Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 10:12 AM
Thursday Night's NY Jets/Denver Broncos game on the NFL Network could be one of the most compelling ever for two teams who have a combined .500 record past the midway point in the season. This won't be a yawner. This will be one of the classic dramas of the 2011 pro football season!
You start with the New York Jets, who can't make up their minds if their frontrunners or also-rans. That's been true throughout Rex Ryan's history with the team...as he made big promises that they didn't look like they'd be able to keep...only to them storm through the playoffs two years in a row to reach the AFC Championship.
Loud coaches get a lot of attention wherever they're employed. New York teams are prominent in the media even when they're not very good. Stick a loud coach in New York...and you've got a hit series baby!
The hit may be about to turn into a flop though because this past Sunday's loss to New England left the Jets at 5-4 in the AFC East standings...with a guaranteed loss in a tie-breaker to New England because they lost twice to them this season.
Here's the current breakdown heading into the weekend...
New England 6-3
NY Jets 5-4
The Patriots hold the tie-breaker over the Jets...but the Jets currently have a tie-breaker edge over Buffalo thanks to a road win. Ironically, Buffalo is 1-0 against the Patriots, but still has a trip to Foxboro later this season. For now, and barring injuries, it looks like this is New England's division to win, while the Jets and Bills will be fighting for one of the two AFC Wildcard spots (along with eight other teams who are currently 6-3, 5-4, or 4-5).
That brings us to Denver...who has miraculously risen to 4-5 in the AFC West standings despite starting a quarterback who can't throw the ball accurately and has no idea more than half the time of who he should be throwing to.
This isn't something you see often in the NFL. John Skelton may be an unknown...but he can throw the ball downfield. John Beck may not have much of an arm, but he knows who to throw to on his checkdowns. Tebow is just lost in the pocket and throws like an Olympic shot putter. Denver loved that problem last week BY HARDLY EVER CALLING A PASS PLAY!
The Broncos won the battle in Kansas City, but may have lost the war. Asking running backs to do all the work led to one guy being lost for the season, and another getting hurt. Good NFL teams throw passes to receivers who then run out of bounds. Denver's won a few games by throwing ball carriers (including Tebow) to the wolves.
Given quarterback injuries last week to Matt Schaub, Matt Cassel, Ben Roethlisberger, and Michael Vick...putting your signal caller in harms way is not a very good idea.
So...the much reported Tim Tebow drama in Denver...which has caused more excitement about an ill-equipped quarterback on a losing team than anything else in league history...will be tempting fate this week against a very physical defense that loves to inflict punishment.
It's going to be fun to watch. It's also going to be fun to handicap. Let's crunch our traditional indicator numbers and see what pops up.
DRIVE POINTS PER GAME (scored and allowed on 60 yards or more)
NY Jets: 12.7 on offense, 11.6 on defense
Denver: 12.1 on offense, 14.9 on defense
It's been a high scoring year (though that's slowed down some lately), so we're looking at average offenses, then a clear edge defensively for the Jets. We should note that the switch to Tebow hasn't hurt this stat at all. In fact, they have better numbers with him thanks to a rushing explosion against Oakland two games ago. He sure didn't drive the field well vs. Kansas City though, until that final connection for a TD that caught the Chiefs napping. That looked like of those TD passes you see from Air Force or Navy every so often where the opposing defense is so used to seeing the run that they lose a step and get burnt. Give Tebow credit for one good throw on the day...but it sure was a throw that mattered.
The stats you see above don't justify a line of Jets by 4-5 points. New York does grade out as the better team...but not by all that much in this stat. Throw in three points for Denver's home field (which may actually be worth more here given that the Jets are playing on a short week at altitude), and we're looking at a tight, relatively low scoring game. Let's see if the other stats change our mind.
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
NY Jets: 40% on offense, 31% on defense
Denver: 34% on offense, 37% on defense
This is where you can make the best case for the Jets. They have a great third down defense, and Tebow has no idea what to do when it comes time to move the chains. Denver can get first downs if somebody happens to bust a run. But, the numbers have been abysmal in Tebow's four starts this year (25%, 14%, 25%, and 35%). If Denver has no hopes of moving the chains...then you're looking at a team that spends the night punting. It's much easier for an opposing favorite to cover a single digit spread if the dog isn't going to score many points!
We're not suggesting the Jets are going to move up and down the field based on the numbers above. They'll still have an edge because they have clear superior on both sides of this stat.
NY Jets: +1 (19 takeaways, 18 giveaways)
Denver: -5 (11 takeaways, 16 giveaways)
Mark Sanchez makes so many bad mistakes that it's easy to forget that the Jets have a positive turnover differential (at least so far). The defense does force mistakes...and now New York is facing a quarterback who makes mistakes against tackling dummies wearing wigs. Denver has a low total because they've cut down on passing...and because Tebow often misses his receivers by so much that the ball isn't even near the closest defender. It's easy to imagine a grinder game with a lot of punts and no turnovers here. But, if Denver falls behind and has to playl catch up...then a replay of the Detroit debacle (helped by a 3-0 turnover loss) is possible.
The math overall justifies the Vegas line in our view. That's not visible in the raw drive points, but it is when you look at third downs and turnovers. The key to us will be the motivation of the Jets. We KNOW that Tebow is going to show up with everything...and his teammates are now drinking the kool-aid for the time being. Denver is back in the playoff picture in a crappy division, and can make a statement on national TV. THE BRONCOS ARE GOING TO SHOW UP!
It's another story with the Jets. They're supposed to show up because they're a contender coming in off a loss. But, chemistry is really taking a hit in recent weeks...and players may be tired of Rex Ryan throwing them under the bus when speaking off the top of his head, only to apologize for it later. The defense also looks to have lost hope with Sanchez...and NFL defenses hate having to clean up for their quarterback's mistakes week after week.
The fallout from Sunday's bad loss to New England could lead to a horrible performance here (remember these same Jets lost by 10 points at Oakland and 17 points at Buffalo). But, a bounce back could create a replay of the 27-11 blowout in Buffalo two weeks ago. The Jets are that erratic. Denver is at the mercy of what the Jets bring to the table. The Broncos lost 49-24 to Green Bay and 45-3 to Denver. They can't control their own destiny yet vs. quality teams.
JIM HURLEY wants to win this game for his clients...so he's working very closely with his New York-based sources to get a read on the Jets. Look for a BIG, JUICY WINNER Thursday afternoon here at the website in this game and the top college matchup of North Carolina at Virginia Tech. If you'd like to sign up for the rest of the season, you can also do that online...or by calling us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.
We're back with you Friday in the Notebook to talk more football. Here's the schedule this weekend for us on these pages:
FRIDAY: A breakdown of the Big 12 to get you ready for Oklahoma State-Iowa State on the Friday Night card. Yes, the #2 team in the BCS race plays FRIDAY NIGHT this week.
SATURDAY: A breakdown of the very interesting Big 10 races to get you ready for big games like Nebraska-Michigan, Penn State-Ohio State, and Wisconsin-Illinois. Both the Leaders and the Legends divisions are still up for grabs. The Big 10 championship could end up being really good...and the winner will eventually have a big challenge in the Rose Bowl.
SUNDAY: We crunch the numbers from today's categories in the Philadelphia Eagles/NY Giants game on NBC. Michael Vick will be dealing with broken ribs as the Eagles try to avoid losing their seventh game of the season. They have to win out to finish 10-6!
MONDAY: A preview of Kansas City-New England...which isn't particularly compelling...but at least gives us a chance to look at how New England shapes up compared to other top AFC contenders in the Super Bowl chase. Green Bay sure stepped things up last Monday against Minnesota because they knew the world would be watching.
Football has been joined by basketball on the sports calendar, which means we can make even more money! Now is not the time to sit on the sidelines. GET IN THE GAME WITH JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!