The enthusiasm, the emotional build-up to Saturday's Wild-Card game is now completely out of hand. It's to the point that when I begin to think of the game, the faint tympani drums and violins of Sam Spence's orchestra and the NFL Films music creep into my subconscious. I can already see the slow-motion shots of a bundled up crowd breathing clouds of hot air onto each other and spilling the beers that those winter gloves have such a hard time grasping. It will be everything that January football should embody; brutal elements, a crazed and frostbitten crowd, and two teams with nothing to lose.
In fact, it might help to read the rest of this piece using the internal narration of the legendary voice of NFL Films: John Facenda.
Paul Brown Stadium will not be a soft or comfortable place for anyone on that day; single-digit point totals seem almost as likely as a single-digit windchill. The Bengals and the Jets are close cousins, each seeming to belong to the football version of the Neanderthal tribe. Their methods are basic: run the ball, play good defense, use clock, and win with field goals, but each is considered ill-equipped to deal with the advanced modern-man prototypes of San Diego or Indianapolis.
The cavemen then will clobber one another on Saturday until one of them can no longer stand up, and the winner will drag its club away to face their supposed evolutionary doom in a more pleasing climate.
As to the question of who's club is bigger between them, it depends from which end of the spectrum you are looking.
From the Jets end, it appears they are mightier in their strengths: a better ranked defense, a more productive ground attack, and a more reliable offensive line. Throw in the fact that New York just finished up mopping the deck with Bengals last week, and the Jets club looks pretty sizable indeed.
The Bengals, however, have the intangibles of a better quarterback and better receiving corps thanks to Chad Ochocinco alone. Every category the Jets dominate Cincinnati ranks closely behind and the Bengals will enjoy an influx of healthy starters this week who sat in that forgettable event last Sunday night. Therefore, the Bengals seem to walk with a big stick too.
Choosing a winner in this game comes down to how much stock one puts into things like a rookie quarterback from California struggling in the cold, or an offense repeating a performance where they appeared completely bewildered just six days before.
Analytically speaking, though, the Bengals have the edge because of Carson Palmer.
That seems like a ridiculous claim after watching the worst game of his pro career against these very same Jets, but he's the most disparaging advantage in the match-up on paper and in reality.
The running attack of each of these teams are too close to call. New York can point to numbers but from where I'm standing, the running game was effective enough to get both teams into the playoffs. The Bengals get a fresh Cedric Benson which certainly can't hurt their chances, and Bernard Scott can go back to being the complimentary back where he excels. If the game becomes a pound-the-run extravaganza like most expect, than even Larry Johnson would likely get some action. Cincinnati has the offensive personnel to win on the ground, they just need to show that they can do it.
Of course, there is a nightmarish force which threatens all of that. The Jets defense is a relentless wild boar standing in the way of Cincinnati achieving any of its offensive goals; it's angry and it's violent. Rex Ryan has his men eating gunpowder and LSD, and will once again whip them into a frenzy and unleash these hell hounds onto the field to smash the striped helmets standing along the other sideline. It's R-rated; 18 and over.
Their primary concern is stopping the run. They don't mind feeding their blitz addiction on any play and they trust General Revis and his secondary to go it alone against opposing receivers. Pass-protection will be key in this game. If Palmer has time, he can find Ochocinco who can still compete with Revis despite all that has happened this season. I also think Cincinnati likes the match-up of Andre Caldwell deep against Lito Sheppard. Marvin Lewis has said how impressed he's been with Caldwell's straight-line speed and if New York gives safety help to Chad's side, Caldwell could be in position to make a big play---something that will surely be a premium in this kind of game.
The supporting cast of Caldwell, Laveranues Coles and even J.P. Foschi must make positive plays, especially on third down. Drops cannot occur, penalties need to be limited, interceptions have to be avoided. Self-imposed mistakes have been an unsightly blemish to this otherwise strong team all season long; a trait that does not exist within the repertoire of a champion. If the passing game is to strike much in this Wild-Card showdown, these secondary characters will have to share some of the spot light.
On the other side of things, the Jets offense is a bit more limited. They've relied heavily on the consistency of their running game and have employed creative ways to enhance it even further with the exotic plays run by wide out Brad Smith as quarterback. Smith burned the Bengals badly last week on an option-keeper and looks right at home running the play typically reserved for the college ranks; he also ran it effectively against the Falcons and Colts in the preceding weeks. Over the course of the season Cincinnati has held up well against the traditional running attacks, but have had a difficult time adjusting to anything considered gadgety or sneaky. Limiting explosive plays on the ground is the top priority for the Bengals defense this week.
The reason the Jets are limited is because of their passing game. They try to avoid it as much as they can. Everyone knows that it's a weakness, but teams have to fight through New York's running game to even get to that level of attack. Putting pressure on Mark Sanchez is an obvious goal for every defense that faces the Jets. He's a rookie having a rookie season, but he's surrounded with such a quality team that his inexperience and sometimes poor play has been shrouded. The idea for the Bengals is to put Sanchez into throwing downs, apply heat on the blitz and allow a top-notch cornerback tandem to go to work. Turnovers will likely determine the outcome of this game the most, and the focus in that category will be on Sanchez.
Protecting Carson Palmer against the blitz and forcing third-and-medium scenarios on defense are the keys to a Bengal victory.
No one believes in either of these primates and each are out to earn some respect. Brute force and a tolerance to the cold will play their parts, but the team who can strategically adapt will win the game. The Bengals have something like an opposeable thumb and apparently a larger club, and therefore, they win and move on.
Bengals 20, Jets 9
Mojokong---riding my mastodon to the game this week.