With stray bounces, fortuitous weather or just off-games by opposing players, Lady Luck is the dominant player in the NFL post-season. No team in recent memory has had more good fortune than Gang Green, otherwise known as the New York Jets.
Following the Jets home loss to the Atlanta Falcons in week 15, Jets coach Rex Ryan claimed that his team was eliminated from the playoffs. While this wasn't statistically true, the odds were stacked against Ryan's inconsistent club. In order to get into the playoffs, the Jets needed to beat the undefeated Colts and the playoff-bound Bengals, as well as have the Dolphins lose a game. As luck would have it, the Dolphins did lose, and the Colts and Bengals rested nearly all of their players allowing the Jets to run the table in exhibition-like games.
In their second matchup, much like the first, nothing went right for Cincinnati. The Bengals, still reeling from the in-season death of wide receiver Chris Henry, played meekly. Standout QB Carson Palmer had one of his worst games as a pro, and their defense wasn't in sync all day. Adding to their woes was kicker Shayne Graham who missed two backbreaking field goals, including a 28-yarder late in the fourth quarter. In a closely contested 24-14 game, these six points were crucial.
The Jets went to San Diego last weekend where they matched up with the red-hot Chargers. All game, San Diego looked nothing like a playoff team, turning the ball over and committing stupid uncharacteristic penalties. The game stayed tight but in shades of last week, Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding missed three field goals, points that would have certainly made a difference in a 21-14 Jets victory. Adding to this improbable collapse, this year Kaeding became the most accurate place kicker in regular season history.
The Jets certainly deserve some credit for this recent surge. Their combination of ferocious defense and a battering ram run game is often a blueprint for playoff success. And you have to give them credit for winning with a rookie quarterback, which is nearly impossible in the postseason, where experience counts. But the number of breaks they've had are almost a joke. Normally a mediocre team gets hot in the playoffs because it's playing better than in the regular season. The Jets haven't improved, everyone else has just played a lot worse.
When the Jets take the field this Sunday, they'll be facing one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. Just like the past two weeks, every analyst is picking against them and if you look at the matchup on paper, deservedly so. If you look at how this postseason has played out though, don't be surprised if Peyton Manning throws three interceptions, Matt Stover misses four field goals and the New York Jets squeak on into the Super Bowl.