I wrote two weeks ago that this year's NFL tournament was even more wide open than usual. Since then, we've seen a team with a losing record beat the defending Super Bowl champs, and watched both No. 1 seeds get knocked out.
Now that the shock of the Jets' impressive win in Foxboro has worn off, it's time to look ahead to this week's biggest storylines. At this point, seeing two No. 6 seeds face off in the Super Bowl wouldn't really surprise anyone. AFC Championship: Jets/Steelers
Surprising reasons for optimism
Is the 2009 Jets defense back?
Jets defense was good, not great in the regular season. The rest of the league appeared to have figured out the Jets' blitz schemes and the Jets couldn't get consistent pressure on the quarterback or make big plays.
Rex Ryan has changed all that by backing off during the playoffs. They held Peyton Manning
to 16 points, and confused Tom Brady
for four quarters. They Jets have got back to what they did best in 2009: play lockdown pass coverage. They've done it by mixing up coverages and dropping defenders off the line of scrimmage.
Rex Ryan is the anti Billy Beane right now. His stuff works better in the playoffs. The young Steelers wide receivers come of age
Unheralded young Steelers wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders
and Antonio Brown
outplayed Anquan Boldin
and Derrick Mason
in the Divisional Round. Throw in Mike Wallace
, who may be the best receiver under 25 years in the NFL, and the Steelers can present a lot of problems for the Jets.
New York locked down the Patriots, but New England doesn't have the speed Pittsburgh possesses. Darrelle Revis
will be tested by Wallace, while Sanders and Brown can work on New York's secondary depth. These kids could make the Pittsburgh faithful forget all about Santonio Holmes
. Causes for concern
Sanchez faces toughest test yet
The Jets' second year quarterback was erratic against the Colts, but a strong second half was enough to win. Sanchez misfired early against the Patriots, but he made enough big plays with the help of his talented wide receivers to win in New England.
Pittsburgh's defense won't be as forgiving. The wide receivers won't get as much separation, and the pass rush pressure will be more consistent. The Jets are a good reminder that football is a team game; it's not all about the quarterbacks. Still, something tells me Sanchez will need to play even better for the Jets to reach Dallas. The Steelers offensive line tries to hold on
By the end of Saturday's game against the Ravens, the Steelers had no offensive linemen left to turn to. Guards were at tackle, backups were at guard, and the Steelers still held it together long enough for a game-winning touchdown drive.
Pittsburgh could get back some of their injured players against the Jets, but that's no guarantee. The 2008 Steelers proved that you don't need a great line to win a Super Bowl. You do need five players healthy enough to suit up and know their assignments.