An Analysis of the Colts-Jets AFC Championship Match-Up

Filed in SportsTags: Colts, Indiana, Indianapolis, NFL

As the Colts took care of business in a dominating win over the Ravens, and the Jets pulled off the only real upset of the playoffs thus far, many of the talking heads are already  making noises about the Jets being a "team of destiny".

The reasons espoused for such an opinion are the Jets' run game and defense vs. the Colts' run defense and game, the Jets' supposed "momentum", and the Jets' Week 16 win over the Colts in Indianapolis. What do I think?


Allow me to explain.

The Jets Run the Ball and Stop the Run

Much is being made of the Jets' #1 rush offense vs. Colts' #24 rush defense, and the Colts #32 rush offense vs. the Jets' #8 rush defense. The Jets rushed for 172.2 yds per game while the Colts yielded 126.5 yards per game. The Colts rushed for 80.9 yards per game while the Jets yielded 98.6 yards per game.

So what?

Yards do not equal points - especially for the Colts defense, and for the Colts rushing offense. Far more important than yardage totals are scoring totals.

Total Scoring

The Colts allowed 19.2 (#8) points per game while the Jets scored 21.0 (#17) points per game. The Jets allowed 14.8 (#1) points per game while the Colts scored 26.0 (#7) points per game. So, the Colts' #7 scoring offense will face the Jets' #1 scoring defense, while the Jets' #17 scoring offense will face the Colts' #8 scoring defense.

The Colts were 15-0 against teams with an average scoring defense of #17. The Colts have beaten the #3 scoring defense (Ravens) twice, the #4 scoring defense (49ers), and the #5 scoring defense (Patriots) - not to mention, the Colts put up more than the Jets' average points allowed per game (15 vs. 14.8) in barely one half of play.

The Jets were 11-7 against teams with an average scoring offense of #17. The Jets have lost to the #1 scoring offense (Saints) and the #6 scoring offense (Patriots), and have beaten the #4 scoring offense (Chargers) and the #6 scoring offense (Patriots).

Advantage: Colts.

Run Scoring

The Colts allowed 10 (#7) rushing TDs while the Jets scored 21 (#3) rushing TDs. The Jets allowed 11 (#11) rushing TDs while the Colts scored 16 (#12) rushing TDs.

So, the Colts' #12 rush-TD offense will face the Jets' #11 rush-TD defense, while the Jets' #3 rush-TD offense will face the Colts' #7 rush-TD defense. The Jets absolutely rely on their rushing to score TDs (21 rush TDs, 12 pass TDs), and the Colts give up less than one rush TD per game. The Colts are more-than-competent putting the ball in the end zone on the ground, but rely far more heavily on passing (16 rush TDs, 34 pass TDs).

Oh, and by the way: 2 of those 11 rushing TDs allowed by the Jets were scored by the Colts - in barely one half of the game.

Advantage: Colts.

Pass Scoring

The Colts are #1 in pass-TD offense (34), while the Jets are #1 in pass-TD defense (8). The Jets are #29 in pass-TD offense (12), while the Colts are #10 in pass-TD defense (19). The Jets can't stop the Colts' passing offense; they can only hope to contain it. The Colts will get both yards and scores on the Jets' defense. On the other hand, the Colts can absolutely sell out the pass to stop the run, leaving their secondary one-on-one against the Jets receivers, because Sanchez has not proven himself at all to be any kind of deep threat.

Advantage: Colts.


First, on the matter of "momentum" (a concept that the Divisional Round of the 2009 playoffs squarely disproved), the Jets have won 7 of their past 8. Sounds impressive, right? Not so fast. First, the Jets preceded that stretch with a three-game losing streak, to Miami, Jacksonville, and New England. Then, their 7-of-8 streak consisted of a loss (at home) to Atlanta, and wins against Carolina, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Cincinnati, and San Diego.

Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Buffalo were a combined 16-31. The Colts were winning 15-10 (and getting the ball back) in the third quarter when they benched their starters in a game in which they had nothing to play for to begin with. The Bengals not only had little to play for in the season finale, but were also clearly in a bit of a slide from their mid-season peak (and were also dealing with the dual tragedies of the deaths of DC Zimmer's wife and WR Chris Henry). The Chargers proved themselves to be the most over-rated "hot" team in the playoffs. (Of San Diego's 11 consecutive wins, 8 were against teams with .500 or worse records: KC, OAK, NYG, DEN, KC, CLE, TEN, WAS.)

That 7-of-8 win stretch proves very little about the caliber of team the Jets are, or how they will play against the Colts.

Speaking of how the Jets will play against the Colts, let's review that Week 16 Jets-Colts game, shall we?

Jets' 29-15 Week 16 Win

First, the Jets were fighting for their playoff lives, and the Colts had absolutely nothing to play for (with respect to their goal of winning the Super Bowl - I couldn't care less about the perfect-season furor). The Jets came out with their season on the line (and played like it), and the Colts came out with a keep-the-offense-sharp-and-stay-healthy game plan (and played like it). The Colts played as vanilla as they can get, and the Jets blitzed as if it were going out of style. Oh, yeah: and the Colts, already playing short-handed (on offense, no Charlie Johnson at LT or Pierre Garcon at WR; on defense, no Jerraud Powers at CB, no Clint Session at LB, and both Freeney and Mathis on pitch-counts at DE), benched their starters early in the third quarter.

Colts Starters vs. Jets Starters

So, what was the outcome of first-string Colts versus first-string Jets? As 18to88 have also pointed out, both teams had six possessions with the first-stringers on the field. The Colts offense ammassed 296 yards and 15 points, gaining 13 first downs in 42 plays. The Colts defense held the jets to 141 yards and 3 points (not including the kick return for TD to start the second half), limiting them to 8 first downs in 33 plays. The Colts also allowed no turnovers.

Colts Offensive Starters vs. Jets Starters

Yards: 296, Points: 15
Plays: 42, 1st Downs: 13, Drives: 6, Scores: 3 (50%), 3-and-out: 0 (0%)
Yards Per Drive: 49.6, Points Per Drive: 2.5, First Downs Per Drive: 2.2

Colts Devensive Starters vs. Jets Starters

Yards: 141, Points: 3
Plays: 33, 1st Downs: 8, Drives: 6, Scores: 1 (16.7%), 3-and-out: 3 (50%)
Yards Per Drive: 23.5, Points Per Drive: 0.5, First Downs Per Drive: 1.3

Manning, who was 14 of 21 for 192 yards in only six series, led the Colts on scoring drives of 54, 86, and 81 yards. The Jets had one scoring drive of 63 yards.

Oh, and as for the Colts' supposed lack of a running game: in those same six series, Addai was 6 for 40 (6.7ypc) with one touchdown, and Brown (who struggled early) was 5 for 20 (4ypc) and a TD on the final series with the first-string offense.

Colts Reserves vs. Jets Starters

Once the Manning-led offense left the game, the Colts went nowhere and did nothing - except for surrendering a fumble that was recovered for a Jets defensive TD.

With the Colts second-stringers going against the Jets first-stringers: The Colts offense managed 42 yards and 0 points, gaining no first downs in 17 plays. The Colts defense surrendered 145 yards and 11 points (1 FG, 1 TD), allowing 7 first downs in 29 plays. The Colts gave up two turnovers (one fumble returned for a touchdown, and one interception).

Colts Offensive Reserves vs. Jets Starters

Yards: 42, Points: 0
Plays: 17, 1st Downs: 0, Drives: 6, Scores: 0 (0%), 3-and-out: 3 (50%)
Yards Per Drive: 7, Points Per Drive: 0, First Downs Per Drive: 0

Colts Devensive Reserves vs. Jets Starters

Yards: 145, Points: 10
Plays: 29, 1st Downs: 7, Drives: 4, Scores: 2 (50%), 3-and-out: 0 (0%)
Yards Per Drive: 36.3, Points Per Drive: 2.5, First Downs Per Drive: 1.8

Compare and Contrast

Colts Offense vs. Jets: Week 16 Overall

Yards: 277, Points: 15
Plays: 58, 1st Downs: 18, Drives: 12, Scores: 3 (25%), 3-and-out: 3 (25%)

Colts Offensive Starters vs. Jets Starters: Full-Game Extrapolation*

Yards: 493, Points: 26.3
Plays: 70, 1st Downs: 21.7, Drives: 10, Scores: 5 (50%), 3-and-out: 0

In an extrapolated game, the Colts would gain almost twice as many yards, and score almost twice as many points.

Colts Defense vs. Jets: Week 16 Overall

Yards: 293, Points: 29
Plays: 65, 1st Downs: 17, Drives: 10, Scores: 3 (30%), 3-and-out: 3 (30%)

Colts Defensive Starters vs. Jets Starters: Full-Game Extrapolation*

Yards: 235, Points: 5
Plays: 55, 1st Downs: 13.3, Drives: 10, Scores: 2 (20%), 3-and-out: 5

In an extrapolated game, the Colts would hold the Jets to about 20% fewer yards (Jets yardage was likely skewed lower than expected by the two turnovers surrendered by the Colts' second-unit offense, as well as much better starting field position in general after the starters were benched), and about 80% fewer points (not too difficult to imagine, since half of the Jets' points came off of special teams and defense).

So, in an extrapolated game:

  • The Colts offense would amass almost 500 yards and 22 first downs, scoring 5 times in 10 drives. Given that the Colts actually scored 2 TDs and 1 FG, it is reasonable to assume that those 5 scores would be either 2 TDs and 3 FGs or 3 TDs and 2 FGs - for a scoring range of 23 - 27 points.
  • The Colts defense would hold the Jets to 235 yards, 13 first downs, and 2 scores in 10 drives. Given that the Jets actually scored 1 FG against the Colts starters, it is reasonable to assume that those 2 scores would either be 2 FGs or 1 TD and 1 FG - for a scoring range of 6 - 10 points.

* Note: for purposes of extrapolation, the following assumptions were made:

  1. Each team is assumed to have a total of 10 drives
  2. The Colts' two touchdowns were assumed to be 7 points, so as not to compound missed PATs in the extrapolation. In other words, it is assumed that the Colts would make successive PATs. The two added points (blocked PAT and failed two-point conversion) were then deducted from the calculated total.
Uncharacteristic Special Teams Play

The game was also uncharacteristic with respect to special teams. The Colts surrendered a blocked PAT, which led them to attempt a failed two-point conversion following their second TD. The Jets also managed a kick return for touchdown, and were successful on two-point conversion attempts on two of their touchdowns.

Interestingly, the Colts yielded exactly one kick return for touchdown and exactly one defensive touchdown on the season: both took place in this game. In every other game, the Colts gave up neither a return touchdown nor a fumble/interception return touchdown. Thus, both in this game were clearly atypical, and likely due to the personnel decisions in the game. (My suspicion is that an already depleted special teams unit came out deflated to start the second half, after the team was nformed at halftime that the starters would be benched after one series each - which resulted in the opening kick being returned for the TD.)

Disregard the uncharacteristic special teams play, and the starters likely would have left the Week 16 game with a 17-3 lead - which may have been enough, even considering the kitchen sink that the Jets threw at Curtis Painter after Manning sat down, since the second-string defense only gave up 11 points.

What Week 16 Means for AFCCG Match-Up

Overall, there is nothing about that game that gives me any concern whatsoever regarding how the Colts can and should perform in the AFC Championship game. Just extrapolating from the previous game (which, again, isn't entirely analogous, given the Colts players that didn't play at all in that game, and the Colts' vanilla game plan), assuming both teams would have had 10 offensive possessions (and even allowing for the aberrant kick-return for touchdown, the blocked PAT, and the two-point conversion attempts by both teams), the Colts would have won that game by an approximate score of 26-13.

Take away the uncharacteristic special-teams play, and the Colts would have won that game by an approximate score of 27-6.

And that's still not accounting for the vanilla game plan and the inactive starters.

With all due respect to pundits such as Bob Kravitz, who admonishes Colts fans to be careful what we wish for - I'm absolutely licking my chops to be getting what I've wished for: a road to the Super Bowl that includes a bye, and home games against both wild card teams; an AFC Championship game against a team that the Colts match up very well against and that is suddenly getting over-hyped.


Can the Colts lose? Of course. If they come out Sunday and fail to execute in all three phases, they absolutely can lose.

Should the Colts lose? Not a chance.

This game is the Colts' to win or lose. I would love to see them repay the Jets for their 41-0 drubbing of the Colts in the 2002 playoffs - and I think they're capable of it. But I'm just going to predict, based on the last game, that the Colts will win by roughly the same score that they likely would have had in the Week 16 matchup if the starters had played the whole game:

Colts win: 27-6