Game of the Week: Packers at Jets

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aaron-rodgers-si.jpg breaks down Sunday's Green Bay at N.Y. Jets game (1 p.m. ET, Fox).

The Packers (4-3) head to New Meadowlands Stadium for an inter-conference battle against the Jets (5-1). It's a game that pits two high-profile teams that harbor Super Bowl dreams.

1. The AFC is the surest bet in sports since Secretariat. The AFC continued its incredible dominance over the NFL's senior circuit last week as the AFC's lowly Browns won big at NFC power New Orleans and the Titans pounded the Eagles in what appeared to be a meeting of equal inter-conference powers.

The AFC is 17-12 in inter-conference play this year, a continuation in a long-term trend: the NFC has not won the season series since 1995, back when Steve Young's 49ers">49ers and Troy Aikman's Cowboys were the league's dominant powers.

What's new in 2010 is the utter dominance at the top of the AFC: the top six teams in the NFL in point differential are from the AFC, as are the league's top seven scoring offenses and five of the top seven scoring defenses. None of those trends bode well for the Packers, who are 1-1 against the AFC East this year, losing to the Dolphins and beating the winless Bills, both games at home.

2. The Jets pass defense right now is a shadow of its 2009 self. For all the offseason bluster out of Rex Ryan's camp, his highly touted defense has failed to live up to the standards of 2009 in every measure. It's still a good unit, just not the lights-out bunch we witnessed last year:

• The 2009 Jets ranked No. 1 in scoring defense (14.8 PPG) and No. 1 in total defense (252.3 YPG)

• The 2010 Jets rank No. 4 in scoring defense (16.8 PPG) and No. 12 in total defense (319.0 YPG).

It's the incredible decline in effectiveness against opposing passers that Jets fans should consider before they book their February flights to Dallas.

• The 2009 Jets ranked No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating (58.4). The 2010 Jets rank No. 11 in Defensive Passer Rating (77.63).

• The 2009 Jets allowed just eight TD passes all season; the 2010 Jets have already allowed 10 TD passes in six games.

• The 2009 Jets held opposing passers to a minuscule 5.4 yards per pass attempt; the 2010 Jets allow opposing passers an average of 6.8 yards per pass attempt.

So the Jets are not as effective on pass defense as they were in 2009. Of course, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers is not as effective as he was last year, either. He was one of the best passers in football last year (103.2 passer rating) but has struggled in 2010 (89.0). He's thrown at least one interception in each of his past five games, after posting a clean slate in 12 of 16 games last year.

Interceptions kill teams. Packers fans know better than anybody: they suffered with interception-machine Brett Favre at quarterback for years. And right now nine picks by Rodgers (after seven in all of 2009) are one reason the Packers are 4-3 instead of 5-2 or 6-1.

If the Jets secondary is going to recapture the spirit of 2009, a road trip by Rodgers presents an inviting opportunity.

3. Don't carve Mark Sanchez's bronze bust just yet. The second-year Jets quarterback has earned plenty of kudos through the first six games. He's certainly improved since last year -- namely in protecting the football. After 20 picks last year, he's thrown just two this season. He was picked off on 5.5 percent of attempts last year, just 1.1 percent of attempts this year. So the improvement in that area has been dramatic.

And the Jets have suffered a Negative Pass Play (sack or INT) on just 5.85 percent of dropbacks. Only the Colts and Chiefs have been better.

But count the Cold, Hard Football Facts among those not ready to enshrine the Sanchize in Canton just yet. In fact, there's still a lot of polish needed before he joins the list of elite NFL passers.

Sanchez averages just 6.2 yards per pass attempt (177 attempts, 1,100 yards), well below the general leaguewide average of 7.0 YPA. And if you measure passing offenses the way we do at Cold, Hard Football Facts, with a Passing Yards Per Attempt indicator that accounts for the impact of sacks, the Jets average just 5.6 Passing YPA. That's 26th in the NFL, below passing-game light weights such as the Bills and Bucs.

Sanchez has also completed 55.4 percent of his passes, well below the league-wide average of 61.0 percent. He's benefited largely from one of the best rushing attacks in football: New York averages a tremendous 4.95 yards per rush attempt, third in the NFL (Houston, Kansas City). And it's still a run-first team: 193 rush attempts vs. 179 pass attempts. It's a rare run-first proportion in this day and age.

Hey, it's been an effective, old-school strategy. The Jets are 5-1 because they run the run the ball well and avoid mistakes in the passing game. And winning is what it's all about. But, statistically speaking, Sanchez has a long way to go before he joins the short list of elite quarterbacks.

The Packers do not match up particularly well in this game. There has been plenty of early-season hype about their defense, and deservedly so in one respect: Green Bay is among the best in football at forcing sacks (22) and interceptions (10), while linebacker Clay Matthews leads the NFL in QB takedowns (8.5). But the big plays have masked the fact that the Packers are porous against the run. Opposing runners average a spirit-crushing 4.63 YPA (25th).

As mentioned above, the Jets have one of the most effective ground games in football and they're committed to running the football. They're fourth in attempts per game (32.2), second in yards per game (159.2) and third in average per attempt (4.95).

So a visit by the Packers represents a perfect opportunity for the Jets to continue to work their winning recipe: pound away a vulnerable run defense while Mark Sanchez picks and chooses his spots to pepper the defense with his careful passing attack.

The Green Bay defense needs to force a couple big mistakes in this game to win. But as noted earlier, the Jets have been among the very best in the league at avoiding those mistakes this year.

The Jets are the better team by almost any measure. They're playing at home and they're representing a conference that has had its way with the NFC in recent years and that looks particularly dominant this year. It all adds up to a tough road trip for Green Bay.

N.Y. Jets 24, Green Bay 20

(Week 7 prediction: Tennessee 24, Philadelphia 21. Result: Tennessee 37, Philadelphia 19.)