The Kansas City Chiefs will try to continue their slim playoff hopes alive Sunday afternoon when they take on the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Sitting at 5-7, the Chiefs can still win the AFC West if they go 3-1 over their final four games and get a little help from the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos ahead of them. With the Green Bay Packers waiting for them next week, a victory over the Jets is a must for Todd Haley’s crew. But New York is a team facing pressure of their own.
The Jets are in second place in the AFC East, but are two games behind the New England Patriots and without owning a tie breaker that deficit is more like three games. Considering the competition for the wild card spots in the AFC, New York is counting on a win over the Chiefs as they try to make their own push for the playoffs.
Kansas City upset the Chicago Bears last week 10-3 thanks to an amazing effort from their defense and an improbable Hail Mary touchdown at the end of the first half. Meanwhile, the Jets are riding a two-game winning streak including a 34-19 trouncing of the Redskins in Washington last week.
Due to an injury suffered in his first and only play for the Chiefs last week, QB Kyle Orton is expected to stay on the sidelines, meaning ineffective Tyler Palko will once again start for Kansas City. With the offense unable to accomplish anything with such terrible play at quarterback, the Chiefs are going to rely on their defense once again.
Thankfully for Kansas City, Jets QB Mark Sanchez hasn’t exactly been lighting the league on fire this season either. Things had gotten so bad for the New York signal caller that he was booed by the hometown fans during player introductions the last time the team was at MetLife Stadium.
Here are the three players from each team to keep your eyes on Sunday afternoon in New Jersey.
Offense: Tyler Palko
Can the Chiefs get even below average performance from Palko? With how well the defense is playing, that’s all they will need to have a chance to take out the Jets.
Unfortunately for Palko and the Kansas City offense, they will likely have to try and improve their play without the services of WR Dwayne Bowe. No, the playmaker isn’t hurt. Instead he’ll likely draw the attention of Jets CB Darrelle Revis, the best defensive player in the league.
Palko will need to pull another rabbit (or two) out of his hat — the way he did with the Hail Mary — if he hopes to lead the Chiefs to a second straight victory.
Defense: Tamba Hali
For the first time since the Chiefs traded Jared Allen, Hali is finally getting to play opposite another pass rusher thanks to the emergence of rookie Justin Houston. The Kansas City defensive line has also stepped up their game during this amazing stretch to help the unit pitch near shutouts. The improved play led to a season-high seven QB sacks last week against the Bears.
With a team finally having to game plan for more than just Hali, the smart money is on the linebacker delivering a signature game. That’s bad news for Sanchez and the rest of the Jets defense.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
The Jets have had an amazing amount of problems simply catching punts lately and Colquitt will look to keep that streak alive. The lefty has been known to have difficult punts to field, which is the last thing New York wants to try and handle right now.
In the last four games, the Jets have muffed three punts by three different return men. That has forced head coach Rex Ryan to move safety Jim Leonhard back to return punts exclusively. Nothing like welcoming a new returner with Colquitt’s less-than-traditional punts.
Offense: Mark Sanchez
He’s already won some big time playoff games early on in his career, but the Jets QB has also struggled mightily with confidence and consistency. The fans showering Sanchez with boos before the last home game shows just how frustrated they’ve become with his play.
Last week against the Redskins he only threw for 165 yards on 19 completions (5.2 yard average) but he didn’t turn the ball over. That helped the team win the battle of field position and force Washington into turnovers, leading to such a big win despite little movement in the air.
If Sanchez gets rattled early on, makes some mistakes and is harassed by the Jets fans, things could go down hill quickly for the New York offense.
Defense: Aaron Maybin
The former first-round pick was released before this season by the Buffalo Bills following two disappointing seasons in which the pass rusher didn’t record a single sack. Even after the Jets picked him up off the scrap heap, they released him before bringing him back for a second tour.
All he’s done in Ryan’s defense is show the same ability to get to the quarterback that he did at Penn State. Maybin already has six sacks in just nine games, including three the last two weeks. Look for the Jets to send Maybin after Palko all day long while the secondary led by Revis limits the opportunities for the Chiefs receivers.
Special Teams: Jim Leonhard
A week after he mostly kept the best returner in the league, Devin Hester, under control, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt will look to do the same to Leonhard. The Jets are turning to the safety because they’ve muffed those three punts in four games and the safety is seen as being the most sure handed of all the New York returners.
Just because he hasn’t been the Jets first choice — WR Jeremy Kerley has been the primary punt returner — Colquitt and the Kansas City special teams can’t take him lightly. He’s averaged 10.3 yards in limited duty this season and took his only chance 14 yards last week against the Redskins.