The Jets' opponent this week, Green Bay, always stacks up well statistically -- and not in those phony-baloney total yardage stats. The Packers check out well in the ones that really matter to wins and losses. But something is missing, and that's why the Jets' six-point advantage in the Vegas line is a true indicator of win probability.
Aaron Rodgers is a bully quarterback but cowers when the fight is fair. He's 8-13 career when the wining margin seven points or fewer and 4-5 when it's 8-to-14. Can you imagine this Jets team losing by more than a touchdown to anyone at home? That means Green Bay has, at most, a 38-percent chance of winning. The money line right now gives Green Bay between 27 and 31 percent. That sounds right, especially considering that the Jets are not just any random team but possibly the best team in football. They're also coming off a bye week.
In a vacuum though, this game looks tough. Rodgers is top-shelf statistically, if not in wins and losses. (He's about a .500 quarterback in his career.) Mark Sanchez has been uncomfortably erratic of late with 21.5 percent poor throws. That's terrible when the league average usually is about 15 percent. The Jets' pass defense has regressed badly statistically. But it has held in the percentage of opponents' plays that grade successfully when factoring down and distance. Although the Jets' strength has been run defense, the Packers don't really rely on their running game.
The Packers are banged up. Defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins and Ryan Pickett seem unlikely to play. Al Harris might be back Sunday after a long hiatus with a knee injury, but Harris is 35. Their best skill player on offense -- tight end Jermichael Finley -- is out for the year.
The Jets are healthy. Only Dustin Keller appears on the injury report and he's probable with an injured wrist. Most notably, Darrelle Revis finally declared himself 100 percent. The Jets are 5-1 with Revis rusty, hurting or out for every game. He was fortunate to sign when he did on the eve of the regular season.
New York needs to play a dominant brand of pass defense like last year's version, which should happen because this unit is better. Antonio Cromartie is so superior to Lito Sheppard in this system. The measuring stick here isn't total yards allowed but yards per attempt. They started to dominate here against the Broncos. Rookie Kyle Wilson was supposed to be a big part of things, too, but he's gone from nickel to dime to bench corner the last few weeks.
Offensively, Mark Sanchez needs to play better. There should be more big plays on offense given the weapons at his disposal. He needs to spread the ball around by naturally making progressions instead of just rotating who the No. 1 receiver is on a given play. Getting the No. 1 guy open is the responsibility of the offensive coordinator, but this is the NFL, and the other guys are really good. Sanchez seems to rotate quickly enough but is just slow to pull the trigger on second and third options, preferring to extend plays with his feet, which is risky.
The great news for the Jets is their stronger-than-ever offensive line, which is the best unit in football. They have the game's best tackle in D'Brickashaw Ferguson and best center in Nick Mangold. And Matt Slauson is playing like an All-Pro, not the weak link he was advertised to be all summer.
Prediction time: The game is going to be tight. There will be a few uncomfortable moments. But in the big spots, Rodgers will not make a play. The Packers are really hurt without Finley, their one mismatch guy. Revis will take out Greg Jennings. Donald Driver is hurt (quad). So who's left? James Jones and Jordy Nelson? That's not nearly enough. Don't trust this Packers offensive line to hold up against a level of blitzing they never really see. If Sanchez comes out strong and decisive off the bye, the winning margin will be double digits or more. But they can't count on that until they see it. So ... Jets 23, Packers 16.