Outside of Philly-Dallas and maybe Baltimore-Oakland, the only other Week 17 action that should draw some major interest on Sunday is the nightcap in the Meadowlands.
The 8-7 Jets host a Bengals team who has already clinched a spot in the dance, may rest some starters and could pack it in come the second half.
But, even with the Jets possibly getting their second straight free pass in a playoff push, all eyes should still be on rookie QB Mark Sanchez—because this is a money game. Win and you are in the dance. Win and the playoff checks start to come. Win and you have a chance to make it to Miami.
Yes, the Jets don’t look like a team that matches up with Indy, San Diego or New England, but as we saw last year with Kurt Warner and the Cardinals, you just don’t know who is going to get hot, who is going to force turnovers and who is going to make those big plays once they are in the tournament.
However, do you trust Sanchez on Sunday?
Because for all of the things I just talked about, he still has to play like a veteran on Sunday night for Rex Ryan’s team to have a shot to make some noise. That means protecting the football and that means the realization that in pivotal games—such as playoff clinching games—ending the drive with a punt is far better off than taking an uncalculated risk on third down.
But, that is what you get from a rookie QB and that is what we have all seen from Sanchez over the course of the season. There is a sense of unaccountability with the rookie from USC. The throws off of his back foot. The times he forces passes into coverage instead of taking the check down. The careless way he treats the football.
Five interception games. Four interception games. Three interception games. He has had all of them, but playing well on Sunday night and protecting the football while relying on a nasty defense in New York and a special teams unit that can provide him with field position gives him new life, a clean slate and a shot at Miami.
The Bengals are going to pull their starters? Doesn’t matter, he still has to play. Yes, the reduced competition may open throwing lanes that weren’t there and may provide him with more time in the pocket, but he will still have to make those throws—and he will still have to produce.
You thought playing against Penn State in the Rose Bowl was pressure? Not even close to Sunday night. If Mark Sanchez plays like an NFL quarterback, the Jets will be dancing next weekend.
But, if he plays like a rookie, he will be at home—like the rest of us—watching on wild card weekend.
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