9th, respectively. Pittsburgh was also far and away the top-ranked run defense at 62.8 yards per game, ahead of the Bears and Jets who were 2nd and 3rd with just over 90 yards per game.
The Steelers are definitely the best defense the Jets have faced in the postseason, and their offense is no weakness either. The only place where the Jets have a distinct advantage is special teams, and that’s not even including Brad Smith, who insists he will play on Sunday after being deactivated last week with a groin injury.
Despite the odds being against them again, the Jets “can’t wait” to get their crack at Pittsburgh, as Bart Scott declared at the end of his now-legendary postgame interview after defeating the Patriots.
The video has gone viral, and the “can’t wait” part has really caught on in Jets camp, where everyone from the parking lot attendants to the head coach can’t get enough of it.
Rex Ryan referenced the “can’t wait” phrase several times during Thursday’s presser and said he loved Scott’s interview.
“It was classic. No question about it. I love the part, I don’t know if everybody saw the whole thing, but when he came in with the Jets wings, he had the flaps this way,” Ryan said turning the palms of his outstretched hands up, “and then he turned the flaps down. That was impressive.”
He mentioned how pumped the players are in practice this week.
“Guys are flying around out there, I sense the excitement everybody has”, he said. “CAN’T WAIT! It’s true, we can’t wait. It’s gonna be a great opportunity for us and we can’t wait for the challenge.”
The Jets rise from 6-seeded underdog to potential AFC champion is reminiscent of the 2005 Steelers team that became the first 6 seed to win the Super Bowl.
That Steelers team won three road games to reach Super Bowl XL, where they defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 to complete one of the most remarkable postseason runs of all time.
Eerily similar is that the 2005 Steelers featured a second-year quarterback in Roethlisberger, who benefited from a great defense and running game and made clutch plays when called upon to fuel the Steelers’ incredible run. Roethlisberger had previously reached the AFC Championship game as a rookie in 2004.
Sound familiar, Jets fans?
Mark Sanchez has done his best Roethlisberger impersonation thus far in his young NFL career, with his ability to win big road playoff games and stay cool under the pressure of the postseason.
It’s fitting that the only thing stopping Sanchez and the Jets from reaching the Super Bowl is the very team and quarterback that laid out the blueprint for what the Jets are trying to accomplish.
Only two teams in NFL history have ever won three road playoff games to advance to the Super Bowl, the 2005 Steelers and the 2007 Giants, who were a 5-seed when they won Super Bowl XLII.
This year, both the Jets and Packers have a chance to replicate that success. The Packers, however, are being favored on the road against Chicago, so they don’t find themselves in quite the same spot as the Jets.
The first meeting between the Jets and Steelers in Pittsburgh this year was a classic, as the Jets hung on to win 22-17 after Ben Roethlisberger’s two goal-line passes fell incomplete as time expired. It may very well come down to the wire again on Sunday.