N.Y. Jets (13-5) at Pitts­burgh (13-4)

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS -

Mark Sanchez joins the Steel­ers’ Ben Roeth­lis­berger (2004-05) as the only quar­ter­backs to start and win four post­sea­son games in their first two sea­sons. With an­other win, Sanchez would have five road post­sea­son vic­to­ries, the most in NFL his­tory. Roeth­lis­berger has led the Steel­ers to four AFC ti­tle games in seven sea­sons as start­ing quar­ter­back.

The Steel­ers’ six Su­per Bowl ti­tles are the most of any fran­chise. Pitts­burgh has won eight of its past nine post­sea­son games.

SMARTER STATS: Quite of­ten the value of de­fen­sive play­ers be­comes more ev­i­dent when they’re off the field than when they’re on. That may be the case more with Steel­ers safety Troy Po­la­malu than any other de­fen­sive player in the game right now. Over the past two sea­sons, the Steel­ers are 15-4 when Po­la­malu plays, and 6-7 when he does not.

Po­la­malu was in­jured and out when the Jets beat the Steel­ers, 22-17, in­Week 15. Sanchez had thrown at least one in­ter­cep­tion in each of his eight games be­fore that one, but he went pick-free with Po­la­malu out of the pic­ture. In that same game, Roeth­lis­berger com­pleted just 23 of 44 passes, an im­por­tant num­ber for the Jets. Their de­fense al­lowed the low­est reg­u­lar sea­son com­ple­tion per­cent­age (50.7), and they’ll have to keep that up.

Nei­ther de­fense al­lows much on the ground — the Steel­ers ranked first in the league in De­fen­sive Ad­justed Line Yards (a Foot­ball Out­siders met­ric that as­signs re­spon­si­bil­ity for rush­ing plays based on the length of the play) with 3.47 Line Yards per play, and the Jets ranked fifth with 3.61. Pitts­burgh caused fewer neg­a­tive plays (20 per­cent to New York’s 21 per­cent), and the Jets lagged a bit be­hind Pitts­burgh in short­yardage con­ver­sions al­lowed. But it’s hard to put the prover­bial thin piece of paper be­tween these two de­fenses. This could turn the AFC cham­pi­onship game into a pass­ing con­test, which gives the Steel­ers a de­cided ad­van­tage.

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