What the Indianapolis Colts need to do to defeat the New York Jets in the AFC championship game Sunday (noon, Channel 2):
Let 18 be 18
Not only is he the smartest quarterback in the game, Peyton Manning knows as much about football as any coach out there. Jets players have said he can walk up to the line of scrimmage, take a look at the defense, and point out what every player is going to do.
So the Colts need to let him do his thing, and they will. Never mind the fact that Indianapolis has the league's 32nd-ranked rush offense; it is not a running team, and makes no pretenses about that. Being one-dimensional has worked just fine for them. If there's an open man, the NFL's only four-time most valuable player will find him. Question is, how often will the Colts be open against star cornerback Darrelle Revis and the league's No. 1 pass defense?
Former Baltimore coach Brian Billick, now an NFL Network analyst, has seen plenty of Manning's near-clairvoyant performances up close.
"There's nothing on a football field that he hasn't seen, or that he doesn't remember," Billick said. "So no matter what you do, he's going to know where to go with the ball."
The Jets finished the season with the league's 31st-ranked passing game, so they're not a quick-strike team. That could all change, though, if they force a turnover and get a short field with which to work.
Against Baltimore last Saturday, the Colts hogged the ball and won the time-of-possession battle by almost eight minutes. Of the Ravens' 11 possessions, five netted eight yards or fewer, and three more ended with turnovers.
Good things come in threes
The Colts need to maintain the third-down efficiency they had this season, when they led the league by converting 49.2% of those situations. That won't be easy, though, against the Jets, who had the NFL's best third-down defense, limiting opponents to a paltry conversion rate of 31.5%.
Put it on Sanchez
The Jets finished the regular season with the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack. The Colts were ranked 24th against the run.
But Indianapolis has shown it can rise to the occasion in the postseason, as it did during its Super Bowl run a few years ago. Last weekend the Colts limited the Ravens' formidable run game to 87 yards in 19 carries.
If the Colts can stonewall the Jets' ground game -- and do it without having to bring a safety up to help -- that will heap more pressure on Mark Sanchez, looking to become the first rookie quarterback to win three playoff games.
Stay the course
The Colts didn't blow out a lot of teams this season. In fact, they set an NFL record by winning seven of their games with comebacks in the fourth quarter. Even if they can't build a big lead against the Jets, they know how to slam the door.
* FRIDAY: NEW YORK JETS