The New York Jets (4-3) face off against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) in Cincinnati on Sunday (4:15pm KO).
The two teams have met 24 times. The Jets lead the series 17-7, and have won the last 4 meetings. They last met in November 2010, when the Jets won 26-10 against a Bengals team led by quarterback Carson Palmer.
The Bengals are no longer synonymous with losing. They have shaken their famous nickname the “Bungles”, and turned into a consistent playoff team — they have made the playoffs four times in the last seven years, including both of the last two seasons, and currently sit atop the AFC North at 5-2.
Divisional wins within the AFC North don’t come easy against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, so games outside the division are key for a Bengals team trying to cling onto the division lead. The Jets are, surprisingly, in a similar situation. Most thought they would be a laughing stock heading into the season, but at this point they need only a win on Sunday, and a Patriots loss for a share of the division lead in the AFC East.
Here are the keys to the game for the Jets:
Green on Green: Contain AJ Green
The Bengals’ biggest offensive weapon is third year wide receiver, AJ Green. Jets’ defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman considers Green one of the best receivers in the league, and his advice for Antonio Cromartie, who will cover Green, is to “Put his hands on him and pray.” The Jets will need to control Green in order to stop the Bengals offense. Cromartie will likely be given the responsibility of covering Green. Cromartie has had a disappointing season — ProFootballFocus ranks him 106th out of 107 cornerbacks. But, he had a strong performance last week against the Patriots as Tom Brady had a season low 39.6 QB rating when throwing against Cromartie.
Keep Geno Away from Geno
On the defensive side of the ball the Bengals Geno Atkins is one of, if not the best, defensive tackles in the league — he has 18 QB hurries, 6 QB hits and 4 sacks on the season. As if defending Atkins is not enough, the Jet given that task will be rookie, Brian Winters, who is starting just his third game — he has given up 3 sacks in those three games. This week in practice Winters requested to practice against the Jets rookie Sheldon Richardson, because he believes that Richardson and Atkins have similar styles. Geno Smith will find out quickly if Winters is up to the task of defending Atkins. If Winters struggles early, the Jets will be in trouble.
The Cribbs Effect
Both the Jets and the Bengals have played in several close games this season — six of the Bengals 7 games have been decided by 10 points or less. In close games special teams can make the difference. The Jets need not worry about the kicking game. Nick Folk has been statistically perfect this season connecting on 16-of-16 field goals. A big difference maker last week was newly signed kick returner Josh Cribbs. Cribbs returned four kicks (punt and kickoff) for 61 yards last Sunday, but the Patriots were hesitant to kick the ball anywhere near him, resulting in great field position for the Jets. Cribbs has every chance to make a difference again this week, regardless of whether or not the Bengals kick to him.
This is a big game for the Jets, they are coming off an emotional win against their foes the New England Patriots and they can’t let the momentum from that victory slip away. A win against the Bengals would not only give them their first 2-game winning streak since December 2012, but could have great implications later in the season in the Jets playoff hunt. A win will also put them within touching distance of the division lead in the AFC East — depending on the result between the Dolphins and Patriots.
Prediction: Jets 20 – Bengals 17