AFC Championship Game Picks: New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Last Updated: January 17th, 2011 by Adam Markowitz (Bankroll Sports Columnist)
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There’s only one game left for all of the marbles in the AFC this year, as the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets will be vying for the last spot in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday night. These two teams play some brutal football, and they are sure to put on a real defensive showcase when they collide in the Steel City. The oddsmakers have given the host Steelers the 3.5 point nod in this one, but is it justified? These three keys to the game should be used to sort out your AFC Championship Game picks for 2011.

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Key #1: Pressuring Big Ben
Here’s the interesting thing about this game and this key in particular. The Jets absolutely cannot beat the Steelers if they don’t figure out how to get in the face of QB Ben Roethlisberger. This doesn’t mean that they need to really get their stats like they did against QB Tom Brady when they brought him down five times on Sunday, but they do need to at least get in Big Ben’s throwing lanes and cause him to take some extra hits and spend some more time in the pocket. For Pittsburgh, it probably isn’t vital that the O-Line keeps men away from Roethlisberger due to the fact that he is a huge man and can shake some tackles. However, no one wants to see their quarterback take a dozen or more shots on the day like the Jets are planning for Pittsburgh’s signal caller in this one. The depth problem for Pittsburgh at offensive tackle has been well documented, as this team is already three deep right now into its depth chart from the start of the year at that position, and there are absolutely no more injuries that can be afforded. The interior line is in fine shape, and this is where New York brings the majority of its pressure, but the whole unit of five, six, or even seven blockers on some plays, really has to be broken down by the Jets if they hope to survive in the Steel City.

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New York Jets +3.5
Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5
Over/Under 38
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Key #2: Sanchez and company have to take care of the football
It really seems like the “Duh” statement of the year to think that the Jets have to keep a hold of the football in order to beat the Steelers, but this is exactly what the problem was for the Baltimore Ravens last week. If RB Ray Rice doesn’t fumble that screen pass or if QB Joe Flacco doesn’t fumble that snap or make that ill advised throw… if any of those things don’t happen, this game is likely being played in Baltimore and not in Pittsburgh. The Jets have just as much firepower on offense as Baltimore does, but they don’t have nearly as much confidence in QB Mark Sanchez as the Ravens do in QB Joe Flacco. However, on Sunday against the New England Patriots, “The Sanchise” was on fire, as he threw three TD passes and was not picked off. In fact, the Jets didn’t turn the ball over once on the day, something that is amazing against a defense that led the league in picks on the campaign. It seems awfully fundamental to think about, but it really is this simple. If the Jets turn the ball over more than once in this one, they’re in a lot of trouble. The Steelers need to make sure that they get the job done and get the ball back in the hands of their offense, where the real damage can be done. Remember when these two teams met the first time that S Troy Polamalu didn’t play. He’s a real difference maker in the center of this defense, and he could be a turnover forcing machine come Sunday.

Key #3: Rashard Mendenhall has to be big
If there’s one player for the Steelers that really has to have an impact game on Sunday, it is RB Rashard Mendenhall. He is the man that is going to keep the pressure off of Big Ben and the passing game, and he is also the one that can frustrate this defense to no end if he can keep the ball moving on the ground and keep that clock going. Mendenhall rushed for 100 yards on 19 carries the first time around when these teams met, proving that New York indeed had a beatable defense this year on the ground. This was still a unit that ranked No. 2 in the AFC and No. 3 in the league at just 90.1 yards per game this year, and the Jets did a fantastic job holding down the Pats, as neither RB Danny Woodhead nor RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis reached the 50 yard barrier on the day on Sunday. When Mendenhall reaches the 100+ yard barrier, the Steelers generally win, though obviously this was a huge exception this year. Pittsburgh was 5-0 when Mendenhall reached 100+ yards in his career prior to this point. You can bet that he is going to get his carries like he did last week against Baltimore, and when push comes to shove, having him make a big impact on this game might be the difference between going to the Super Bowl and watching it on TV for the men from the Steel City.

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Posted in NFL Football - Last Updated on Monday, January 17th, 2011 @ 5:06 am (EST)
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