ColdHardFootballFacts.com breaks down Sunday's N.Y. Jets at Chicago game (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
The 10-4 Jets visit the 10-4 Bears in a compelling inter-conference clash between two NFL powers jockeying for playoff position.
1. Rex Ryan's greatest feat is winning on the road. The Jets enjoyed a huge 22-17 gut check win at Pittsburgh last week, against the league's No. 1 scoring defense no less (15.7 PPG, tied with Green Bay).
The victory was notable in and of itself for several reasons: It was a road victory against a perennial AFC power that put the Jets in prime playoff position -- they're in Sunday if they beat the Bears. The Jets even have a long outside shot at wresting the AFC East crown away from New England. It was New York's first victory over a team with a winning record since beating the Patriots back in Week 2. And it was the first win at Pittsburgh in Jets franchise history.
Most importantly, the victory at Heinz Field is part of a larger trend for Ryan's club: an ability to win in enemy territory.
The Gang Green is 11-4 on the road in Ryan's two-year tenure, and 13-5 if you include last year's playoff run. They're just 8-7 at home.
New York needs all the road mojo it can muster Sunday in Chicago. The NFC North champs field one of the league's best defenses (more below) and have plenty to play for themselves, including a shot at a first-round bye in the NFC.
The Bears do appear vulnerable at home: three of their four losses have come at Soldier Field and the last time they played at home they were smoked, 36-7, by New York's AFC East-rival Patriots.
2. New York's Achilles' heel is its offense. New York's win over Pittsburgh last week was its most impressive victory since walking all over the Patriots with 21-second half points in their Week 2 encounter. The Jets won that game, 28-14.
But the joy over the big win in Pittsburgh masks only temporarily what's still a huge problem for the Jets: they have extraordinary difficulty scoring points against good competition. In fact, the offense, as presently constructed, is simply not good enough to win a Super Bowl. And the defense is not the shutdown unit it was in 2009, one that was good enough to lift a moribund offense to the AFC title game.
The Jets are just 2-3 this year against what we at ColdHardFootballFacts.com call "Quality Teams" -- any team with a winning record. The mark is not unusual. It's tough to consistently beat good teams in the NFL. The Bears, for example, are just 2-2 against Quality Teams.
What is unusual is that the Jets have scored just 12.4 PPG in those five contests. In the entire NFL, only the Panthers score fewer points against Quality Teams (10.9 PPG).
Mark Sanchez scored on a 7-yard run against Pittsburgh last week, to tie the score 17-17. It was the biggest score in the victory and was also New York's first offensive touchdown against a Quality Team since their win over New England back on Sept. 19. (New York's other touchdown against the Steelers was Brad Smith's 97-yard return of the opening kickoff.)
That's a long, long stretch of time without scoring a touchdown against a Quality Opponent. It doesn't bode well for the team's playoff hopes when you consider that the Jets will have to beat three straight Quality Opponents in January if they hope to reach the Super Bowl.
3. Chicago's defense has the edge when it goes toe-to-toe against New York's offense. New York quarterback Mark Sanchez is one of the most visible players in the NFL and certainly one of the league's "big name" young stars. But consider this numerical tale of two second-year NFL quarterbacks:
• Quarterback A here in 2010 has completed 59 percent of his passes with 18 TD, 6 INT and an 88.8 passer rating.
• Quarterback B here in 2010 has completed 54 percent of his passes with 16 TD, 12 INT and a 74.6 passer rating.
Quarterback A is sophomore Josh Freeman, who toils away in virtual anonymity in Tampa. Quarterback B is sophomore Mark Sanchez, who enjoys the bright lights of hype on Broadway.
All of which is a long way of saying that Sanchez is not a particularly good quarterback, even among less-heralded second-year classmates.
And his humble, below-average ability to pass the ball does not bode well for the Jets against Chicago's defense on Sunday. In fact, the Monsters of the Midway will enjoy a huge statistical advantage when the Jets have the ball.
• Chicago is No. 3 in scoring defense (17.3 PPG). New York is No. 18 in scoring offense (21.1 PPG).
• Chicago is No. 3 in average per pass attempt allowed (6.44). Sanchez and the Jets are No. 28 in Passing Yards Per Attempt (5.73).
• Chicago is No. 4 in Defensive Passer Rating (73.0). Sanchez is No. 28 in individual passer rating (74.6).
Few quarterbacks have found success against the Bears this year, with the notable exception of New England's Tom Brady (as we discussed here earlier this week).
Given New York's struggles in the passing game, it's hard to see a scenario in which they move the ball effectively against one of the league's elite pass defenses.
Historic head-to-head franchise records mean little when it comes to a given game on the schedule. It's irrelevant, for example, that the Bears beat down the Jets, 19-6, during their famous 1985 run to the Super Bowl title.
But when you have a football fetish like we do, you find certain trends infinitely fascinating.
The Jets and Bears have met just nine times, making it one of the least played match-ups in pro football among clubs that were both around for the AFL-NFL merger of 1970s. The Bears hold a 6-3 advantage in those nine games, including victories in the last two meetings (2002, 2006).
These numbers are mere trivia, save for one factor: a Jets victory on the road against a Quality Team will provide a second straight week of evidence that the long-suffering franchise has turned a corner under Rex Ryan and that it can properly claim to be one of the NFL's great road teams.
Break out your feety pajamas football fans. The weather in Chicago promises to be chilly and snowy once again. It's just the type of weather, and the type of gritty defensive clash, that might cause an old-school NFL legend like Lou "The Toe" Groza to cheer with approval.
If the Jets do win Sunday -- or in the playoffs -- the statistical evidence tells us that they'll have to dig in their heels and tough out a win much like the one they enjoyed last week in Pittsburgh: they'll need a critical Big Play, such as the one that Brad Smith produced last week.
Without that Big Play, look for Chicago's tough pass defense to hold New York's offensive feet to the fire and earn a hard-fought win in a tough, low-scoring affair.
Chicago 20, N.Y. Jets 16
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(Week 15 prediction: N.Y. Giants 27, Philadelphia 24. Result: Philadelphia 38, N.Y. Giants 31.)