x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Four left standing with one surprise

Of the teams that remain in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLIV on February 7, is the team their own coach did not comprehend - the New York Jets.

If you think like an accountant and keep your bedroom closet orderly and neat, the NFC play-offs have gone to your liking. If you believe in karma and love chaos and irony, the AFC play-offs should be right up your alley. Only four teams remain alive in the NFL with 60 minutes of play-off football standing between each of them and a trip to Super Bowl XLIV on February 7. Three were expected to be in this position - the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings, who entered the play-offs as the No 1 and No 2 seeds in the NFC and will square off on Sunday, and the Indianapolis Colts, the AFC's top seed and a team who were 14-0 before deciding to take the final two games off to rest key players for a post-season run that finds them one win away from reaching the Super Bowl for the second time in five years.

And then there are the New York Jets. Here we have a team their own coach thought were out of play-off contention a few weeks ago even if they were still mathematically alive. After beating the heavily favoured San Diego Chargers 17-14 on Sunday, the Jets are more than just alive; they feel electrified after eliminating a team who had won 11 in a row, were averaging more than 28 points a game and were the AFC's No 2 seed.

Ironically, the Jets now return to the scene of what many Colt fans felt was a crime. Back to Indianapolis, where the Colts lay down midway through the second half of the December 27 game they were leading by five points and blew a potential undefeated season while allowing the seemingly dead Jets a way into the play-offs. If you believe in fairy tales it would certainly be one were the Jets to return to Lucas Oil Field on Sunday and beat Peyton Manning and the Colts for real.

"We believed the whole time, the whole year, when it probably wasn't the popular choice, the popular opinion, but here we are," said the Jets' head coach, Rex Ryan, after his defence slammed the Chargers around until they turned the ball over twice, missed three field goals and incurred 10 penalties. "We don't have to apologise to anybody. It's just old-fashioned, ground-and-pound football and here we are. It is a match-up that nobody wanted but too bad. Here we come."

Waiting for them will be Manning, winner in the MVP voting for the fourth time, and the same kind of one-dimensional offence as the Chargers. San Diego were the next to worst running team in the NFL during the regular season but could really pass. Who were behind them? The Colts. Indianapolis also live or die with the pass. If they hit a few, the Jets will not be able to come back because the New Yorkers play Neanderthal football, which is to say they run all day (and better than anyone else in the NFL) on offence and run over you on defence. If you don't hold up, they beat you down. If you do hold up, they lose. They have not lost much lately.

Over in the NFC there is a dilemma of a different sort. In the New Orleans Superdome on Sunday will be two sentimental favourites, which either means you cannot lose or you cannot win depending on how you view life. In one corner stand the Saints, symbol of rebirth for a city that has yet to recover from Hurricane Katrina. In the other is Minnesota's 40-year-old Brett Favre, the oldest quarterback to win a play-off game and one who won a Super Bowl in the same building 13 years ago with the Packers.

You want to root for the old codger but if you do what do you have against a city that so desperately wants to see its Saints in the Super Bowl for the first time? @Email:sports@thenational.ae