The New York Jets and Tennessee Titans meet on Monday Night Football in what might be the worst prime-time matchup of the entire 2012 NFL season.
The Jets (6-7) are somehow still in playoff contention, but the slim chances they have depend on winning games in the next two weeks. Overall, the offense has been terrible in 2012, but a two-game winning streak has given critics a lot to think about. If Sanchez and company win out, it could save a lot of jobs in both the front office and in the locker room.
The Titans (4-9) aren't heading to the playoffs this season. If their play doesn't improve dramatically in 2013 and beyond, they might not be heading to the playoffs for a very long time, either.
Right now, the Titans have a nice collection of young talent, but their total is less than the sum of their parts. A lot of that speaks to coaching, and Mike Munchak and his staff might be on the hot seat if they can't show some life in the final three games.
Key Storyline No. 1: Can Mark Sanchez Continue To Silence Doubters?
Sanchez was benched against Arizona in Week 13. However, if you ignore that game or consider it an aberration, he's actually had a decent stretch (by his standards). In the last four games, the Jets are 3-1 and Sanchez has completed over 60 percent of his passes in three of those games and over 70 percent of his passes in two of them.
That said, a good stretch by Sanchez isn't necessarily a good stretch by NFL standards. In that same four-game stretch, he's only thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions, and, oh yeah, he was benched!
In the next few weeks, Sanchez can win back a lot of goodwill if he leads the team to the playoffs. He will be hailed as a hero, and much of his play in 2012 will be forgotten. If he falls on his face, he may need to update the old resume.
Key Storyline No. 2: Is Jake Locker the Guy?
Similar questions have to be asked in Tennessee this offseason, but from almost the completely opposite angle. While Sanchez has never put up huge numbers or shown tremendous physical tools, he's won. Locker hasn't ever won much, even dating back to his college days. Sure he looks the part, but will he ever put his teammates on his shoulders and lead them to the playoffs?
Against a tough Jets pass defense, it might be too much to expect Locker to put up fantastic numbers, but if he can manage the game and keep the mistakes to a minimum, he'll instill a lot of confidence and keep the critics off of his back.
Keys for the New York Jets
The most important piece to this game plan is stopping Chris Johnson.
Frankly, if the Jets' front seven can step up and keep CJ2K under wraps, the rest of the game should fall into place. Locker will make some mistakes, and any amount of points the Jets offense can put on the board should be enough to win.
The Titans have some underrated weapons, but the Jets' pass defense is good enough to match up one-on-one with them. Stack a safety into the box, pray Locker continues to ignore the existence of his tight ends and wait for the mistakes to pile up.
Offensively, it's important to keep their mistakes to a minimum as well. The Titans defense has been bad this season, and the Jets' running game has a chance to put up some big numbers. Lean on Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell (listed as probable this week), and don't give the Titans rushers a chance to pin their ears back.
Keys for the Tennessee Titans
Speaking of leaning on a running back...
As mentioned above, the Jets can't stop the run, and Johnson has been infinitely better this season than he was in 2011. If he can continue to roll on Monday Night Football, the Jets just have no chance.
There is little reason for Locker to come out passing. When he does, it should be because the Jets have packed the box so tightly and play action is a no-brainer.
Defensively, the Titans need to make plays whenever the ball is in the air. Their defense is more talented than the statistics might indicate, and they have some athletes who can make plays. Kamerion Wimbley has practiced all week and should be able to get some pressure on Sanchez if the Jets are forced into any 3rd-and-longs.
Bold Prediction: Five Total Interceptions Between the Two Teams
Overall, the quarterback play on both of these teams isn't much to write home about. In prime time, on the road, look for Sanchez to revert back to some of the mistakes that got him benched against the Cardinals.
Locker, too, will find the Jets' defensive backfield a very rude bunch of visitors.
Player of the Game Prediction: Chris Johnson
With the passers being overmatched, expect Johnson to get it done at home. Even if the Jets manage to eke out a win, Johnson should put up big numbers against a defensive front that can't shut down anyone.
In a game with so many questions, Johnson is really the only answer, and he should do enough to put the Titans over the top at home.
Final Score Prediction: Titans 17; Jets 13
Michael Schottey is the NFL national lead writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.
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